Almost 200 years have passed since author Henry James first published his novella The Aspern Papers in The Atlantic Monthly. The story, based on the letters that Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to Mary Shelley’s Claire Clairemont, has been adapted in many forms since that original publication, even adapted on stage in 1959 by actor Michael Redgrave, father one Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave is, ironically, one of the lead stars of the latest cinematic adaptation of the story from Summerstorm Entertainment, Princeps Films and Cohen Media Group. That adaptation was released on DVD and Blu-ray April 9 after a short limited domestic theatrical run early this year. This adaptation has been met with very mixed reviews since its theatrical debut, with critics and audiences alike either loving it or hating it. There has proven to be no middle ground, as is obvious in reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB and Amazon. Those who have criticized the movie are sadly missing out on all that the movie has to offer, including but not limited to, its central story, which will be discussed shortly. The work of the movie’s cast is just as notable as its script, and will be discussed a little later. The bonus content that is featured with the movie’s home release is also notable in its own right. Each item noted here is critical in its own way to the whole of The Aspern Papers. All things considered, they make this latest take on Henry James’ timeless novella a work that is well worth the watch by any lovers of the literary arts.
Summerstorm Entertainment, Princeps Films and Cohen Media Group’s adaptation of author Henry James’ timeless novella The Aspern Papers is a surprisingly enjoyable take on his classic work. It is a presentation that lovers of the literary arts and theater will deeply appreciate. That is proven in part through the movie’s story. The story centers on American editor Morton Vint (Jonathan Rhys Meyers – Vikings, The Tudors, The 12th Man) as he pursues a collection of letters written between poet Jeffrey Aspern (Jon Kortajarena – The Cliff, Skins, Andron) and his mistress Juliana (Vanessa Redgrave – Mission: Impossible, Atonement, Coriolanus and Alice Aufray – un village Presque parfait). While Morton, who is obsessed with Aspern’s works, does not know exactly what is contained within the letters, viewers are presented with a very dark secret about Juliana and Jeffrey’s past. That secret will not be given away here, for the sake of those who have not yet watched the movie. What will be said though, is that this gothic type of story is very similar to that of author Dianne Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale. One cannot help but wonder, in watching the story, if perhaps James’ novella was in fact the influence behind her novel. Getting back on the subject at hand, Morton becomes so obsessed with his search for the elusive letters that he lets his obsession get the better of himself. The end result is a powerful finale that brings full closure for audiences. What is even more interesting about the story is that while it is a cinematic adaptation of a literary work (which has always been commonplace in Hollywood), the work of the movie’s cast makes the story that much more interesting.
The work of the movie’s cast strengthens the movie’s presentation in part because it helps to pull audiences into the movie that much more. Starting with Meyers, his work is one of the most lamented of the movie’s performances. Given, he does come across as being rather creepy to say the very least. At the same time though, those viewers and critics are not seeing past the creepy factor. What he is clearly trying to portray is Morton’s overt obsession with Aspern and his obsessed drive to get those papers for his own personal use. It actually translates well. Yes, Meyers did go a bit over the top in his performance. At the same time though, a close watch and analysis of his performance does reveal what he was aiming to achieve in his performance. It makes for a certain appreciation for his work.
The work of Meyers’ cast mates – Redgrave and Joely Richardson (The Patriot, Nip/Tuck, Event Horizon) – is just as noteworthy as that of Meyers. Redgrave is wonderful as the bitter, older Juliana. That is especially evident in her time on screen with Meyers. Juliana’s sharp retorts to Morton’s comments and questions shows a clear confidence that developed as a result of her dark past, which she refuses to discuss with Morton. It makes Juliana a very sympathetic character in a strange, but appealing way.
Richardson’s take on Juliana meanwhile is just as enjoyable. That is because despite critics’ assertions, her portrayal actually shows that there is strong character development in this presentation. Audiences see Miss Tina gradually grow from a very quiet, reserved, insecure figure at the story’s opening to a very self-confident woman by the story’s finale. From her initial meeting with Morton to the gradual infatuation with him to her eventual self-realization, viewers see her become a wholly new person by the story’s end. That realization comes after Tina makes a very stunning discovery, which – again – plays directly into the story. That discovery will not be revealed here. However, it is key to the story’s development. When Richardson’s work is considered along with that of the veteran performer Redgrave and fellow actor Meyers, the whole of the trio’s work gives the movie the feel – ironically – of a stage play that has been adapted to the small screen. The term “ironically” is used because of the fact that as previously noted, James’ original novella has been adapted to the stage back in 1959. The cast’s work here (along with the sets) really creates that sense of the work more as a stage play on screen than a movie. That is not a bad thing, either. Rather, it serves to help maintain viewers’ engagement and entertainment. The collective work of the movie’s cast and its aesthetic effect goes a long way to helping make The Aspern Papers an interesting watch. It is not the last of the movie’s most notable elements. The bonus content that comes with the movie’s home release rounds out its most important elements.
The bonus content featured with the home release of The Aspern Papers adds even more to the movie’s overall presentation due to what it reveals. Viewers learn in watching the bonus content, that The Aspern Papers was filmed on-site in Venice, Italy instead of in a sound stage. The reasoning will be left here for audiences to discover for themselves. Viewers also learn through the bonus content, the motivations behind each actor’s presentation along with the revelation that The Aspern Papers was the directorial debut for Julie Landais. This is minor on the surface, but on a deeper level, it adds more appreciation to the movie in that it shows his ability to lead a project and get good shots and performances. The cinematography and other items are also discussed throughout the movie’s bonus content. The rest of that content will be left – again – for viewers to discover on their own. When all of the bonus content is considered alongside the work of the movie’s cast and the movie’s script, the whole of The Aspern Papers proves to be a presentation that is worth far more credit than what so many viewers and critics have given the movie.
Summerstorm Entertainment, Princeps Films and Cohen Media Group’s adaptation of author Henry James’ timeless novella The Aspern Papers is a surprisingly enjoyable take on his classic work. Those who have criticized the movie have clearly missed the nuances and elements that make it so enjoyable. Between its gothic-style story, the engaging and entertaining work of the movie’s cast and the movie’s bonus content, the presentation in whole offers plenty to appreciate. The noted elements collectively make The Aspern Papers a work that lovers of the literary arts and the theater will thoroughly enjoy and a sleeper hit in this year’s field of independent cinematic releases. More information on this and other titles from Cohen Media Group is available online now at:
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