The Golden Bowl (film)

The Golden Bowl is a 2000 drama film directed by James Ivory. The screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is based on the 1904 novel of the same name by Henry James, who considered the work his masterpiece.[2]

The Golden Bowl
Original poster
Directed byJames Ivory
Produced byIsmail Merchant
Screenplay byRuth Prawer Jhabvala
Based onThe Golden Bowl
by Henry James
StarringKate Beckinsale
James Fox
Anjelica Huston
Nick Nolte
Jeremy Northam
Madeleine Potter
Uma Thurman
Music byRichard Robbins
CinematographyTony Pierce-Roberts
Edited byJohn David Allen
Merchant Ivory Productions
TF1 International
Distributed byLionsgate
Release date
  • 13 September 2000 (2000-09-13) (France)
  • 3 November 2000 (2000-11-03) (United Kingdom)
  • 27 April 2001 (2001-04-27) (United States)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$15 million
Box office$5,753,678[1]


Dignified but impoverished aristocrat Roman Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam), is engaged to American socialite Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale). The two were introduced by a common friend, Mrs. Fanny Assingham (Anjelica Huston). Maggie shares an extremely close relationship with her millionaire father Adam (Nick Nolte), a widowed tycoon living in England who intends to finance the construction of a museum to house his invaluable collection of art and antiquities in America.

Prior to their engagement, and unbeknownst to his fiancée, Amerigo had a brief but passionate affair with an American woman named Charlotte Stant (Uma Thurman), who is also a friend of Maggie's. The two never married because both were penniless, but Charlotte is still in love with him. Amerigo breaks off their affair due to his engagement. Charlotte arrives in London to visit the Assingham's, Maggie invites her to attend the wedding. At the request of Maggie, Amerigo picks up Charlotte from the Assingham's home and takes her to an antique store in search of a wedding gift. The proprietor A. L. Jarvis shows them an ancient bowl, carved from a single piece of rock crystal and embellished with gold, which he asserts is flawless, but Amerigo noticed a crack in the crystal bowl. Charlotte states that she does not see the crack, only the beauty of the bowl. Charlotte is unsure if she wants to buy the bowl, Jarvis reserves the bowl until she makes a decision.

Maggie and Amerigo have a son. Adam falls in love with Charlotte and proposes marriage, much to the delight of Maggie, who had been concerned about her father's loneliness. Three years pass and the two couples find their lives closely interlocked, although the fact Maggie and Adam spend so much time together alienates their spouses. Much to the suspicions of Fanny, Amerigo and Charlotte have rekindled their affair. Using the excuse of their respective spouses father daughter time, they meet up at various parties and events around town. This causes gossip to circulate among mutual friends and associates. As time passes, however, Maggie becomes suspicious of the amount of time her husband and stepmother spend together. Maggie begins to confide in Fanny, but Fanny wanting to protect Maggie's feelings tries to discourage such thoughts. Adam observes close interactions between Charlotte and Amerigo but stays silent, as he does not want Maggie to be hurt.

In search of an unusual gift as a birthday gift for her father, Maggie, by chance wanders into Jarvis' shop, and he shows her the bowl he had set aside for Charlotte years ago. Maggie agrees to buy it and asks that it be delivered to her home. When Jarvis discovers the barely discernible crack Amerigo had noticed, he brings it to Maggie himself, reveals the defect, and offers it at half price. While waiting for her in the drawing room, he recognizes Amerigo and Charlotte in photographs on a table, and he innocently reveals they were the couple who originally considered purchasing the bowl, three days before the wedding. Maggie realizes that the two were not meeting for the first time, as she had always assumed. Maggie vents to Fanny of the information she just found out. Fanny breaks the glass bowl, stating that it is the only proof that links Amerigo and Charlotte together and that she can pretend nothing happened. Amerigo walks in and Maggie confronts him, who confesses to his past with Charlotte and to their affair. Maggie states that the bowl represented their marriage, it appeared beautiful and perfect but the crack showed it was flawed. Amerigo begs Maggie not tell her father and not to leave. Maggie agrees not to tell her father for fear of hurting him but is unsure how she feels about her husband.

