Ending to the film 'Portrait of a Lady' (Spoiler)

I just finished watching the film Portrait of a Lady… All I can say is, wow. It was one of the most unsatisfying endings to a film that I have seen in while.

Spoiler alert… (warning: I’d suggest not reading any further if you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t want to know the ending… I lament a bit more about it below)

For those that have seen it, I’ll refresh your memory of the ending to a PORTRAIT OF A LADY: Isabel chooses to return to Rome to her deranged husband Osmond and live out the consequences of her marriage. This is significant because he had pretty much implied previously that he intends to kill her if she returns.

It’s a pretty heavy handed ending particularly as towards the end of the film we (again, spoiler alert) a) know the extent of Osmond’s true character as manipulative beyond measure and b) see that Isabel has just been offered a clear way out of the situation by her first suitor who proposes they run away.

I also found it interesting that other authors have interpreted the ending of the original book as a ‘foregone conclusion’. To those that have seen the film or read the book, do you agree? I’d be curious to know what you thought.

As a plot device I begrudgingly admit it probably worked well. In that by not giving the audience/reader the ending they want, you do empathise with the character’s situation even more, so it’s all the more harrowing.

Is there a new film version out? The last one I saw was the Jane Campion version that came out in the 1990s–I have that on DVD. As I recall, the ending in that version was left open as far as Isabel’s marriage, but the novel ends as you describe.

It’s a conclusion to the story I never especially liked, but it is in keeping with James’s sensibilities and I suppose it’s inevitable in that sense. That man could never write a happy ending and there’s no point in expecting one when you read one of his stories. :slight_smile: I believe that Isabel makes the choice she does because she is less afraid of her husband than she is of the passion that Casper Goodwood can make her feel.

You also have to keep in mind that, at the time the story is set, any other course would have been scandalous and socially ruinous. I always hoped that, knowing what she knows about her husband at the end of the story, Isabel would gain the power to stand up to him; part of her earlier submission was due to the fact that she thought he was a refined and superior character (not a weaselly little fortune hunter.) I also hoped she would be able to help her step-daughter.