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Top 6 Henry James books adapted for the screen

The Wings of the Dove
Amazon.com

Writer Henry James would have turned 170 years old this April 15. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look at six great film adaptations of Henry James’s classic books.

1. “The Wings of the Dove” (1997) The stellar cast featured in this adaptation includes Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliot and a pre-"Downton Abbey" Elizabeth McGovern. This visually stunning film brings the 1902 novel to life, capturing its essence with a great script, inspired acting and gorgeous cinematography. The opening sequence is one of the most beautifully shot ever.

2. “The Portrait of a Lady” (1996) Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, struggling to keep her independence in spite of the constraints of the times and a complicated love life. John Gielgud, Martin Donovan, Viggo Mortensen, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey round out the cast of director Jane Campion’s film of the 1881 novel.

3. “The American” (1998) This PBS TV movie is not exactly faithful to the original 1877 novel, but Henry James himself made significant changes for a later edition published in 1907. Matthew Modine stars as the title character, while the always brilliant Diana Rigg costars as Madame de Bellegarde in this entertaining adaptation.

4. “The Turn of the Screw” adapted as “The Innocents” (1961) Deborah Kerr stars as the governess surrounded by creepy kids and the ghosts of dead servants in this spooky tale. Numerous adaptations of the 1898 novella exist, including an opera by Benjamin Britten, and a 1999 TV movie starring Jodhi May and Colin Firth which aired on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre in 2000, but the 1961 film still works.

5. “The Heiress” (1949) Olivia de Havilland is remarkable in her Best Actress Oscar winning role as the plain title character in the adaptation of James’s 1880 novella “Washington Square”. Adapted for the stage as “The Heiress” in 1947, the play was revived on Broadway in 1995 and more recently in 2013, but the Olivia de Havilland screen version is a classic. Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson round out the superb cast of director William Wyler’s film.

6. “What Maisie Knew” (2012) The film version of the 1897 novel of the same name stars Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as Maisie’s clueless, divorcing parents. Though this film makes a number of changes to update the novel, the character of Maisie, the child caught in the middle of divorce is still the heart of the story. Henry James fans be warned, the film’s ending is actually happy.

All these films are available on DVD.

The books are available at your favorite bookshops, like the Strand in New York City, or online, and at your local library.

The Wings of the Dove
The Wings of the Dove Amazon.com

The Wings of the Dove

“The Wings of the Dove” (1997) The stellar cast featured in this adaptation includes Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliot and a pre-"Downton Abbey" Elizabeth McGovern. This visually stunning film brings the 1902 novel to life, capturing its essence with a great script, inspired acting and gorgeous cinematography. The opening sequence is one of the most beautifully shot ever.

The Portrait of a Lady
The Portrait of a Lady Amazon.com

The Portrait of a Lady

“The Portrait of a Lady” (1996) Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, struggling to keep her independence in spite of the constraints of the times and a complicated love life. John Gielgud, Martin Donovan, Viggo Mortensen, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey round out the cast of director Jane Campion’s film of the 1881 novel.

The American
The American Amazon.com

The American

“The American” (1998) This PBS TV movie is not exactly faithful to the original 1877 novel, but Henry James himself made significant changes for a later edition published in 1907. Matthew Modine stars as the title character, while the always brilliant Diana Rigg costars as Madame de Bellegarde in this entertaining adaptation.

The Innocents
The Innocents Amazon.com

The Innocents

“The Turn of the Screw” adapted as “The Innocents” (1961) Deborah Kerr stars as the governess surrounded by creepy kids and the ghosts of dead servants in this spooky tale. Numerous adaptations of the 1898 novella exist, including an opera by Benjamin Britten, and a 1999 TV movie starring Jodhi May and Colin Firth which aired on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre in 2000, but the 1961 film still works.

The Heiress
The Heiress Amazon.com

The Heiress

“The Heiress” (1949) Olivia de Havilland is remarkable in her Best Actress Oscar winning role as the plain title character in the adaptation of James’s 1880 novella “Washington Square”. Adapted for the stage as “The Heiress” in 1947, the play was revived on Broadway in 1995 and more recently in 2013, but the Olivia de Havilland screen version is a classic. Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson round out the superb cast of director William Wyler’s film.

What Maisie Knew
What Maisie Knew Amazon.com

What Maisie Knew

“What Maisie Knew” (2012) The film version of the 1897 novel of the same name stars Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as Maisie’s clueless, divorcing parents. Though this film makes a number of changes to update the novel, the character of Maisie, the child caught in the middle of divorce is still the heart of the story. Henry James fans be warned, the film’s ending is actually happy.