Directed by James Ivory, starring Uma Thurman, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Northam & Nick Nolte.

Having already filmed two Henry James novels ('The Europeans' and 'The Bostonians'), the trio of James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have now tackled the most difficult of James' works, 'The Golden Bowl'. The story focuses on a love rectangle between four people at the turn of the century: billionaire Adam Verver (Nolte), his daughter Maggie (Beckinsale), her beautiful but poor best friend, Charlotte Stant (Thurman) and an equally hard up Italian aristocrat, Amerigo (Northam). The future of the Verver dynasty seems secure when Maggie weds Amerigo and Charlotte marries the aging tycoon. But both father and daughter are blissfully blind to the history between their partners, a history that can neither be buried or bought and which continues to write itself long after the exchanging of vows.

At the centre of 'The Golden Bowl' is the idea of flawed perfection, be it in life, art or love. Charlotte views the titular object as a wedding gift for Maggie, but decides against it because it has a crack in it. The crack then becomes a symbol for the unions of the four leads as Ivory delicately draws the contrast between the desire for security and the need for love, the necessity of empty pockets and the trauma of empty hearts. As with all Merchant Ivory productions, the eye for detail and sense of location are excellent and - despite a denouement which arrives half an hour too late - the complexities of James' work are superbly realised. But it is for Thurman's performance that the film will be remembered. While her career to date has contained more footnotes than triumphs, here, with Nolte as her foil (enjoying his finest moments in the autumn of his career), she is outstanding, a beguiling mistress of schemes and sins.

Harry Guerin