Like the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team’s 1979 The Europeans, this is a classy adaptation of a Henry James novel.
From the film’s opening sequence at a women’s meeting in late 19th-century Boston, the dice are loaded against the feminist cause. The young Verena Tarrant offers an impassioned exposition of woman’s sufferings only after being ‘touched’ by the hands of her faith-healer father.
The emotional weight of the pic is carried by the relationship that evolves between Verena (Madeleine Potter) and Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave). Latter is a mature spinster who attempts to secure her charge to the cause with a promise that she will never marry.
Central obstacle to Olive’s ambition is Basil Ransome, a persuasive lawyer from the south.
The film is ultimately convincing because of the central performance by newcomer Madeleine Potter as Verena who conveys all the dilemmas of a naive but strong-minded girl caught between her attachment to the cause and her longing for love.
1984: Nominations: Best Actress (Vanessa Redgrave), Costume Design