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(-: The Henry James E-Journal :-)Number 7
September 4, 2003
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James Cellan Jones's View of Female Potential in The Portrait of a Lady (1968) and The Golden Bowl (1972)by Laurence Raw
Baskent University, Ankara, TurkeyThe late 1960s and 70s witnessed an extraordinary flowering of James adaptations, especially on BBC television. The Portrait of a Lady (1968) was swiftly followed by What Maisie Knew (also 1968); The Spoils of Poynton appeared in 1970 with The Golden Bowl premiering two years later. Later on in the decade The Ambassadors (1977) and The Wings of the Dove (1979) were produced. British critics enthusiastically welcomed some of these adaptations: Francis Hope congratulated the BBC for The Portrait of a Lady, which he believed was an example of public service broadcasting at its best (Hope 24). Julian Critchley in the London Times considered What Maisie Knew "great fun", even if James himself might have considered it a serious work (Critchley 4).
This article will consider two of these adaptations--The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl--in detail, focusing in particular on the way in which they conceive their female characters. Before that, however, I will situate the adaptations in context by looking at how classic serials were produced in the 60s and 70s. Both The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl were adapted by Jack Pulman and directed by James Cellan Jones; following their British premieres, they were broadcast on PBS in the United States in the Masterpiece Theatre series which began in 1971. They were produced by the BBC Serials Department, which at the time provided 140 hours per annum of television (excluding repeats), with a staff of six directors and eight producers. Each year the department head proposed a package of programs for broadcast in regular slots--the classic serial on BBC2 every Saturday (with a repeat on Thursday), or the Sunday tea-time classic serial on BBC1. By the late 60s the serial had established through weekly scheduling in seasonal blocks enough regularity to build an audience, and enough identity to build an ethos, based on the notion of contributing to the development of a national culture. The BBC executive Oliver Whitley remarked in 1965 that the classic serial should educate the British people, most of whom were rather "culture-resistant" (Whitley 1). A 1972 book Television and the People congratulated the Corporation's classic serial output for rendering "obsolete the former divisions which stratified the public into high, low and middle brows" (Groombridge 23).
This concern for cultural education (allied to the financial constraints placed on the Serials Department) significantly affected the ways in which James's novels were adapted for the screen. All directors and adapters were encouraged to keep as close as possible to the author's original intentions, both in terms of characterization and narrative. This technique is evident in the screenplays for The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl, which incorporate substantial passages from the original novels, and which unfold at a leisurely pace, permitting viewers to reflect on what they are seeing and--perhaps more importantly--hearing. Exterior locations are kept to a minimum--in The Portrait of a Lady, for instance, only one scene (where Isabel rejects Lord Warburton's proposal of marriage) takes place outdoors. The viewer's attention focuses on the interplay between characters, with Cellan Jones's camera ruthlessly scrutinizing their reactions in close-ups or two-shots. Both adaptations make frequent use of visual symbols to facilitate the viewer's understanding of a particular sequence, and how it fits into the overall narrative.
It is hard to imagine Cellan Jones's approach recommending itself to BBC producers of today, in an environment where cost-effectiveness has become more and more central to decision-making, and where the economic logic has shifted from producer-unit to package-unit. In the past, producers could work on a variety of projects, secure in the knowledge that they would be scheduled at regular times, and attract a loyal audience. By the 90s every adaptation was planned on the assumption that every aspect of an adaptation had to demonstrate marketing potential to ensure high audience figures and good overseas sales--whether it be the star casts, historic locations, or the meticulously designed sets and costumes. Commercial imperatives had always been important for Masterpiece Theatre on PBS in the United States (where Mobil provided the entire series budget of between $10m. and $15m. per annum between 1971 and 1998), but it was a new phenomenon for the BBC in the 90s. The $9m. production of Middlemarch (1994) filmed in the ancient town of Stamford, Lincolnshire, adapted by Andrew Davies, was widely regarded as a test case: "If the series was not a critical success, they [the BBC] threatened to give up adapting proper books altogether" (Giddings and Selby 89). The Corporation had no need to worry: Middlemarch was sold to 30 countries and recouped over $2.75m. in video/DVD sales.
