- Movie Rating -

The Bostonians (1984)

| August 3, 1984

The Bostonians spends a great deal of time dancing around its central issue – the issue being the emancipation of women which, in 1875, was largely taboo even in conversation.  I am to understand that dancing around the issues was par for the course for Henry James.  His work took place at a time of social change, yet at a moment when the words were spoken in asides, pauses, diverted expression and often coded to hide their true meaning.  This was a time in history when boldly stating one’s views on a controversial subject meant banishment from social circles which had the spiraling effect of destroying the prospects of where you worked and where you lived.

That the story dances around the issue of women’s emancipation is by design.  I think the point was to illustrate the slow pace of social change in America, the resistance to upending the old social order.  The Bostonians sees this change in a small tug-of-war for the mind and soul of a young woman named Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter) between two people who would like to make her their lover.  On one side is gentlemanly southern lawyer Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve) who is not shy about telling her that he would like take her home and make her his wife.  The other is Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave) who fears that sweeping young Verena off into a life of marriage would rob her of her potential to see her true emancipation.

Between the two, the most interesting is Olive, who wants to open Verena’s mind but clearly wants to be her lover as well.  In another time, this would be stated openly that she is a lesbian and that she does have personal and sexual feelings for this young woman, but here in a moment of closed doors for women, such a mystery as homosexuality was deemed a mental illness.  We can see into Olive’s mind, that she is clearly in love with young Verena but in her common sense she excuses her passion by admitting that she is attracted to the young woman’s politics.

What seems to be at stake is the young girl’s soul.  Will she be locked into a marriage with Basil or will she follow Olive into the path of emancipation and social reform.  The great things about The Bostonians is that we aren’t entirely sure.  What is best for this young woman and will she have the freedom to choose what is best for her?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama