Self-interest

Filmmaker Agnieszka Holland recharges her battery with a Henry James classic

So far, Washington Square has received near universal praise (Andrew Sarris went so far as to compare some of Holland's images with those of D.W. Griffith's) and a strong box-office performance in New York City, where it opened earlier this month. But from the instant she was hired for the project, the filmmaker was well aware of the risks she was undertaking. As the disastrous critical and commercial reaction that greeted Jane Campion's confused version of Portrait of a Lady proved, wandering into the dense, ruminative prose of Henry James in search of a coherent, involving two-hour movie is a dangerous safari.

"There are those who say Henry James is unfilmable," Holland says, "and in part, I agree with them. It's no surprise that the two best movies based on his work so far--The Innocents (from The Turn of the Screw) and The Heiress--are from his short novels. I would never be arrogant enough to think I could adapt one of his larger, complex stories. That was part of the problem with Campion's Portrait of a Lady. I didn't buy it emotionally. It glossed over the mystery of Henry James, which probably wasn't available to the director in the first place.

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