Ethan Frome (1993)
Edith Wharton is not a writer I'm very familiar with though I enjoyed Martin Scorsese's elegantly stagy 1993 adaptation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence, which starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. The same year, British director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) released his adaptation of Ethan Frome, a tale of emotional and psychological entrapment. Madden's film starred Liam Neeson as Ethan Frome; Joan Allen as his distant cousin and later wife Zeena Frome; and Patricia Arquette as Zeena's distant cousin, Mattie Silver, who comes to live with the couple after Zeena falls ill of a host of mysterious ailments. Set around the turn of the 20th century in the snow-covered back country of fictitious Starkfield, Massachusetts, the film opens with a new preacher (Tate Donovan) arriving at this frigid outpost and seeing a grossly hobbled Ethan Frome trudging through the snow. He begins inquiries into this strange, broken man but is told by townspeople to leave the Fromes alone. Undeterred, the preacher goes to the Frome house and hires Ethan as a driver, to model Christian charity to his flock. After being snowed in at the Frome's hovel one night, the preacher becomes even more insistent on knowing the story of this sad and isolated man. How did he come to be so bent and miserable. An acquaintance of the Fromes' weaves the sad but morbidly fascinating tale of love, duty and disappointment. The three principals (Neeson, Allen and Arquette) give solid performances (especially Allen, a personal favorite of mine) in a film that probes pretty deeply into the core of human despair. Highly recommended but the story, for those unfamiliar, is extraordinarily bleak.