With the BBC of the 60s and early 70s being less preoccupied with commercial imperatives and more with the quality of their output, directors had the freedom to develop their own idiosyncratic interpretations of a particular work. In the second part of this article, I will analyze Cellan Jones's representation of the female protagonists in The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl--Isabel Archer, Charlotte Stant and Maggie Verver--focusing in particular on their refusal to conform to what people expect of them. Isabel rejects a financially advantageous marriage to Lord Warburton, and chooses to return to England to comfort the dying Ralph, in defiance of Osmond's wishes. On most occasions, however, she sustains her independence through less direct means, ones that Cellan Jones highlights televisually: he frequently frames her face in close-up as she chides her friends for asking too much from her, or expecting her to behave in a particular manner. Both Charlotte Stant and Maggie Verver in Cellan Jones's Golden Bowl opt for silence as a method of resistance. On the surface they appear to be committed to marriage, home and family, but no one really knows them. The on-screen narrator Bob Assingham makes repeated attempts to explain their motives; it is clear from his speeches, however, that his judgements are riddled with uncertainties. Cellan Jones's emphasis on female potential might now be considered sexist (it clearly reinforces women's position on the periphery of society); for first-wave feminists of the late 60s and 70s, however, this viewpoint was of paramount importance. Carol Andreas's Sex And Caste In America (1971) suggested that a greater awareness of female potential could open up "new possibilities for freedom" for both men and women who hitherto had been "kept in anxiety about their worth and identity as human beings because they must 'make it' as a man or woman member of a sexist society" (Andreas 25). In Towards a Recognition of Androgyny (1973), Carolyn G.Heilbrun exalted "feminine traits", in the belief that "since they have [hitherto] been so drastically undervalued, [they] must now gain respect, so that a sort of balance is achieved among those in power, and within individuals" (Heilbrun xvi).
Perhaps the classic serial of the 60s and early 70s was the ideal means of communicating these ideas to viewers who (in the directors' minds at least) were considered perfectly capable of listening to as well as watching what took place on screen. In a recent book on the history of British television, Stuart Jeffries waxed lyrical about adaptations such as Fay Weldon's Pride and Prejudice (1980) that included whole speeches from Austen's novel: "Such delicious circumlocution! Such English sang-froid! Such brightness of spirit and of intelligence! . . . we could, through watching adaptations of Jane Austen, imagine a time when all was well . . ." (Jeffries 154). Jack Pulman's screenplay for Cellan Jones's Portrait of a Lady likewise incorporates large quantities of Jamesian text. In one sequence the action moves from the scene where Madame Merle (Rachel Gurney) promises to talk to Isabel (Suzanne Neve) on Mrs. Touchett's behalf (PL 277) to the moment where Osmond (James Maxwell) wonders what to do with Pansy (284). The dialog remains much the same as in the novel, save for the omission of Isabel's observation to Osmond ("I think that wouldn't do much towards making her resemble me" (285)).
This concern for the Jamesian text is equally evident in Cellan Jones's adaptation of The Golden Bowl. In one newly-written sequence Bob Assingham (Cyril Cusack) observes Maggie Verver (Jill Townsend) waiting for her husband to return home: "So Maggie waited, her heart I'm sure beating very fast". The Prince (Daniel Massey) returns without a greeting from Maggie. In the next scene Bob admits that "what she [Maggie] might have said, what she longed to say, I suppose, was . . .", followed closely by Maggie's own voice-over of a passage taken almost verbatim from the novel (TGB 337):
"Why have I made this evening such a point of our not dining together? Well, because I've all day been so wanting you all alone that I finally couldn't bear it, and there didn't seem to be any great reason why I should try to. You seem these last days, I don't know what, more absent than ever before, too absent for us merely to go on so. It's all very well and I perfectly see how beautiful it is all around. But there comes a day when something snaps and the cup flows over. That's it. The cup all day has been too full to carry, so here I am with it spilling over you, because it's my life after all, and I don't have to explain, do I, that I'm as much in love with you now as on the first hour we met, except there are some hours, which I know when they come because they frighten me, that you are even more so, and they do come, oh how they come, how they come."
