FRED Watch Quickie Review: The Age of Innocence (1993)
NOT SO INNOCENT?
I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is the underrated period drama The Age of Innocence…
Based on Edith Wharton‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Martin Scorsese‘s visually lavish and deliciously written study of 1870s New York aristocracy centres on the painfully suffocating emotional affair between lawyer Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the scandalously separated Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose young cousin, May Welland (Winona Ryder), he is engaged to.
The struggle between individual and social fulfillment is a recurring theme of Edith Wharton‘s writing, and her delicious use of language guides the audience through The Age of Innocence in the form of Joanne Woodward‘s narration. The way the camera often moves around the room, makes you feel as though you are a fly on the wall with Woodward whispering sordid details in your ear; a reflection of the potentially damaging gossip that prevents Ellen from truly feeling at home and threatens to destroy Newland’s standing in society—a society that is overseen by Mrs. Mingott (an outstanding Miriam Margolyes).
This underlying threat is beautifully conveyed by its central performers. Daniel Day-Lewis displays a stunning range of emotions as Newland (he swings from bashfulness to anger so easily), Michelle Pfeiffer evokes much sympathy as Ellen, presenting an emotionally damaged yet strong-willed character, and Winona Ryder‘s May has a delicate naïveté that grows into a conscience knowing. But these beautifully constructed, complex characters are so well developed that it is difficult to truly empathise with May; so invested are we in Newland and Ellen’s forbidden love that we never stop wanting them to be happy.
In the end, though, the decision rests with Newland and his choice is an emotive, self-inflicted cruelty. 4½ / 5
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Miriam Margolyes, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Gough, Richard E. Grant, Mary Beth Hurt, Robert Sean Leonard, Norman Lloyd, Alec McCowen, Siân Phillips, Carolyn Farina, Jonathan Pryce, Alexis Smith, Stuart Wilson, June Squibb, Joanne Woodward, Domenica Scorsese.
Director: Martin Scorsese | Producer: Barbara De Fina | Writers: Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese (based on the novel The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton) | Music: Elmer Bernstein | Cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus | Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker
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