The Golden Bowl, starring Uma Thurman, is the perfect antidote to the summer blockbuster. Outbursts are kept to a minimum and most of the acting is done from the neck up. There?s something to be said for escaping the effects, the noise, the color blast of Pearl Harbor and Moulin Rouge. Merchant-Ivory?s latest period piece, The Golden Bowl, is so polite. The film, based on the Henry James novel, is all about manners. Outbursts are kept to a minimum, whereas the metaphors flow; most of the acting is done from the neck up. The Golden Bowl is set in turn-of-the-century England, where Americans Adam Verver (Nick Nolte) and his daughter Maggie (Kate Beckinsale) have settled. Adam is filthy rich and cleaning up a bit by buying rare European art to take back to American City and put in a museum, whether Americans want it or not. Three days before Maggie is to be married to the Italian Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam), Amerigo meets with his former lover Charlotte (Uma Thurman). Though they still have feelings for each other, they are both poor and cannot marry. Charlotte, it turns out, is Maggie?s best friend from boarding school; Maggie knows nothing of Charlotte?s past with Amerigo. Maggie and Amerigo have a son together and are happy, but Maggie cannot restrain the guilt she feels over leaving her father alone. Maggie invites Charlotte to watch over Adam, and soon the pair marry -- all the better for Charlotte and Amerigo to start their affair where they left off. Emotions and heartache are expressed through a modern dance piece, a dream, the legend of long-ago ancestors, and most notably, the golden bowl of the title. Like the pair of couples, the bowl is beautiful and precious, a thing to protect and cherish, but the bowl has a flaw. For much of the movie, the story is told through its symbols as the actors betray nothing more than a tic of an eye or a well-timed turn. Thurman, particularly, goes from smug to paranoid to absolutely desperate to smug again smoothly and expertly. The Golden Bowl highlights the art of subterfuge. Everything?s a plan or a scheme, and matters are tied up with barely a ripple. The film seems positively wan next to the similarly plotted The House of Mirth, but it makes its point oh-so quietly.


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