The cup image is used earlier on in the novel, when James describes the Prince's eyes meeting Charlotte's on the balcony: "So therefore while the minute lasted it passed between them that their cup was full; which cup their very eyes, holding it fast, carried and steadied and began, as they tasted it, to praise" (TGB 290). Charlotte subsequently observes that she feels "like a great gold cup that we [i.e. the Prince and herself] must somehow drain together" (292). Cellan Jones retains Charlotte's line, but emphasizes the strength of her attraction to the Prince--as expressed through the gold cup image--by having Mr. Blint (Terry Mitchell) play the love-song "Plaisir d'Amour" on the piano in the background.i The fact that Maggie is unaware of this, when she makes use of the golden cup image to express her feelings for her husband, renders her speech even more poignant.
Throughout Maggie's long speech the camera focuses on her expressionless face until Bob observes in a newly-written line that "of course she couldn't say that". In the novel the Prince talks about what he has been doing, then excuses himself with the phrase "I must go and bathe". The clear implication is that he seeks to cleanse himself of Charlotte's smell, leaving Maggie alone in the darkness as the scene fades to black. The entire sequence seeks to render the novel's interior states of being visible: viewers contemplate Maggie as she reflects on her husband's behavior, and comes to understand what he has been up to.ii The experience of watching classic serials of this kind was well summed up in Julian Critchley's review of The Portrait of a Lady: "James comes over well on television. We concentrate not on action but on character, and watch with growing pleasure the application of a large talent to the very slightest of stories" (Critchley 4). Bearing in mind the likelihood that many viewers were encountering The Portrait and The Golden Bowl for the first time, Pulman and Cellan Jones tried to show how both novels were as much concerned with states of mind as character and incident. Little attempt was made to liven up both plots with gratuitous action: viewers had to listen to as well as observe what was unfolding on screen. In this respect, Bob's reflective monologues provide an experience analogous to that of reading James's novel. For those more accustomed to classic serials of the 90s, which take more liberties with the original texts, The Portrait and The Golden Bowl might seem flat and undramatic; nonetheless they provide excellent examples of how the classic serial at its best could educate as well as entertain television audiences of the late 60s and 70s.
Sometimes it seems as if Cellan Jones deliberately interrupts the narrative to enable viewers to reflect on the characters' behavior. Isabel's journey from Gardencourt to Italy is not described in James's Portrait (we only learn that she finds Italy "a land of promise, a land in which the love of the beautiful might be comforted by endless knowledge" (PL 223)). In the adaptation Isabel's voyage is symbolically represented by means of an interlude in which an etching of a ship at sea is shown onscreen, accompanied by Ralph's (Richard Chamberlain's) voice-over telling his father (Alan Gifford) that he seeks to "get just the good I said a few moments ago I wished to put into Isabel's reach--that of having met the requirements of my imagination" (PL 186). As studio time was limited in 1968, and most classic serials had to be recorded quickly (within 10-14 days), it is likely that sequences such as this were deliberately introduced to enable the actors to move from one set to another. Nonetheless this strategy--a legacy of the days when all BBC dramas were broadcast live--has a thematic as well as a practical function. Just like the artist who painted the ship, Ralph perceives Isabel as a canvas onto which he can project his dream of social success. This interlude also adumbrates the next scene in the adaptation where Madame Merle tells Osmond that drawing is his sole accomplishment, even if it does reveal his "adorable taste" (PL 242).
Such devices were no longer necessary by 1972, as the technology of video-tape recording had improved. However, Cellan Jones frequently interrupts the action to allow Bob Assingham (Cyril Cusack) to address the viewers direct to camera, or comment on the other characters through voice-over. On one occasion Maggie sits in a tea-shop staring into the middle distance while Bob tells us how she had been courted by the Prince. Later on--in a newly-written speech--he reflects on Charlotte's (Gayle Hunnicutt's) forthcoming marriage to Verver:
"I think in her own way she was bent on making the marriage work. When she thought about it consciously I think she meant all that she had said to Verver that day on the pier at Brighton. She did want to get married. She did like him; she was immensely grateful to him and perhaps at first she didn't know what was truly at the back of her mind . . ."
Writing in the London Times after the opening episode was broadcast in May 1972, Leonard Buckley complained that the use of Bob as an onscreen narrator was "irksome", as Cusack's voice was not "the sort to sustain a long narration without grating" (Buckley 9). It is certainly true that Bob's voice-overs divert our attention away from the visual image, as we concentrate on what is happening mentally and emotionally (through the words) rather than physically (through the action) (Mitchell 300). But perhaps this is the most effective way of rendering James's exploration of his characters' state of mind explicit on screen.