Adam is noticeably distant. He suggests to Charlotte that they return to America to oversee the opening of his museum, though Charlotte is violently opposed to the idea. The tension grows worse after Amerigo and Maggie arrive with the Assinghams. Amerigo becomes distant towards Charlotte and avoids discussions of their affair. Charlotte begins to worry that Adam and Maggie are aware the affair but Amerigo gives no confirmation. One evening Maggie and Adam discuss their marriages and the need to protect their loved ones. They both agree to take their families and move apart from each other. Maggie and Amerigo prepare for a permanent move to Italy. Adams prepares for his move to America and puts Charlotte in charge of organizing the packing of the artifacts. Charlotte begs Amerigo to run away with her, as she does not want to be separated from him. Amerigo rejects the idea and express his guilt of being unfaithful and lying to his wife. Charlotte appears to reconcile to the idea of being with Adam, and the film ends with footage of the couple arriving to great fanfare in an unnamed American city.



Director Ivory, producer Merchant, and screenwriter Jhabvala previously collaborated on screen adaptations of the Henry James novels The Europeans and The Bostonians.

The film was shot at various locations throughout England, including Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, Burghley House in Lincolnshire, Helmingham Hall in Suffolk, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum and Syon House in Middlesex, and Lancaster House and Mansion House in London. Italian locations included Palazzo Borghese in Artena and Prince Massimo's Castle in Arsoli.

The soundtrack includes "Moonstruck" by Lionel Monckton and Ivan Caryll, "Sarabande" by Claude Debussy, and "Wall Street Rag" by Scott Joplin.


The film premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and when it received a cool reception, executives at Miramax Films, the original distributor, asked Ivory and Merchant to make several cuts to shorten its running time. When they refused, the company sold the film to Lions Gate.[2]

The film opened throughout Europe before going into limited release in the US on 27 April 2001, following an earlier showing at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It opened on five screens and earned $90,170 on its opening weekend. At its widest release in the US it played in 117 theatres. It eventually grossed $3,050,532 in the US and $2,703,146 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $5,753,678.[1]

Critical reception

The Golden Bowl received mixed to positive reviews; it currently holds a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "Coming from the Merchant–Ivory team, The Golden Bowl is visually stunning, but the filmmakers have difficulty in transporting the characterizations of the Henry James novel to the screen."[3]

The New York Times observed, "In translating the novel into a film, the producer Ismail Merchant, his directing partner, James Ivory, and their favorite screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, have made a movie that's an ambitious, profoundly ambiguous statement about their own passion for the cultivated, high-culture sensibility epitomized by James and E. M. Forster, as opposed to the cruder mass culture that has eclipsed these literary heroes . . . Much of the dialogue in Ms. Jhabvala's carefully wrought screenplay voices feelings that remain unspoken in the novel, and this is the movie's biggest problem. No matter how well the characters' thoughts have been translated into speech, the act of compressing their rich, complex inner lives into dialogue without resorting to voice-over narration inevitably tends to cheapen them and turn a drama about the revelation of hidden truths into the terser, more commonplace language of an intelligent soap opera."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "I admired this movie. It kept me at arm's length, but that is where I am supposed to be; the characters are after all at arm's length from each other, and the tragedy of the story is implied but never spoken aloud. It will help, I think, to be familiar with the novel, or to make a leap of sympathy with the characters."[4]

Mike Clark of USA Today rated the film two out of four stars and commented, "Too many dialogue exchanges sound like actors reading lines, and even the film's better performers seem to be acting in a vacuum. The movie establishes good will (or even great will) in the initial scenes because it's so gorgeous, but the rest is such a slog that even the revealed significance of the title artifact elicits a shrug."[5]

Emanuel Levy of Variety called the film "vastly uneven, with some wonderful period touches but also more than a few tedious moments," "tasteful, diffident and decorous," and "a deliberately paced literary film that takes too long to build narrative momentum and explore its central dramatic conflicts." He added, "James' deft portrait of human frailty and his experimentation in narrative mode only intermittently find vivid expression in the work of Ivory and screenwriter Prawer Jhabvala. Everything in the film, particularly in the last reel, is spelled out in an explicit, literal manner . . . Production values, particularly Andrew Sanders' design and John Bright's costumes, are exquisite, but they decorate a film that's too slow and only sporadically involving."[6]

Awards and nominations

James Ivory was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.[7] Production designer Andrew Sanders won the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Technical/Artistic Achievement.

Home media

The Region 1 DVD was released on 6 November 2001. The film is in anamorphic widescreen format, with audio tracks in English and French, and subtitles in English and Spanish. The only bonus feature is the original theatrical trailer.


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