In the 1997 Iain Softley adaptation of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove. Hossein Amini’s screenplay telescopes two scenes in the novel: One is the chance meeting of Milly Theale with Kate Croy and Merton Densher in the National Gallery, where she becomes aware of their prior relationship (about which Kate has to lie); the other is Milly’s recognition of her fate, and her need to do something with her life before she meets that fate, while looking at a Bronzino portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi that Lord Mark shows her at Matcham:
“The lady in question, at all events, with her slightly Michelangelesque squareness, her eyes of other days, her full lips, her long neck, her recorded jewels, her brocaded and wasted reds, was a very great personage–only unaccompanied by a joy. And she was dead, dead, dead. Milly recognised her exactly in words that had nothing to do with her. “I shall never be better than this.”
These two scenes are combined into one, which takes place at what visitors to London will recognize as the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, where Milly–after a visit to the “consultant radiologist” Sir Luke Strett, and observing children playing football in the Park–runs for cover to the Gallery to get in out of a sudden rainstorm. When she arrives, Milly unexpectedly sees Kate and Merton “looking at pictures.” And the picture they look at longest is Klimt’s Danaë.
The hair of Klimt’s model is like that of Alison Elliott, playing Milly Theale in the film…
And the Klimt functions symbolically on two levels: the legend of Danaë, impregnated by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold, alludes to Milly’s vast wealth,
Furthermore, the compressed posture of the model in the Klimt painting, crammed as it were into the thick wooden box of the frame–see the framed version above– suggests Milly’s oncoming fate, to be enclosed in a coffin.
But Softley does something else with the Danaë image at the very end of the film, when we see Kate (played by Helena Bonham Carter) with her knees drawn up into the same physically folded position as the Danaë:
This image goes along with the sense we are given that the living Kate (whose need for Milly’s gold generated the plot) is now the encoffined Danaë, while the dead Milly is more alive than Kate is, as far as Merton is concerned….