Not all critics were happy with this style of adaptation, which had remained much the same since the BBC started transmitting classic serials on a regular basis in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War. Commenting on John Davies's 1972 War and Peace, one writer complained that the genre had become too predictable:
"Sometimes you feel as if the same serial has been going on for five years. It changes title once every six months. Some time ago it was called Portrait of a Lady; then Pride and Prejudice. Still later they called it Middlemarch, and for the moment they refer to it as War and Peace" (Lauritza 30).
Even a recent critic such as Lee Clark Mitchell, who was generally sympathetic towards Cellan Jones's Golden Bowl, described the production as "bare-bones . . . with restrained costumes, uncluttered rooms, shot in under-stated studio sets" (Mitchell 297). Yet this style of presentation seems to be appropriate to a Henry James adaptation; by concentrating almost exclusively on the characters and their reactions, through close-ups, medium or two-shots, it can reveal (in Jonathan Freedman's words) how "human beings must not only reckon with the relations that construct them, but also work to build new, more efficacious ones" (Freedman 6). This certainly seems the case in The Portrait of a Lady. At one point Isabel admits in some newly-written lines that "if it hadn't been for the money, I'd never have married him [Osmond]". Yet she refuses to take Henrietta Stackpole (Sarah Brackett's) advice and end her marriage. Her reasons are plain enough:
"Why--because I know him better now than when I married him. That would be a paltry thing to do. I must make him like me better. While it remains unspoken, there's a chance it may improve. I think I owe him that. I think I owe it to myself".
The entire sequence is filmed in a series of medium shots and close-ups, with Isabel standing next to a large marble statue, its gleaming whiteness providing an apt metaphor for the sterility of her marriage. Her determination to try and make things better is also expressed symbolically, as she moves away from the statue and sits in a chair sipping tea in the shadow of a tree. Clearly she is searching for more fertile ways to communicate with her husband.
This quest proves futile, however, as Osmond accuses her of having played "a very deep game" in driving Lord Warburton away, and thereby preventing Pansy from contracting a financially advantageous marriage (PL 481). Cellan Jones shoots this scene in a series of two-shots, with Osmond standing threateningly over Isabel. On at least two occasions the action cuts to a point-of-view shot of Osmond looking at his wife sitting on the sofa, with all of his ornaments (vases, bronze figures) illuminated by candle-light in the background. On the one level, this point-of-view shot stresses Isabel's confinement; she cannot evade Osmond's gaze, let alone leave his house. On another level, the shot suggests that Osmond treats her as just another item in his collection of antiques.
In The Golden Bowl Charlotte's burgeoning affair with the Prince is expressed through a close-up of their hands linked together. The Prince's head is seen on the right of the frame as he moves towards Charlotte; as he does so, the camera tracks backwards to show her smiling face. What makes this moment more interesting is that, as the action unfolds, we hear Bob telling us that his wife Fanny (Kathleen Byron) could not understand "whether anything was going on between them or not. One moment she thought there was, the next she thought she was mistaken". Clearly Charlotte and the Prince are thoroughly enjoying their affair--particularly when no one else appears to know about it.
Later on Maggie's growing suspicion about their relationship is suggested in a sequence that begins with a close-up of Charlotte playing the piano. The camera tracks backwards once again to a medium shot of the Prince, Maggie and Adam Verver (Barry Morse), who are listening to her recital. Two medium close-ups of Maggie's face, her eyes fixed on the Prince, are separated by another shot of Charlotte playing "Plaisir d'Amour". Clearly this song, with its romantic message, alerts Maggie to the fact that it might not be intended for everyone's pleasure.
