Let's start this off by saying I hated the movie. I know I'm in the minority on this, but there it is. Hated it. With a fiery passion. (It's been a long time, and now that I've read the book, I might try it again at some point. But maybe not.)
But I've liked what little Edith Wharton I've read (Ethan Frome), so I decided to give The Age of Innocence a try. And enjoyed it immensely. And it struck me almost immediately why I didn't buy the movie for a second.
Daniel Day-Lewis is absolutely the wrong actor for that role.
Don't get me wrong, he's a wonderful actor. But he is absolutely wrong for Newland Archer. Whoever Daniel Day-Lewis is playing, he always has a strong sense of who he is. Newland Archer doesn't. The character should have been played by a pretty-boy, preferably someone who can play weak, definitely with a weak chin. I actually think Jude Law would be perfect.
Because Newland Archer doesn't have a strong sense of who he is. He is a fundamentally weak character who, when the chips are down and he's placed in difficult decisions, makes them based on what other people want. And I never bought that from Daniel Day-Lewis for a second.
But as a look at New York society, the inner circle, the ways it policed itself, and the ways it ostracized, accepted and accommodated, all in order to avoid making a fuss, the book is fascinating. The suffocating nature of the social strictures that permeate the air, and the brief glimpses of something that could be more - more passionate, more authentic, more real - serve to put into stark relief the bondage that the characters willingly accept.
I just never believed that Daniel Day-Lewis would accept what everyone wanted him to do simply because to do otherwise would be awkward. And I did believe that of Newland Archer.