The Wings of the Dove (1997 film)

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The Wings of the Dove
Wings of the dove ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byIain Softley
Produced by
Screenplay byHossein Amini
Based onThe Wings of the Dove
by Henry James
Music byEdward Shearmur
CinematographyEduardo Serra
Edited byTariq Anwar
Renaissance Dove
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • 7 November 1997 (1997-11-07) (United States)
  • 2 January 1998 (1998-01-02) (United Kingdom)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Box office$13.7 million[2]

The Wings of the Dove is a 1997 British-American romantic drama film directed by Iain Softley and starring Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, and Alison Elliott. The screenplay by Hossein Amini is based on the 1902 novel of the same name by Henry James. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and five BAFTAs, recognizing Bonham Carter's performance, the screenplay, costume design and the cinematography.


In 1910 London, England, Kate Croy lives under the careful watch of her domineering Aunt Maude. The wealthy Maude has taken the penniless Kate in, intending to marry her to a rich man and save her from the fate which befell her recently deceased mother when she married Kate's own dissolute father, Lionel. Lord Mark, a sophisticated aristocrat with a large estate, begins to court Kate with Maude's approval. However Kate is secretly in love with a young muckraking journalist named Merton Densher, whom her aunt has forbidden her from pursuing a relationship with because of his humble circumstances. Nonetheless, she has continued to meet with Merton in secret, though he is growing increasingly impatient for her to leave her aunt and marry him.

Aunt Maude confronts Kate about her continuing association with Densher and threatens to withdraw her financial support from Kate and her father. Kate reluctantly breaks with Merton and refuses to meet with him anymore. A few months later, at a dinner party given by her aunt, Kate is introduced to the wealthy American orphan and heiress Milly Theale, who is on an extended trip through Europe with her travelling companion Susan Stringham. The cynical Kate is captivated by Milly's beauty, vivaciousness and humor, and the two form a strong friendship. Kate and Merton reconcile and resume their secret meetings; one day they run into Milly and Kate introduces Merton as a friend. Soon after Milly invites Kate to accompany her and Susan to Venice.

Before leaving Lord Mark secretly reveals to Kate that Milly is terminally ill and that although he desires Kate he has to marry Milly to avoid losing his estates. Aware that Milly is indifferent to Lord Mark but is smitten with Merton, Kate invites Merton to Venice and persuades him to show Milly affection in an effort to seduce her. Kate expects that the orphaned and lonely Milly will leave him her fortune after her death.

During Kate's, Milly's, and Merton's excursions through Venice, Kate gradually becomes jealous of Milly's attraction to Merton, so much so that she lures him away one night to have sex. Milly confronts her the next morning, though Kate denies that Merton is her lover. She realizes that she must leave, without warning Merton, if her scheme is to succeed. On their own in Venice, Merton's affection for Milly grows ever stronger and the two form a strong bond, even as her condition worsens. One day Merton spots Lord Mark at a cafe; alarmed, he goes to visit Milly but is denied entry. Susan visits him and Merton realizes that Kate has revealed their secret to Lord Mark to sabotage the whole scheme, knowing that Mark would tell Milly as revenge for her jilting him. Nonetheless Milly agrees to see Merton and the two share an intimate moment where she forgives him and says that she still loves both him and Kate, despite their actions. A few days later, Milly dies and Merton and Susan attend her funeral.

After Merton returns to London, Kate comes to Merton's flat. She asks why he has not come to see her in the weeks he has been back and finds a letter from Milly's attorneys, informing Merton that Milly did indeed bequeath a sizable portion of her estate to him. Merton tells Kate that he will not take the money, and she must marry him without it if they are to be together. She agrees, and they make love. But afterwards, Kate asks him to tell her that he is not still in love with Milly, or his memory of her, and he cannot. Kate leaves him for good, knowing that her conniving has backfired. Merton returns to Venice, alone, while in the background we hear Milly's voice repeating her confident assertion that Merton will be coming into his own, and sooner than he thinks.



London exterior locations include Brompton Cemetery on the Fulham Road; Carlton House Terrace in St. James's (Aunt Maud's house); Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street (Merton's newspaper office); Kensington Gardens; the National Liberal Club in Whitehall; the Richmond Fellowship; and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Knebworth House in Hertfordshire stood in for Lord Mark's country estate, and Debenham House in Kensington for his London home. Syon House in London was used for the wedding reception scene early in the film. Shepperton Studios was used for the mock-ups of a platform tunnel and passageways representing both Dover Street and Knightsbridge tube stations.