Another technique Cellan Jones employs to focus attention on the relationships in both adaptations is the use of visual symbolism. I have already shown how the marble statue functions as a metaphor for Isabel's marriage; the same image appears in the sequence where Isabel and Lord Warburton (Edward Fox) are shown walking in the grounds of Gardencourt--the only scene of location filming in the entire adaptation. This says a lot about Isabel's status in society; she is only permitted to walk outdoors when faced with a proposal of marriage. The two of them are shown sitting by a large marble statue placed in the center of an ornamental pond. Clearly we are meant to understand that whereas the union might bring Isabel wealth and social position, it will prove as lifeless as the statue. She is thoroughly justified in telling Warburton "not to hope at all" for her consent (PL 106). The most obvious symbol to appear in The Golden Bowl is the bowl itself. The Prince is the first to identify the flaw in its structure; as he considers whether this might be a bad omen or not (TGB 123), Cellan Jones cuts to a close-up of the bowl with Charlotte's fingers running round the edge. The same shot is used later on, once Maggie discovers the truth about her husband's infidelity, only this time it is Maggie's hand, rather than Charlotte's, which is shown running round the bowl.iii
So far we have concentrated mainly on Cellan Jones's approach to adaptation, showing how it was dictated by financial constraints as well as the need to fulfill the BBC's public service responsibility to inform, educate and entertain audiences. What we have not yet considered is how both The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl focus on the question of female identity--something that not only concerned feminists of the late 60s and early 70s, but Jamesian critics as well. Manfred Mackenzie remarked in 1972 that, once she marries Osmond, "Isabel is utterly displaced from her identity . . . . We must, I think, imagine that she has determined to suppress her revenge-feeling for the time being" (Mackenzie 71). A year later Lisa Appignanesi saw Isabel at the end of the novel as someone who had become "another masculine emanation, a static figure, whose outlines are complete, defined, and whose possibility for expanding the circuit of 'felt life' and attaining consciousness is closed" (Appignanesi 77). If these critics are to be believed, Isabel should have adopted a feminist perspective if she wanted to preserve her self-respect. Perhaps she should have followed Maggie Verver's example: according to Naomi Leibowitz in her essay "Magic and Metamorphosis in The Golden Bowl" (1965), reprinted in a 1970 anthology, she undergoes a transformation "from victim to saviour . . . . She breaks through the sentimentality of Fanny's picture of her 'brave little piety' to its truth in relationship" (Lebowitz 338).
In Cellan Jones's adaptations, however, neither Isabel, Maggie nor Charlotte have to choose between sacrificing their femininity or making a bid for independence through direct means. Rather, they endeavor to create a specifically feminine language for themselves which is irreducible to a masculine language based on unity and explicability (Irigaray 161-72). In Isabel's case, this is evident through her reticence, which renders her difficult to accommodate within the patriarchal order. To Ralph she is "a clever girl--with a strong will and a high temper" (PL 42), possessed of "a rare mind". He invites her to "be frank" about her marriage to Osmond (PL 467), to which Isabel replies (in a newly-written line): "I didn't marry to please my friends, and I can't complain just to please them either". Cellan Jones cuts to a close-up of Ralph's crestfallen face--despite his friendship for her, Isabel will not give him access to her "rare mind".
On another occasion Lord Warburton admits that he cannot make out what Isabel is "up to", and suggests that her mind is "a most formidable instrument" that "looks down on us all; it despises us" (PL 80).iv Cellan Jones adds the following lines: "ISABEL: I do not like the picture you draw of me. WARBURTON: It might be exaggerated. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps we should join the others".
Creating a portrait of a lady--either physically or in one's mind--constitutes a masculine strategy that imposes order and unity on her by capturing her for eternity in a particular attitude. Isabel resents this; she seeks to remain "perfectly free", and not have to justify her behavior to others, even if she could (PL 331-2).
This is further emphasized at the end of the adaptation. As someone who has based her career on manipulating others for Osmond's benefit, Madame Merle might have expected some reaction from Isabel to the revelation that it was Ralph who had imparted "that extra lustre . . . to make you a brilliant match". James's novel implies that this is the case, as Merle observes "in a kind of proud penance" that Isabel is unhappy (PL 559). In Cellan Jones's adaptation, Isabel remains silent, refusing to betray her emotions. After a few seconds, she turns away, delivering the line "I think I should like never to see you again" (PL 559) with a long pause between the words "like" and "never". She opens the door and quietly exits, leaving Merle alone, a pathetic figure whose scheming has left her with nothing--not even the pleasure of sustaining some kind of hold over Isabel.
