The previous film adaptation of Henry James' titular novella (which was filmed as The Heiress) allowed lead actress Olivia De Havilland to scoop an Oscar. Jennifer Jason Leigh was not so lucky with her interpretation of Catherine Sloper, although the performance on show here is arguably more compelling.
Catherine is a plain, awkward future millionairess, down-trodden by a father (Finney) who doubts she is worthy of his fortune; when she chooses to court an unemployed but charming beau (Chaplin) his suspicions are confirmed. But his sister, Lavinia (Smith), defies him by encouraging the attachment. Finney and Smith obviously enjoy getting their acting teeth into great supporting roles. Meanwhile Chaplin, who maintains an impeccable Boston accent, more than holds his own.
What makes the film remarkable is Leigh's intelligent portrayal of a gauche nobody transforming into a fully-rounded human being. This deserves to be sought out by more than literature students who just want to `read' the book the easy way.