Wharton in the News: The House of Mirth (2000) now streaming on Showtime & Prime Video

Photograph from Alamy

In his exquisite and anguished adaptation, from 2000, of Edith Wharton’s novel “The House of Mirth,” Terence Davies brings to life the book’s daring societal X-rays—the revelations of codes and norms, unspoken rules and silent judgments, that govern the glittering whirl of fin-de-siècle New York high society, especially those that limit women’s independence. Gillian Anderson stars as Lily Bart, the orphaned heiress to a vanished fortune, who depends entirely on an elderly aunt’s charity. The alluringly free-spirited Lily’s only hope to maintain her lavish life style is to marry into money, but the man she loves (Eric Stoltz), a lawyer, hasn’t got much, and she spurns rich men she doesn’t love. Pursuing her desires with an ingenuous sincerity, she risks exposing the falsehoods of other women, who eject her from their social ranks, sending her into free fall without a financial safety net. The tragic contradictions of Lily’s brilliant character—her refined aestheticism, lacerating wit, and heedless passion—are matched by Davies’s rapturous yet rueful display of the era’s sumptuous fashions and furnishings, which quietly shudder with the crushing power of the unwritten laws that sustain them. The movie, long unavailable, is streaming on Showtime and Prime Video. — Richard Brody


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