Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990)

Published: Nov 28 2022, 01:01:am

Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Based on the novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) by Evan S. Connell. Music by Richard Robbins. Directed by James Ivory. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifrier’s warning "occasional suggestive scenes and nudity."
Cast includes: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Margaret Welsh, Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Sean Leonard, Simon Callow, Blythe Danner, Austin Pendleton and Gale Garnett.

Friday, March 22, 1991

    The Bridges, long established in Kansas City's Mission Hills district, don't believe in public familiarities.
    Attorney Walter Bridge (Paul Newman), a pillar of pre-Second World War Midwestern society, takes no pleasure from a luncheon companion's blue humour. "I must confess, I have never been able to find anything amusing about smut," he says firmly.
    Douglas Bridge (Robert Sean Leonard), his teenaged son, finds it difficult to embrace his mother (Joanne Woodward) in a moment of emotional exaltation. "You are just like your father," she will tell him some years later.
    The Bridge daughters, by contrast, work at being unlike their mother. Ruth (Kyra Sedgwick) dreams of being a professional actress. Young and wild, she insists upon trying her luck in faraway New York City.
    Carolyn (Margaret Welsh), a daring debutante, comes home from college engaged to a working-class classmate. Seeking control of her own destiny, she vows that she'll never be dominated like her mother.
    It's not a crisis-catharsis drama. Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, adapted from the domestic-life novels of Evan Connell by redoubtable screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a steady, sobering study in Protestant propriety.
    Unlike so many of his colleagues, director James Ivory appreciates people who behave well. His current film is in a direct line of descent from his recent examinations of Anglo-Saxon courtship, The Bostonians (1984) and A Room with a View (1986).
    Once the starry-eyed suitor, Mr. Bridge is now a paterfamilias, pledged to love, honour and cherish his beloved. Mrs. Bridge, in the manner of a traditional marriage partner, has fallen into the role of protected child-wife.
    Ivory presents them in a series of vignettes that are neither patronizing nor melodramatic. Instead, he provides us with a glimpse of life in late 1930s America — now distant in both time and attitude.
    Woodward, an Oscar nominee for her performance as India Bridge, shows us an upper-middle-class Edith Bunker, a woman so used to stifling herself that she's quite forgotten how to make up her own mind.
    Newman, married to Woodward in real life, is equally effective as her on-screen mate. In a performance every bit as award-worthy as hers, he offers a portrait of male American rectitude.
    A man who might have been a poet, Walter Bridge takes his marital responsibilities every bit as seriously as the practice of the law. When the film opens, though, "the fire's a little low."
    We first see the family enjoying a backyard barbecue.
    "Listen to the locusts," his wife says to no one in particular. "I wonder where they go when the summer's over."
    No tale of self-fulfillment full of sound, fury and dramatic reconciliations, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge is richly textured and truthful. It concentrates on continuity. Its subject is lives as they were — and often still are — lived in the real world.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1991. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were 31 years into their 50-year-long marriage when they went on location in Kansas City to shoot Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. They’d met in 1953, young actors making their Broadway debuts in the premier production of William Inge’s drama Picnic. In 1957, they co-starred in director Martin Ritt’s feature film The Long Hot Summer, then wed in January 1958, just six weeks before the picture’s March release. In Wikipedia’s entry on Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, we are told that Woodward read Evan S. Connell’s novel Mrs. Bridge in 1959, and that she wanted to see it brought to the screen. Years later, the couple met director James Ivory, who agreed that the period domestic drama was just his sort of thing. Playing India Bridge earned Woodward her fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination. (She lost to Kathy Bates, who played a romance novelist’s maddest fan in director Rob Reiner’s Misery.) Woodward and Newman remained together until his death in 2008. As of this posting (November 28, 2002), she is an impressive 92 years old.