The Portrait of a Lady — remember it from school? — is Henry James’ masterwork. It is a story of moral complexities centering on one of the first truly modern literary heroines: Isabel Archer, an American in Europe who asserts her freedom but ends up caged in a marriage to a manipulator.

In last year’s The Portrait of a Lady (1996), however, director Jane Campion (The Piano) gives us a surfeit of shading, including the dark kind that looks mysterious on movie screens but like mud on TV. She also provides great costumes, odd flights into surrealism, sadistic histrionics (care of John Malkovich), and in Nicole Kidman an Isabel who battles pride and despair. But for all these flourishes, this is less a portrait of a lady than of a self-important director. We await a better likeness. C+

The Portrait of a Lady
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