Critics who disliked Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady (1996) suggest she was wasting her talents on a high-budget adaptation in order to reach a mass audience. Yet Campion does not adapt Henry James's novel so much as interpret it. By boldly dramatizing the unconscious sexual desires that riddle James's melodramatic novel, Campion exposes the spaces where traditional gender ideology fails, loosening the gender codes upon which the pleasure of melodrama rests. The result is a feminist narrative that is attractive to the mainstream but also capable of leading the audience to consider social systems in place beyond the theater.

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