Bostonians, The (1984): Merchant-Ivory Version of Henry James Novel

Bostonians, The (1984)

(UK) Merchant Ivory Productions (Almi Pictures)
This Ismail Merchant (producer)-James Ivory (director) screen rendition of Henry James’ famous novel, adapted to the screen by their usual collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is artistically and dramatically disappointing, despite handsome production values (cinematography, Oscar-nominated costume design, and so on).
The team of trio collaborators will score with their next costume (period) production, “A Room With a View,” in 1986, nominated for multiple Oscars and commercially successful.
A streak of feminism, which was not in James’ original novel, informs this adaptation, which lacks the satirical wit and irony of the author in his depiction of values and mores of a group of Bostonians in the nineteenth century.
The film also suffers from the miscasting of its two leads, Madeleine Potter, as Verna Tarrant, a woman with supposedly spiritual powers, and Christopher Reeve, as the young Southern outsider-suitor, who comes between Verna and Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), vying for company and love.
The only good performance is by Redgrave, as the sexually repressed woman who’s attracted to Verna but can’t express her feelings.
Rest of the cast of this stately, listless film includes an ensemble of bizarre thespians, such as Linda Hunt.
Oscar nominations: 2
Actress: Vanessa Redgrave
Costume Design: Jenny Beavan and John Bright
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context
 
Sally Field won her second Best Actress in five years for “Places in the Heart”; her first Oscar was in 1979 for “Norma Rae.” 
In 1984, “Place in the Heart” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with “Amadeus,” which swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Milos Forman, “The Killing Fields,” “A Passage to India,” and “A Soldier’s Story.”
The Costume Design Oscar went to Theodor Pistek for Milos Forman’s adaptation, “Amadeus,” which swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture.