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When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors, declaring that she will never be wed.
It is only when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the cultivated but worthless Gilbert Osmond that she discovers that wealth is a two-edged sword. She becomes a victim of her own provincialism and the scheming of her friends, learning only too late that there is a price to be paid for independence. A tragic tale of love and betrayal, it still resonates with audiences today.
With its subtle delineation of American characters in a European setting, The Portrait of a Lady is considered the masterpiece of the first phase of James's career and arguably his most popular story. Within it we find a reflection of James's interest in the differences between the New World and the Old, often to the detriment of the former.
A film adaptation was made in 1996 by New Zealand director Jane Campion, starring Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, and Barbara Hershey.
Having begun his career on stage, John Wood spent seven years in television before eventually playing lead roles in Tom Stoppard's teleplays in 1967. After two Tony nominations for his performances in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Sherlock Holmes, he won the award for Best Actor for his role in Stoppard's surrealistic farce, Travesties, in 1976. He also had a long career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and continued his theatre work in both America and the UK, eventually receiving a Laurence Olivier Award nomination in 1997 for his role in Stoppard's Invention of Love.
In 1996, Wood performed in BBC Radio 3's audio production of Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw and in 2010 he narrated audiobook The Portrait of a Lady with Audible Studios. His appearances in feature films have included Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and, later, television appearances have included Foyles's War (2004) and Lewis (2007). In 2007 he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
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