This beautiful adaptation of the Henry James novel of the same name is an early Ivory/Merchant film. It is beautifully shot with shimmering pastoral scenes that bring to mind some wonderful impressionist paintings. The story is likewise somewhat impressionistic and centered around two brother and sister expatriates, Eugenia and Felix Young, who come from Europe to visit their wealthy American half cousins, the Wentworths, in the very bucolic, very Yankee, suburban environs of Boston in the late nineteenth century.
The Wentworths are a rather strait-laced, prim and proper, wealthy family, whose head is the dour and mistrustful old Mr. Wentworth (Wesley Addy). The family welcomes their European cousins with some trepidation and reservation, as they seem positively bohemian to them. The one exception is Gertrude Wentworth (Lisa Eichhorn) who gravitates towards her newly found, sophisticated relatives. As a flower turns to the sun, Gertrude turns to her cousins to brighten her otherwise dull and narrow world. She is not disappointed.
Eugenia (Lee Remick) proclaims to be the Baroness Munster, an unhappily married woman on the brink of divorce. Her charming brother, Felix (Tim Woodward), is a rather artistic fellow with no foreseeable prospects. Together they take the Wentworths by storm and turn their previously well ordered, somewhat provincial world, upside down. This is a slow moving film that allows the story to unfold at its own, unhurried pace.
As Eugenia and Felix leisurely weave themselves into the fabric of the Wentworths' lives, changes ensue. During their stay, a romance develops between Felix and Gertrude. Her rebuffed suitor, Mr. Brand (Norman Snow), ends up finding solace in the arms of Charlotte, Gertrude's more eminently suited sister. Eugenia, however, who has set about to snare the Wentworths' attractive and wealthy neighbor, Robert Acton (Robin Ellis), is in for a very rude awakening.
Lee Remick, a vastly underrated actress, is delightful as the beautiful and predatory Eugenia. Tim Woodward is boyishly charming as Felix, the cousin who sweeps Gertrude off her feet. Robin Ellis is excellent as the thoughtful Robert Acton, the man who stands on the brink of a major life changing decision. Wesley Addy is very good as the suspicious Wentworth patriarch. Lisa Eichhorn's portrayal of Gertrude, however, is flat, as if she were performing in the throes of a zen-like trance. Yet, it does not detract unduly from the overall quality of the film. This is a film that those who love period pieces ahould enjoy.