Having lost his wife while delivering their child, Dr. Sloper (Albert Finney) is devastated and hateful of his infant daughter. The child, Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh), grows into a plain girl, lacking the grace that was so important in the social circles of the nineteenth century. Her life is centered on pleasing her father until Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), a handsome man with little in the way of material wealth, desires her hand in marriage. Her father, however, feels Morris is only after the family fortune, leaving Catherine to decide between the father she obsessively needs to serve, or the dashing man she adores.
Based on a book by Henry James that was previously put to film in 1949 as The Heiress (which raked in a substantial number of Oscars), Washington Square is a garden of visual and aural delights. Long, incredibly difficult camera moves, along with a lush Dolby Surround sound mix and musical score, are woven into the plentiful, but well crafted dialogue.
The film's director, Agnieszka Holland, was behind the helm for the 1993 Warner Studios version of The Secret Garden. This movie has a similar tone, but it won't have the same appeal to young children as it deals with a much more serious subject. In some scenes Dr. Sloper is abusive of his daughter's innocent and trusting nature. Catherine eventually finds the self-assuredness she needs, so that her father no longer has rule over her. She then begins to ascertain for herself what her best decisions are.
Finding a love story you can share with your teens is difficult these days, but except for one short scene that takes place in a seedy tavern where we overhear a sexual encounter, this movie contains little of concern for parents. Washington Square may bring tears to your eyes, but overall it provides an inspiring story of how we need to build our self-esteem upon what we value and know to be true.