To anyone who trusts in Bob Assingham's judgement in Cellan Jones's Golden Bowl, Maggie Verver's and Charlotte Stant's behavior must seem equally unpredictable. On one occasion Bob likens Maggie to a bird who "had flapped her little wings as a token of wanting to fly a little, not merely as a plea for a more gilded cage" (TGB 355, slightly rewritten). The result, according to Bob's patriarchal view of the world, was that Maggie "felt suddenly immensely alone". This summation is undermined by the events that follow, as Maggie admits that Charlotte has "always been so good, so perfect, to me--but never so wonderfully as just now. We have somehow been more together--thinking for the time almost only of each other; it has been quite as in old days" (TGB 365). Cellan Jones emphasizes the closeness of their relationship by means of a split-screen image, with Charlotte on the left of the frame, and Maggie on the right. Such contradictory impulses--where Charlotte chooses to remain close friends with someone who suspects her of having an affair with her husband--are beyond the scope of Bob's imagination. The strength of Charlotte and Maggie's friendship is further emphasized in a newly-created sequence when Maggie buys the golden bowl. The shopkeeper recalls the time earlier on when Charlotte looked at it, and asks Maggie whether Charlotte is her sister. Maggie's countenance is shown in tight close-up as she replies: "No--my friend".
Bob also attempts to explain Charlotte's motives, once the details of her affair with the Prince have been brought to light. In a newly-written speech delivered to camera he remembers that
"When Fanny said 'Poor Charlotte', I knew exactly what she meant. For whatever you may think of Charlotte, it was the cruelest thing imaginable that could be done to a woman as much in love as she was. To leave her suspended in mid-air and just wondering . . . . She [Maggie] could sense the panic rising in Charlotte's heart, as if she were a bird in a cage, suspended in a room into which a cat had just walked. She saw the flutterings, the beating of wings, the trembling of feathers around the throat".
What happens next does not appear so dramatic, as Charlotte and Maggie exchange confidences on the Castledeans' balcony, as if nothing had happened. Charlotte guides groups of tourists round her husband's house, while Bob solemnly intones in a voice-over that she "knew what her doom was, that she was to be separated from her lover and to all intents and purposes never to see him again". Charlotte neither confirms nor refutes his observations; like Isabel Archer, she appears to be enjoying "her cheerful submission to [wifely] duty" (TGB 526). The last we see of her in the adaptation is just before she departs for American City, where she stresses that "our real life isn't here [in England]" and points out, much to Maggie's chagrin, that she speaks both for herself and her husband: "Let me admit it--I am selfish. I place my husband first" (TGB 542). While such brazenness is an act, designed to cover up her private anguish, it seems hardly characteristic of a woman fluttering like a "bird in a cage" and proceeding inexorably to her doom, as Bob would have us believe.v
Cellan Jones's adaptations can scarcely be considered 'radical', in the sense that they seek to re-evaluate existing television production practices. The narratives are predominantly constructed according to classical principles, whereby viewers are encouraged to identify with fictional characters. By means of these identifications, viewers are drawn into the adaptation, so that when the questions of plot posed by the narrative are resolved by its closure, the viewers seem 'closed', completed or satisfied. This structure is characteristic of what Annette Kuhn has described as "dominant cinema, classic Hollywood narrative in particular" (Kuhn 250); but is equally prevalent in the classic serial, where each episode ends with an unanswered question, the solution of which can only be found out by watching the next installment.
The treatment of characters in The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl may appear equally conservative. Feminists such as Jane Gaines have argued in general terms that the link between femininity and silence shifts attention away from rational male discourses to the linguistic in-between (Gaines 78). This might also be the case in the two adaptations; but we have to bear in mind that both adaptations are the work of a male director, who could be trying to emphasize women's marginal position in a patriarchal society. Yet perhaps we should not be too critical: Cellan Jones's representation of women is very different from the kind of images that were characteristic of the majority of British film and television productions of the late 60s and early 70s. Sue Harper has argued that the film industry in particular was "in no position to respond to the changes in women's lives and consciousness" that were happening at that time, on account of "[the industry's] penury and cultural decline" (Harper 127). Many low-budget films which posited a radical view of women were either abandoned due to lack of money, or given very limited distribution. Consequently most female roles tended to be confined to familiar stereotypes: the patient wife, the harridan, the sex-object. I have shown elsewhere how The Nightcomers (1973), Michael Winner's meditation on The Turn Of The Screw, can be seen as a response to the perceived 'threat' of feminism by depicting Miss Jessel as a sex-starved spinster who cannot resist Quint, even though she finds him repulsive (Raw 195-6). While Isabel, Charlotte and Maggie appear to subject themselves to patriarchal authority, even if (in Charlotte's case) this involves a repression of her sexual desires, their refusal to explain themselves suggests some kind of repudiation of masculine (i.e. rational) values. Just like the readers of James's novels, viewers have to form their own interpretation of events, asking the same kind of questions, and reaching the same kind of tentative conclusions as the characters themselves. Like Bob Assingham, we might find our judgements disproved by events.
