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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Miramax 10/97 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Washington Square is a stylish and superbly acted screen adaptation of Henry James's novel set in New York City during the nineteenth century. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Catherine, the shy and socially awkward daughter of Dr. Austin Sloper (Albert Finney), a cold, proud physician who's both rich and well respected. When she is courted by Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), who is charming but penniless, her father assumes the young man is nothing more than a fortune hunter. Catherine's Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith) is an incurable romantic and she encourages the young people even to the point of suggesting that they elope. Another aunt (Judith Ivey) is critical of Dr. Sloper's harsh and insensitive treatment of his daughter.
Washington Square hits the mark as a riveting study of class consciousness and its dire effects upon love. Director Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden) tilts the film toward a fine feminist finale. Catherine cleverly and convincingly finds a way to survive the terrible blows to her spirit dealt by the two men in her life she loves so dearly. In the end, Washington Square registers strongly on the emotions as a poignant and powerful meditation upon loss.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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