The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

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Released 20-Jun-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 138:37
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (87:58) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jane Campion

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Nicole Kidman
John Malkovich
Barbara Hershey
Mary-Louise Parker
Martin Donovan
Shelley Winters
Richard E. Grant
Shelley Duvall
Christian Bale
Viggo Mortensen
Valentina Cervi
John Gielgud
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Woiciech Kilar

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Portrait of a Lady is not a happy film. It's not a chick flick, either. It is a portrayal of a gullible woman trapped in a relationship with a manipulative man. This is high art, and I didn't enjoy it. I wouldn't be in the least surprised if this movie had won high praise and awards in the art circles - there seems to be a high correlation between "unpleasant" and "critically acclaimed".

    That's not to say that I didn't admire the performances. Nicole Kidman was excellent, and believable, as the victim. John Malkovich portrayed a manipulative b****** with great panache - I hated him quite readily. The performances were admirable, but the story was quite unpleasant.

    This movie begins in England in 1872, and stretches across several years. Nicole Kidman is a young woman, recently arrived from America to stay with her uncle (John Gielgud) after the death of her parents. Although Lord Warburton (Richard Grant) proposes marriage (a very suitable marriage), she turns him down - she has plans to see more of life before marrying. She has already turned down an American suitor, although he reappears at intervals. The uncle dies, and he leaves a fortune (70,000 pounds) to  her - that fortune is the cause of her unhappiness. She travels, visiting Florence and Rome. There she meets a woman (Barbara Hershey) who introduces her to Osmond (John Malkovich). She finds him fascinating (in the sinister sense) and marries him - she does not appreciate that he is really only marrying her for her money, although he finds her somewhat interesting (perhaps because he has plans to break her spirit?).

    The Portrait of a Lady is directed by Jane Campion. She has indulged herself in some arty camera angles which I found more annoying than attractive.

    The start of the movie is confusing - it begins with what sounds like school girls discussing kisses, then shows girls in modern dress, including one with a walkman. Hard to rationalize this opening with the rest of the movie, except to suggest that perhaps it is a clumsy way of hinting that this was why Nicole Kidman's character was captivated with Osmond.

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Transfer Quality


    This is rather a good transfer, marred by two egregious faults. It is presented in the wrong aspect ratio, and seems to be far too dark. Initially, I thought Jane Campion was trying to recreate the candlelit interiors of the 1870s, which really would have been fairly dark, but after I watched the documentary, which includes some scenes from the film, I see that the transfer is far darker than it should be.

    The movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It is 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio was 2.35:1, and the composition of the film is clearly intended for that aspect ratio. This is a major fault.

    The picture is sharp, with surprisingly good shadow detail and no low-level noise. Unfortunately, with the exception of one or two sun-lit scenes, it is way too dark. I thought this was an artistic choice, albeit one I found unpleasant, but the documentary proved enlightening (what a dreadful pun!). Comparing scenes from the movie with the equivalent scenes in the documentary, it is quite clear that someone has messed up badly - the whole movie should have been rather brighter than it is.

    Colour is undersaturated, due, no doubt to the darkness of the film. A couple of sunlit scenes seem better, but even there colours seem a little washed out.

    There are some minor film artefacts, but nothing major. There are no MPEG artefacts. There were one or two moments showing aliasing, but they were not troublesome.

    The disc is single sided, dual layer (RSDL) with the layer change at 87:58. This is a poor layer change, with a horse and carriage freezing solid. If they'd delayed it a half a second it would have been at a scene change and virtually invisible.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    This movie has received a rather good soundtrack.

    There are five soundtracks in English, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Norwegian. I listened to the English soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 kbps.

    Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand. There are a few lines that are a little muffled, including one from Shelley Duvall that I only understood after switching on the English subtitles.

    The score is rather good, and includes excerpts from Schubert, Strauss, and Bach.

    The surrounds are not heavily used, but they provide some nice effects on occasion.

    My subwoofer switches off when it has received no signal for 10 minutes; it switches on when it detects a signal. During this movie it switched itself on and off regularly - there is not a lot of low frequency content in the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras are not numerous, but the documentary is quite lengthy.


    The menu is static, with music. Quite basic.

Trailer (2:23)

    This is a straightforward trailer, presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1, but with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (at 448 kbps). There are some serious directional sound effects in this trailer, so the 5.1 makes plenty of sense.

Documentary (52:45)

    This is an "art" documentary about the making of this movie. It has been bleached almost to black and white, but there's just enough colour left so you can "appreciate" what they're up to. It was interesting viewing, and far more complete than the average "making of" fluff piece. For some reason, it is not time-coded - you can only move through it using fast forward and reverse.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on:     The Region 1 disc misses out on:     This is tough - which is preferable? A dim dark, incorrect aspect ratio? Or a non-anamorphic transfer? If you really want this movie, I'm tempted to suggest waiting for a Collector's Edition, with an anamorphic transfer at the correct aspect ratio with correct brightness.


    Portrait Of A Lady is a slow-moving unhappy movie, presented on a flawed DVD.

    The video quality is doubly wrong - wrong aspect ratio, and wrong brightness level.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras offer quality, if not quantity.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, June 11, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-737, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics matte white screen with a gain of 1.0 (280cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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