House Of Mirth
Australian Reviews and Articles

House of Mirth, Sunday (channel 9), June 3, 2001
House of Mirth, Greater Union, May 31, 2001
Gillian's House Call, TV Soap, July 2001 cover date (published late May 2001)

House Of Mirth
Film: The House of Mirth
Reviewed June 3, 2001
Reporter : Peter Thompson

The House of Mirth is considered American writer Edith Wharton's most powerful novel. It's been filmed before, but never more effectively than now, by English director Terence Davies. His star is Gillian Anderson, best known as Scully in the long-running TV series The X-Files.

Now in his mid-50s, Terence Davies created something of a sensation a decade ago with his semi-autobiographical films Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. He composed stunning tableaux of working class family life but at the same time, explored cruelty, love and loneliness with irresistible power. Using music with particular sensitivity, he created his portraits out of exquisitely observed moments, rather than strong stories.

The House of Mirth is much more conventional but Davies has sacrificed none of his precision in bringing Edith Wharton's heroine Lily Bart to life. A tumultuous century separates her New York from the New York of Sex and the City. But the currency hasn't changed.

At first sight, Lily Bart is about as dazzling as she can be. She fits perfectly into the world of new wealth that surrounds her and she's destined for a special place in it. At least, everyone thinks so, including Lily. Having missed the afternoon train to her friend's country mansion, she runs into Lawrence Selden. He suggests she pass the time waiting in his apartment nearby.

The risk, of course, is in being seen to be too easily available, of setting one's price too low. But part of Lily's charm is that she flaunts the rules. And the attraction of Lawrence Selden is that she can speak to him with a degree of frankness that's impossible with any other man.

The business is securing a place in the world and the passport is marriage. Among the eligible men around Lily is the very rich but priggish Percy Gryce, and the increasingly rich but less socially acceptable Sim Rosedale. There are also married men like Gus Trenor who appear to care for her and take an interest in her wellbeing. But it is Selden who appears to appreciate Lily more fully than anyone. He finds her a wonderful spectacle, a genius even.

In The House of Mirth, people speak in code. Everyone is playing a role and Lily seems to particularly relish her performance much of the time. But this is a much harsher world than it appears. In fact, Edith Wharton's rage at its cruelty is the driving force of the story and Lily's recklessness costs her dearly.

Terence Davies isn't interested in the nostalgic charm of a golden age. The physical luxury that surrounds Lily is strangling her and the most beautiful setting, a lavish Mediterranean cruise with her friends Bertha and George Dorset, brings on the most savage betrayal.

What interests Davies most about Lily is that underneath her apparent mastery of the world she inhabits, is someone who really doesn't belong. Davies himself has always felt like an outsider and he's taken the role of observer rather than participant. Bending Edith Wharton's invention to his own devices, he invests Lily with a hard won dignity. Ultimately, she just refuses to play the game and it brings her down.

The most controversial element of The House of Mirth is the casting of Gillian Anderson. Some say she's not pretty enough or dazzling enough for Lily. But it's an extraordinarily powerful performance and it makes a mockery of the Oscars that she wasn't even nominated. What went against her possibly is that the film itself is strong medicine, rather too bitter, perhaps, for most Americans. There's a feeling that Lily might even deserve what she gets. The House of Mirth is a tough film but it's superbly crafted by a uniquely gifted filmmaker. It opens around Australia on June 14.

House Of Mirth
In The Mighty and the ensemble film, Playing By Heart, it was clear that, given the chance to shed her Dana Scully persona from The X Files, Gillian Anderson was an actress with much more to offer. The promise of those performances is well and truly realised in The House of Mirth in which Ms Anderson commands the film for most of its substantial running time.

Like its author, Edith Wharton’s other novel, The Age of Innocence, filmed by Martin Scorsese, The House of Mirth is a dissection of early 1900s New York society. Here, she slowly depicts the manner in which the rules and constraints of that society bring about the downfall of one woman. What is most chilling is how those who take part in her disgrace do so within the bounds of “politeness” in which everything that is said is implicit. Genteel language often masks deeper passions than the words convey in writer/director, Terence Davies’ excellent adaptation.

