The Portrait of a Lady (1996)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Jane Campion directed this expressive adaptation of the classic novel by Henry James. Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman) is a young American woman who, after the death of her parents, has been sent to England to visit relatives. While her family's tragedy has left her penniless, Isabel's beauty has earned her the attentions of a number of eligible men. When Isabel turns down a proposal of marriage from the wealthy Lord Warburton (Richard E. Grant) because she does not love him, her cousin Ralph (Martin Donovan), who is also smitten with her, arranges for his father to leave her a fortune before succumbing to tuberculosis so that she may live as an independent woman. Isabel takes a tour of Europe, where she meets Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey), a jaded sophisticate and matchmaker who introduces her to Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), a widowed American artist living abroad. Isabel falls in love with Gilbert and they marry, but his sloth and opportunism soon begin to wear on her, and three years later she is desperate to get out of their relationship. The Portrait of a Lady also stars John Gielgud, Mary-Louise Parker, Christian Bale, and Shelley Winters. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
PG-13 (adult situations)
Drama , Romance
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
PolyGram Video


Nicole Kidman
as Isabel Archer
John Malkovich
as Gilbert Osmond
Barbara Hershey
as Madame Serena Merle
Mary-Louise Parker
as Henrietta Stackpole
Martin Donovan
as Ralph Touchett
Shelley Winters
as Mrs. Touchett
Richard E. Grant
as Lord Warburton
Shelley Duvall
as Countess Gemini
Christian Bale
as Edward Rosier
Viggo Mortensen
as Caspar Goodwood
Valentina Cervi
as Pansy Osmond
John Gielgud
as Mr. Touchett
Roger Ashton-Griffiths
as Bob Bantling
Catherine Zago
as Mother Superior
Alessandra Vanzi
as Nun No. 2
Katie Campbell
as Miss Molyneux No. 1
Katherine Anne Porter
as Miss Molyneux No. 2
Eddy Seager
as Strongman's Spruiker
Pat Roach
as Strongman
Emanuelle Carucci Viterbi
as Roccanera Butler
Francesca Bartellini
as Isabel's Maid
Achille Brugnini
as Footman at Ballroom
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Critic Reviews for The Portrait of a Lady

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (7)

Intelligent but exasperating, its monotonous tone will wear down even viewers who started out in its corner.

December 31, 1999
USA Today
Top Critic

An easy thing to dislike, I suppose, and even easier to find it absolutely fascinating.

Full Review… | August 23, 2009
Antagony & Ecstasy

In all, Jane Campion has pulled off a neat trick here -- she's made a film that makes Henry James' work seem positively giddy.

Full Review… | September 22, 2007

A handsome production, but the ass, she doth ache.

May 13, 2007
Flipside Movie Emporium

Not only slow but uninvolving.

Full Review… | January 8, 2005

A sophisticated and elegant period piece with the right touch of feminist flourishes to elevate this compelling fable

May 26, 2003

Audience Reviews for The Portrait of a Lady

"The Portrait of a Lady" starts with Isabel Archer(Nicole Kidman) rejecting the proposal of the super wealthy Lord Warburton(Richard E. Grant). Next, it is Caspar Goodwood(Viggo Mortensen) who was reinserted into her path by Isabelle's supposed friend Henrietta(Mary-Louise Parker) only to be turned down. Seeing Isabelle's options disappear and fearing for her future, her cousin Ralph(Martin Donovan) comes up with an alternate plan that involves his dying father(John Gielgud). "The Portrait of a Lady" is a beautifully rendered period piece. So, it might come as a surprise that director Jane Campion gets lost not so much in the details but in its retrograde politics and customs, using a modern day prologue to reinforce her questioning the choices that women make. On a different tact, Campion somehow manages to restrain her eclectic cast in order to not outshine the movie's supposed star and manages to only bring them down to Kidman's unresponsive level, and sucking some of the oxygen out of the room in the bargain. Speaking of the eclectic cast, Mary-Louise Parker and John Malkovich(who has somehow never played Lenin) show up again in the "Red" films while Parker and Martin Donovan star again together in "Pipe Dream" and appearing together in the televsion series "Weeds."

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Intriguing & disturbing. Love Nicole Kidman as usual and John Malkovich is so very good at playing disturbing rolls.

Robin P.
Robin P.


Leo L
Leo L

Super Reviewer

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