In his novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969), Evan S. Connell used a series of sharp-edged vignettes to probe the upper middle class marriage of a couple with three children living in Kansas City during the 1930s and 1940s. Now screenplay writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and director James Ivory have taken those novels as the basis of Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. The film has all the polish, eye for detail, and sophistication of their other screen adaptations of literary works including The Europeans (1979), The Bostonians (1984), and A Room with a View (1986).

Mr. Bridge (Paul Newman) is a successful lawyer whose disciplined life is organized around the sturdy values of hard work, thrift, and decency. He dominates his mild-mannered wife (Joanne Woodward) but is less successful in controlling his three children, Ruth (Kyra Sedgwick), Carolyn (Margaret Welsh), and Douglas (Robert Sean Leonard).

The inflexibility of their father and the country club morality of their mother draws out the rebel in each of the offspring. Ruth goes to New York to feed her bohemian spirit, Carolyn marries a young man from the wrong side of the tracks, and Douglas enlists in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Simone Signoret once noted, "Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years." Mr. and Mrs. Bridge admirably portrays the different seasons in this long marriage. There is a romantic trip to Paris, a time of discontent with Mrs. Bridge yearning to be as daring as her free-spirited friend Grace (Blythe Danner), and a period of loneliness after the children have left home.

Through it all, in their own ways, facing each obstacle that emerges, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge keep their love alive. Thanks to the seamless performances by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, actors who are also long-time marriage partners, the film quietly celebrates the tiny threads that hold people together over the years.