Locations in Venice include St. Mark's Square and the Palazzo Barbaro.[3]


Box office[edit]

The film grossed $13,718,385 in the United States.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The Wings of the Dove received positive reviews from critics, and Bonham Carter's performance received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 84%, based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10.[4] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 73 out of 100, based on 18 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

In his review in the New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film a "spellbinding screen adaptation [that] succeeds where virtually every other film translation of a James novel has stumbled . . . This magnificent film conveys an intimation of what values count the most, of what really matters, but it is also far too intelligent and sympathetic to human frailty to spell them out. You feel them most of all in the characters' unbridgeable silences."[6]

Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "The Wings of the Dove was a minor literary work that manages on screen to upstage both Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady, two superior Henry James novels that came across as stiff and deliberate in recent film translations. This is a breakthrough for Softley, whose earlier films Backbeat and Hackers only hinted at the style and complexity he displays here, and a wonderful showcase for Roache, Elliott and Bonham Carter, who gives her best performance yet."[7]

In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman graded the film A and observed it "has a lush yet aching beauty that seems to saturate you as you watch it. I'm not just talking about visual beauty. I'm speaking of dramatic beauty, the exquisite moment-to-moment tension of characters who reveal themselves layer by layer, flowing from thought to feeling and back again, until thought and feeling become drama. Director Iain Softley has made one of the rare movies that evokes not just the essence of a great novel but the experience of it . . . The Wings of the Dove is, I think, a great film . . . that confirms the arrival of major screen talents: director Softley, who works with sublime sensitivity to the intricacies of self-deception; Bonham Carter and Roache, who create a dazzlingly intimate chemistry within the propriety of Jamesian manners; and The Spitfire Grill's Alison Elliott, who, with her beatific charm and Mona Lisa smile, does one of the most difficult things an actress can — she brings goodness itself to life."[8]

David Stratton of Variety stated the film "gives Helena Bonham Carter one of her best opportunities in a while, one which she seizes with relish, looking vibrant and totally convincing in her pivotal role . . . The Wings of the Dove may be typical of the school of British literary cinema, but Softley's handling of several key elements, including an unusually frank love scene in the later stages, is always inventive. Production values are of the highest standard."[9]

Andrew Johnston (critic), writing in Time Out New York, noted that "Softley and Amini risk making their film seriously anachronistic by emphasizing the plot's pulpish qualities, but the able cast helps make it work." He also observed that "The immaculate production design makes turn-of-the-century London and Venice seem vibrant and real. Wings is a masterful and deeply haunting film; it adds genuine relevance to a genre that typically leans toward the static."[10]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Nominee Result
Academy Award 23 March 1998 Best Actress in a Leading Role Helena Bonham Carter Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Hossein Amini
Best Cinematography Eduardo Serra
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell
BAFTA Award 18 April 1998 Best Cinematography Eduardo Serra Won
Best Makeup and Hair Sallie Jaye and Jan Archibald
Best Actress in a Leading Role Helena Bonham Carter Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Hossein Amini
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell
Boston Society of Film Critics Award 14 December 1997 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Won
Best Supporting Actress Alison Elliott Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers 29 November 1997 Best Cinematography Eduardo Serra
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award 20 January 1998 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Won
Best Picture Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award 1 March 1998 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter
Gold Hugo 9-19 October 1997 Best Film Iain Softley
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award January 1998 Best Supporting Actress Allison Elliott
Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter
Golden Globe Award 18 January 1998 Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress Won
Sierra Award January 1998 Best Actress
Best Supporting Actress Allison Elliott
Critics' Circle Film Awards 4 March 1999 British Actress of the Year Helena Bonham Carter
LAFCA Award 15 January 1996 Best Actress
Golden Reel Award 21 March 1998 Best Sound Editing - Foreign Feature Nominated
NBR Award 8 December 1998 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Won
Top Ten Films
National Society of Film Critics Award 3 January 1998 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Award 4 January 1998 Best Actress
Online Film Critics Society Award 11 January 1998 Best Actress
Satellite Award 22 February 1998 Best Screenplay: Adapted Hossein Amini
Best Actress in a Motion Picture Helena Bonham Carter
Best Art Direction and Production Design John Beard
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell
Society of Texas Film Critics Awards 29 December 1997 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Won
Screen Actors Guild Award 8 March 1998 Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Allison Elliott
Southeastern Film Critics Association Award 5 January 1998 Best Actress Helena Bonham Carter Won
TFCA Award 13 January 1998 Best Actress
USC Scripter Award 8 March 1998 Henry James (author), Hossein Amini (screenwriter) Nominated
Writers Guild of America Award 21 February 1998 Best Adapted Screenplay Hossein Amini

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Wings of the Dove (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 November 1997. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b "''The Wings of the Dove'' at". Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  3. ^ “The City of Falling Angels, John Berendt, Penguin Books, 2006, pg.147 [1], ISBN 1-59420-058-0
  4. ^ "The Wings of the Dove". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  5. ^ "The Wings of the Dove". Metacritic. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  6. ^ "''New York Times'' review". 7 November 1997. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  7. ^ Edward Guthmann (14 November 1997). "''San Francisco Chronicle'' review". Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  8. ^ Owen Gleiberman (7 November 1997). "''Entertainment Weekly'' review". Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  9. ^ Stratton, David (14 June 2000). "''Variety'' review". Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  10. ^ Johnston, Andrew (6–13 November 1997). "The Wings of the Dove". Time Out New York: 83.

External links[edit]