The Wings of the Dove is a slow, but lavish, period piece based on Henry James’ novel. It is interesting to watch, but as a tragic love triangle, the film is not fully satisfying.
Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) is penniless, but has grown accustomed to living a life of luxury under her aunt (Charlotte Rampling). As a condition to live her favored lifestyle, her aunt insists on certain standards of behavior. For example, she should not marry, or even have anything to do with, anyone below her newfound class.
That presents a problem. Kate has fallen in love with the penniless Merton Densher (Linus Roache), however she must break off the relationship when her aunt discovers it.
However, when she befriends an ailing American heiress, Millie Theale (Alison Elliott), a fiendish plot comes to mind. She devises a scheme in which Merton will seduce Millie, inherit her money, and then be an eligible husband in the eyes of her aunt.
The Wings of the Dove has a leisurely pace, perhaps too leisurely. Most of the plot’s machinations and twists are easily seen, yet the film takes an eternity to reveal them.
All three leads are appealing, but Alison Elliott deserves special mention. She is captivating as the ailing heiress who is the target for Kate and Merton’s fiendish scheme.
Helena Bonham Carter is fascinating as the schemer of the bunch, and is a delight to watch, but there seems to be something missing in her character. She makes a pivotal choice late in the film that comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t seem quite in character.
Director Iain Softley creates a sumptuous atmosphere, particularly in the film’s Venice scenes. However, although the scenery is distracting, it unfortunately doesn’t distract enough to make the film move any faster.
Is The Wings of the Dove enjoyable? Yes, in a “Masterpiece Theater” sort of way. However, with its languid pace, it is never able to transcend its material.