Set in 1870's New York, a spinster heiress is courted by a much younger, penniless man, much to the chagrin of her over-protective father, and must decide whether to spend the rest of her life alone, or marry a man who is interested in her only because of her inheritence.
Bracing and perfectly cast, this version of Henry James's novella keeps the story cautionary and fresh. Albert Finney is splendid as the brutally sarcastic Dr. Austin Sloper, a man both possessive and contemptuous of his only daughter; Jennifer Jason Leigh gives another unstintingly gutsy performance as his shy, uneasy child, with doe-eyed Ben Chaplin as the suitor who might be a fortune hunter. Maggie Smith steals many a scene as the heroine's fluttery aunt. As Jane Campion's ''Portrait of a Lady'' illustrated, James's fiction lends itself to revealingly symbolic interpretation. But Agnieszka Holland's approach is efficiently straightforward and blunt. — Janet Maslin
1997-10-03 | Janet Maslin | Read the New York Times Review of Washington Square