Cellan Jones's view of James's novels was later articulated by critics of the 90s. Alfred Habegger's "The Fatherless Heroine And Female Son" (1990) stresses that James was not fond of "the sort of liberty that is manifested in institutional reform--the emancipation of women in particular". The freedom that interested him particularly with Isabel in The Portrait of a Lady was "the internal kind, where the hands remain manacled, but the spirit somehow spreads its wings" (Habegger 87-8). More recently Martha Banta has drawn attention to the way the ending of The Golden Bowl "seems to snap shut", but "reaches no soothing conclusions, grants no stability to its gender relationships" (Banta 37). Jane Gaines argued in 1984 that an ideal feminist text should seek to "destroy the codes of mainstream entertainment and ultimately replace them with a cinema that provokes thought and encourages analysis". Her ideal approach was Brechtian-inspired, based on a refusal to allow audiences to identify with characters, and thereby provoke them into critical analysis of what unfolds before them (Gaines 81-2). Cellan Jones's Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl do not go that far; but by permitting the female protagonists to leave certain things unexplained, and thereby undermining the sense of closure in the endings, he prompts us to consider the limitations of mainstream classical narrative.
Both The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl are very much products of a particular period in British television history, with their studio sets, restrained costumes, and rather stilted visual style oscillating between medium shot and close-up. This essay has sought to suggest that this was deliberate, prompted partly by budgetary restrictions, and partly by the desire to make the viewer listen to as well as observe what took place on screen. In Alistair Cooke's view Henry James's "calm and wary analysis of the emotions of people" was "just what the small screen craves". Pulman and Cellan Jones stressed this in their adaptations, by showing how "television is not so much a miniature theatre as a powerful microscope for scanning the emotions concealed under gestures so small as a licked lip . . . or a defensive chuckle" (Cooke 92). At the same time both adaptations demonstrated how feminism had begun to penetrate mainstream television drama in the late 60s and 70s. The directors and writers might still be overwhelmingly male (and remained so in British television for another decade to come) but at least they were prepared to acknowledge that women might have a different way of interpreting events around them. The BBC producer Irene Shubik complained in 1970 that "one of the most disappointing things" about television drama at that time was "that if you try to do anything at all off the beaten track nobody seems to want to understand or know" (Shubik 90). I suggest that the very opposite was true; that directors like Cellan Jones explored the limits of the genre in an attempt to comment on gender relations of the period.
i. This song first appeared in the 1939 film Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. In William Wyler's version of Washington Square, The Heiress, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) sings the same song for Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland). That Cellan Jones should also include the song in his James adaptation seems to be more than just coincidence.
ii. I am indebted for much of this discussion to Lee Clark Mitchell, "Based on The Novel by Henry James". In Susan M.Griffin (ed.), Henry James Goes to the Movies. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001: 297-301.
iii. Cf. Joel Porte's comment on James's use of imagery in The Romance in America (originally published in 1969, and reissued in 1972): "The golden bowl. . . . influences the action of the book and comments on that action; it represents individual characters and relationships between and among characters; it serves as a touchstone for measuring personality and as a philosopher's stone for transmuting personality" (Porte 220-1).
iv. This phrase is also used by the narrator for Osmond's mind, as described by Isabel. Perhaps the word "despise" may be associated with those who would seek to impose their viewpoints on others and resent the fact that there are some who refuse to conform to their behavioral standards.
v. In the recent (2000) version of The Golden Bowl Charlotte (Uma Thurman) is conceived as an unscrupulous manipulator, who tells Maggie (Kate Beckinsale) that she had persuaded her husband to return to American City, so that Maggie could no longer interfere with their marriage. This is clearly an act of revenge on Charlotte's part, for having failed to persuade the Prince to run away with her. Charlotte revels in her return to America--not because she loves the country, but because she had managed to separate father and daughter.
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Whitley, Oliver. Broadcasting and the National Culture. An Address Given to the Summer School of The School Broadcasting Council for the BBC. London: BBC Publications, 1965.
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