Lately, it seems that automatic audience response to hoop skirts and bonnets and carriages and high buttoned vests is to think of stuffiness and propriety and litling English accents. Washington Square defies those preconceptions by being set in America, having the odd-voiced Jennifer Jason Leigh as our leading lady, and throwing in dashes of wacky teen romantic comedy here and there.
Washington Square is not afraid to show you the things we know went on back then, like kissing and baudy houses and abject humiliation, and it does so with surprising humor. Certainly there are lace gloves and teatime recitals and formal introductions, but as with all romance set before WWI but after the Industrial Revolution, the best part is the restraint and the chasteness – it makes the winning all the better and the losing all the more bitter.
Jennifer is a hopeless, meek, downtrodden but rich maiden, the only surviving family member of widower Albert Finney. He protects her in a very bitter and unloving way, and the dynamic between the daughter and father is well-wrought. The always delightful Maggie
Smith is one sister of Finney, and lives in the house as her nanny/guardian. She is full of mischief and is probably the only reason Jennifer’s character can even leave the house after the demoralizing treatment she receives from her father. Judith Ivey is another sister, married with 8 kids, whose wisdom is consulted. It’s a small part but she does a great deal with it.
Enter Ben Chaplin (Truth About Cats and Dogs) as Morris and he hasn’t quite shed his English accent but he is sooo charming. Ladies out there, if you have not already met one like this, go see this movie. I fell for him all the way – my friend is shaking his head saying, no, no, he’s a rat. I’ll let you decide.
OK, I confess, I devour Jane Austen and Wilkie Collins and Caleb Carr. So? Can’t a gal like Empire waistlines and blushing maidens and still cheer when the Alien Queen gets blasted out of the airlock with only a Reebok as a souvenir? So, seeing as I am biased toward these period pieces, I brought along a friend who I figured would not be. He said he liked it, that it was pretty interesting.
OK! I thought Ben Chaplin was perfect as Jason Leigh’s suitor. I don’t want to tell you more, but guys, go see this movie (the first half) to find out how to treat a lady. My friend wanted to borrow my notebook and make notes for himself.
The mise-en-scene is yummy but nothing to write a review about, Jennifer is nowhere near as abrasive as she can be, and the story is very interesting. It hasn’t stuck with me, however, so this is why I give it an enthusiastic Matinee Price Rating. It’s worth seeing and it could be an excellent date movie – for purposes of dissecting your date choice.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 11/11/1997
Time in minutes 115
Director Agnieszka Holland
Studio Hollywood Pictures