Acorn Media // 1974 // 302 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // December 23rd, 2009
Classic tales of love and loss based on the fiction of Henry James!
Regardless of how much you love classic literature, Affairs Of The Heart is going to be a tough sell. This rarely-seen 1974 series takes the stories of Henry James and purges them to their very core, with every episode running approximately fifty minutes. Some of them are well known, while others are rare and had never been filmed before.
All of the episodes are titled according to the central female character, who acts as the focus and/or POV source in telling each of the stories. Created by Terence Feely, the BBC show would only last two years and spawn 13 episodes, although it did have a brief appearance on CBS in the early 1980s. This sounds rather odd, as Affairs Of The Heart would be more at home on PBS next to Masterpiece Theater.
The list of episodes on this 2-disc set include:
Guy Beauprey and Emma Gosselin have been lifelong friends. When Guy inherits a family fortune, he suddenly is the target of several ladies who hope to become his wife. To quell the situation, he announces a faux engagement to Emma so he won't be pursued. She isn't very happy about this arrangement, particularly when she fancies an American visitor named Jefferson Brown. Based on "Lord Beauprey," one of James' lesser-known novellas, this is a light, fun, romantic tale about a man stuck in the marriage market and how his best friend deals with it. (4/5)
Like the previous episode, this story also involves maternal meddling to the nth degree. American Bessie Alden falls in love with a British chap named Lord Lambeth, but his mother doesn't approve of the courtship. Another novella, "An International Episode," serves as the inspiration for this delightful story with a most unexpected ending. (5/5)
The series takes an unusually dark turn with this episode. Kate Cookham (Eileen Atkins, Gosford Park) is upset at bookshop owner Herbert Dodd for breaking off their engagement, and proceeds to make his life miserable until he submits to her again. One of James' final stories ("The Bench Of Desolation") is brought to life by Atkins as the victim of misogyny, but its downbeat nature is tough to take. (3/5)
James' novel Daisy Miller was filmed by Peter Bogdanovich -- with Cybill Shepherd in title role -- right before this episode aired in England. Daisy is a reckless flirt from New York who is fascinated by European society, yet dodges the advances of a handsome sophisticate named Winterbourne, who pursues her all the way to Rome. A tragic story highlighted by a spirited performance by Georgina Hale in the title role. (4/5)
Playwright Allan Wayworth's new work is based on his best friend Leonie Alsager, who's secretly in love with him. To ensure the play is a success, Leonie finances it herself, little realizing how it will affect the relationship she has with Wayworth. This is the least interesting episode of the series, based on the short story "Nona Vincent." (2/5)
The last episode is set onboard a transatlantic steamship. Bertram and Henry are two Englishmen who vie for the affections of Elizabeth Damerel, a widow from the American Midwest. Henry goes after Elizabeth with marriage on his mind, while Bertram is more cautious, investigating Elizabeth's shadowy background before it's too late. This is pure James in terms of how Americans and Europeans view each other, based on his novella "The Great Condition." (4/5)
I was turned on to James' writing largely because of the run of big-screen adaptations which emerged in the mid-90s, such as The Portrait Of A Lady, Washington Square, and The Wings Of The Dove. All of them were excellent in their own way, being committed to the text while also injecting modern sensibilities. Indeed, James' themes, such as the differences between Europeans and Americans and the ongoing battle of money vs. love, remain very contemporary.
The author had a knack for capturing real human emotions within the clash of different cultures, making him one of the most widely-read of all 19th century authors. While it did take some time for me to warm up to Affairs Of The Heart, James' language shines through wonderfully and the British cast assembled for each episode feels right at home.
In Series One, we had episodes based on Washington Square, The Aspern Papers, and the short story Glasses, among others. While most of the cast was unknown to American audiences, there were fine contributions by Diana Rigg (The Avengers), Rosalind Ayres (Titanic), Jeremy Brett (Sherlock Holmes), and Stuart Wilson (The Mask Of Zorro). Series Two doesn't have nearly the same pedigree, although we do have the superb Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi (Hamlet), Sinead Cusack (V For Vendetta), and Bernard Lee, best known as the first actor to portray "M" in the James Bond series.
Affairs Of The Heart is recommended whole-heartedly to fans of James and classic literature. More than the average viewer, they should be able to appreciate the robust performances and impeccable production values. In fact, this series is ideal for high school teachers and college professors, as each episode is perfectly abbreviated to fill an average block of class time. However, it's kind of discouraging that Acorn Media decided to release two separate sets when they could have easily combined all 13 episodes into one box set.
The episodes themselves show their age, particularly in outdoor scenes which sport lots of grain. Indoor scenes are much cleaner, but the dull PBS-look is going to turn a lot of people off, even if the costumes and sets don't. Audio is nicely rendered in the mono tracks, but there are no subtitles. Extras are limited to selected cast filmographies -- which are nothing more than lists that could easily be found on IMDb -- and a Henry James biography which is repeated from Series One.
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 302 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Author Bio