Blast from the past

The Wings of the Dove and one tedious summer party


What can a 9-10 year old child do at a tedious and dull summer dinner party ? Watch The Wings of the Dove of course.

Let me explain. With no babysitter and with no other friends around (summer holidays were in full swing) I was bored and lonely child in Skopje- my home town. It’s a huge city but It’s mostly dead at the start of August, so I was basically forced to come to a name-day birthday party at my uncle’s house. He passed away last month unexpectedly, so this is a bitter sweet post for me to be honest. It brings fond memories of him, but I’m also saddened that I will never see my uncle again. Those memories are also directly related with the wonderful costume drama called The Wings of the Dove, because It was the night in which I also distinctly remember seeing the movie for the first time. With nothing to do, i turned on the TV in the living room, and one movie started on the TV Chanel.  Hey why not? Finally some distraction form the boredom. I’m not bothering anyone, and my parents literally forget me in the armchair. I was quiet, occupied for 100 minutes and from the first scene in the London subway i shut down. I literally forgot i was at a big party with about 30 people around me. I was quickly falling in love with it. The movie, and with Helena Bonham Carter and Linus Roache in the process. My love for the 2 actors has never changed and has grown since then to be honest, and although I’ve seen other previous quality projects of them, The Wings of the Dove has remained the pinnacle in their career in my eyes.

And in The Wings of the Dove, Bonham Carter is Kate Croy. A young woman from an old money family, that’s currently under her dominating aunt Maude’s protective wings. She’s also secretly betrothed with young muckraking journalist named Merton Densher (Linus Roache) and because their different social statuses they cannot make their relationship public.

-I’d be penniless. Cased out of society- Kate tells her lover.

However, after the acquaintance and eventual friendship with the filthy rich American woman Milly Theale (Alison Elliot), who happens to be dying, Kate comes up with a brilliant yet dangerous plan. To set up Merton with Millie. He will seduce her, she will fall in love with him, and after she is dead, he will inherit her massive wealth, so they can finally be together.

And while I remember watching the movie for the first time with a romantic naiveté reserved for girls, in honor of the upcoming 20 years jubilee since the premiere, I watched it again and see it with different eyes. Yes the movie among other things, stated the obvious. People do stupid things when they’re in love, but while I justified Kate’s decision in my youth, I pity her now with more grown up eyes. I think of her now as a desperate yet evil character that toyed with the emotions of 2 other people. And while it was brought on by the misery and restrains in her love life, the decision she made early on was careless.

Adapted by the 1902 novel of a same name by Henry James, and directed to the screen by Ian Softly, is so much more a romantic drama about star crossed lovers. Looking on the book, and movie adaptation, it’s a tale of the age old rule if you ask me. Money marries with money.

And while it’s rich in character study, social etiquette and moral questions, The Wings of the Dove is a reminder that the Cinderella story is so rare it’s basically extinct. Rich people will always marry other rich people. Always has been the case, always will be. The poor, penniless people are not just unwanted in their social circles, they are unwanted as part of potential family. That’s something that a grown up me, sees more and more IRL, while the love story is something I see just in movies. Still.

Furthermore i look back on the words that the great Roger Ebert said of this movie in his review. I wanna emphasize the emotional conflict all of them had while playing along with Kate’s charade. I see it now. They all knew it on some level, but went along with it.

In “The Wings of the Dove,” there is a fascination in the way smart people try to figure one another out. The film is acted with great tenderness. If the three central characters had been more forthright, more hedonistic, we wouldn’t care nearly as much. But all three have a certain tact, a certain sympathy for the needs of the others. At the end, when Millie knows the score, she can at least be grateful that she got to play the game.

Yup. They all knew of the charade. They all knew it on some level, but went along with it, I think not just to get things out of Kate’s plan (money, companionship) I thinks it was a test for all of them to figure each other out. Yes they were smart people, and as Ebert puts it -they had sympathy for the needs of others, among other things.

I specifically remember the feeling, the emotions and the mood I was in while I watched The Wings of the Dove that August night. I remember being fascinated with the acting of the 3 lead actors (Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliot) the costumes, the set pieces in England and Italy, the elaborate parties and the life of the upper class of Edwardian England. But most importantly it will be a warm reminder of one night at my uncle’s party that I will no longer have. Maybe it was boring and tedious for the 10 year old me, but it’s a wonderful memory for the grown up me. A memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. An unexpected great movie screening at a very boring party.


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