If "The House of Mirth" didn't exist, it would be difficult to imagine Gillian Anderson and Terence Davies connected by the same sentence, never mind the same film. Yet the alluring, international star of "The X-Files" has picked an earnest, unobvious project (for reasons of credibility, not cash, one assumes) and thus teamed up with the super-serious British director.
Anderson plays Lily Bart, the doomed beauty of Edith Wharton's novel on which the film is based. Lily, in the manner of a typical turn-of-the-century New York socialite, is seeking a wealthy husband but - finding herself the subject of poisonous envy - is soon unnerved enough to run up gambling debts and, with enough social disgrace to her name, is finally accused of sleeping with a married man.
In Wharton's novel, the chasm between what people say and do certainly appealed to Martin Scorsese, who made "The Age of Innocence", and of course to Davies himself. Yet, like Scorsese, Davies becomes so transfixed by the detail of this self-enclosed world of privileged hypocrites that he omits to give his film any emotional drive. There is virtually no sense of anticipation or build-up (partly caused by the director's static style) which would help to connect Anderson to the audience. Who could have imagined that the director of "Distant Voices, Still Lives" and "The Long Day Closes" would have delivered a film without resonance? He certainly captures the nuances of a particular social group but, like the characters in it, has come up with a film which is emotionally hollow.