Hopefully with its release on video and DVD will also come the recognition and audience that so unfairly eluded Terence Davies’ searing adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel. It’s a bafflement that Sony Pictures Classics, which enjoyed such Academy Award success–in the nomination and win columns–with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Pollock, wasn’t able to do the same for this haunting film, especially considering its most impressive virtues. Chief among them are superlative art direction, equally gorgeous costume design, and a startling Oscar-caliber lead performance by Gillian Anderson, who triumphantly breaks from the X-Files mold as early 1900s New York socialite Lily Bart, whose tragic fall from favor is movingly, unflinchingly traced by Davies’ sure hand.
Davies has much praise for Anderson in his running commentary for the DVD–that is, when he bothers to speak. He displays obvious enthusiasm and passion for the project (particularly over various music selections), but he’s perhaps a bit too enamored of his own work, for he often limits his comments to brief ones that set up the circumstances of each scene, which then plays with its normal soundtrack. (No, the possible excuse that he hasn’t seen the film in a while doesn’t hold water–he straight out says that he’s seen the film “about 400 times.”) And for all his comments about specific actions, line readings, and so on made by the actors, he sheds no light on how he arrived at such offbeat casting choices; after all, the likes of Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Anthony LaPaglia, and Eric Stoltz aren’t exactly the names that immediately come to mind for a costume drama.
Davies’ comments are somewhat more abundant and insightful in the disc’s most substantial supplement, a longer alternate version of a four-scene stretch that occurs early in the film; needless to say, he prefers this extended piece, which was truncated in various ways only for run time considerations. Filmographies for Davies and the principal cast and trailers for House of Mirth and other Sony Pictures period pieces round out the unspectacular array of extras, but the sterling visual and aural transfer of a very worthy film makes this a sturdy enough DVD package.
Specifications: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; English, French and Spanish subtitles; English closed captioning.