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Vanessa Redgrave gives a majestic performance as a late-19th century suffragette whose proprietary devotion to her beautiful young protégée may not be motivated solely by politics.
Based on the Henry James novel, The Bostonians explores the sexual politics and gendered power structures of mannered society in the years immediately after the Civil War. Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), a respected and dedicated leader of the suffragette movement, becomes fascinated by the talented young speaker Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter) and determines to take her on as a protégé. When Olive's distant relation, the handsome lawyer Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), visits Boston, he also becomes infatuated with Verena but wants to see her in a very different role: as his wife and mother of his children. Olive and Basil become engaged in a power struggle over Verena, leaving the young woman torn between committing her life to her mentor and her political beliefs or abandoning what could be her vocation and settling into a home and traditional family life. Lushly produced (the cinematography and costume design received Academy Award® nominations), The Bostonians won plaudits for Redgrave's typically magnificent performance as the mercurial Olive, whose fierce desire for Verena's undivided devotion may not be motivated solely by politics.