Flowers sensually erupt into bloom in the opening title sequence of The Age of Innocence, exploding with a passion and intensity strictly forbidden in the era the film depicts. The time and place is the New York high society of the 1870s, as beautifully described by Edith Wharton in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), is a wealthy New York lawyer, engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder) a prim and proper young lady, of seemingly unreproachable repute. Their world appears picture perfect, until it’s clouded by the appearance of May’s cousin, the exotic Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has recently left Europe and her philandering husband to return to New York. While handling her divorce proceedings Newland develops an irresistible attraction to Ellen, and before long they are locked in a passion that is deadly in the social circles they move in.
The Age of Innocence is a beautiful period piece, but above all else, it is an actors’ film. Winona Ryder excels playing a young woman who isn’t as naive as she appears; and the chemistry between Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis is as searing as the flames of the roaring fires that are featured over and over again throughout the film.
Daniel and Michelle are a feast for the eyes, and the scenes between these forbidden lovers are remarkable for the gamut of emotions they share. Simple acts, such as the removal of a glove and a kiss on the neck are sexier and more romantic than any graphic, but passionless, love scene. The coiled, barely constrained passion generated by Newland and Ellen touches a nerve, and their few intimate moments together leave me aching for the future they’ll never share. Chaste hand holding and stolen kisses have never been so sexy!