The film chronicles the fall of glamorous socialite, Lily Bart (Anderson) that begins from the moment she steps from a train in 1905 New York. A streak of independence and defiance in Lily allows her to make decisions that, as time will show, are not always well considered and will accumulate to work against her. The first of these is to accompany a male friend, Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) to his apartment for tea. The exchange between them reveals that there is a mutual attraction, but for Lily, Selden’s lack of wealth disqualifies him as the husband she is seeking. Leaving his apartment, she meets Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia), the owner of the building who knows that only bachelors occupy it. Through Rosedale’s eyes, and in the unwritten code of the society to which they both belong, Lily’s reputation is already tainted.

Her fall from grace advances when she naively approaches a friend’s husband, Gus Trenor (Dan Aykroyd) for financial advice to help her pay off a gambling debt. When he makes $9,000 for her, he expects repayment in sexual favours, but Lili refuses, promising instead to pay back all the money and thus making a bitter enemy. Her aunt (Eleanor Bron) from whom she expects an inheritance virtually disinherits her by leaving the bulk of her estate to Lili’s jealous cousin, Grace (Jodhi May). A promiscuous friend, Bertha Dorset (Laura Linney) avoids scandal by coldly shifting suspicion of one of her own indiscretions to the innocent Lili, whose banishment from society becomes complete.

Article From Greater Union, May 31, 2001.

Gillian's House Call
Desperate to stretch herself beyond Scully, the X-Files star's latest vehicle is a period costume drama.

Deception and intrigue. Hidden agendas. Powerful forces outside your control. Sounds like an episode of TV's hit series The X-Files, which stars Gillian Anderson as FBI agent Dana Scully. But it's not- these are the issues Gillian also battles in her new movie The House of Mirth.

In the movie she plays Lily Bart, a "marriageable" young society lady of limited means. Based on Edith Wharton's classic novel and set in early 20th century New York's upper circles, the story follows Lily's inner conflict as she's forced to decide whether to marry money or look for true love in her life.

Gillian, 32, auditioned for hours for British director Terence Davies to get the part. He had never seen an episode of The X-Files but was inspired by a publicity photo of Gillian that reminded him of the paintings of John Singer Sargent.

While Gillian's X-Files persona is her biggest claim to fame, the beautiful Chicago-native tries to avoid typecasting.

"Lily is not in any way, shape of form like Scully, which is usually my goal in choosing characters. Because Scully has done everything: she's cried, she's screamed, in the movie I wanted to express those emotions without a modicum of Scullyness," Gillian says candidly.

But Gillian herself does not relate to either character.

"My own, natural personality isn't very self-controlled," she says." I implement a great deal of control in my life to accomplish certain things, but I am a more eclectic person than either Scully or Lily."

To prepare for the role of Lily, Gillian read about the politics and social climate of the time, before reading the novel.

While Gillian counts herself extremely lucky to be working in the industry, she says it makes raising six-year-old daughter Piper more complicated.

"When Piper's around, I usually say no to autographs. I just don't want her to witness me being special in any way. She's very fortunate to be growing up in such financial security, and the challenge is for her not to come to expect that," she says.

While Gillian calls Malibu, California her home, she spends every minute she's not working on the LA X-Files set visiting Piper, who goes to school in Vancouver, Canada.

"Piper's in first grade now, and I think it's important that she be in one place instead of travelling back and forth," she says. " So at the moment I'm travelling back and forth."

Gillian's travelling lifestyle won't be changing for the next couple of years though, because she's signed up for an eighth and ninth season with the paranormal TV hit which has made her a household name.

Her busy schedule means her dream of stepping behind the cameras and directing some day may also be put on hold- but not indefinitely.

She says:" I'll definitely direct, even if I have to make it with all women with no money and write it myself."

By Theo Kingma
Article From TV Soap, July 2001 cover date but available last week of May.
Transcribed by Lucy

Read Sydney Morning Herald House Of Mirth feature.
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