July 30, 1984 12:00 PM

In this latest film from director James (Heat and Dust) Ivory, Vanessa Redgrave, with typical intensity, plays a 19th-century Boston woman dedicated to the suffrage movement. She meets a faith healer’s daughter who has remarkable gifts as a public speaker and enlists her in the cause. Christopher (Superman) Reeve, as an impoverished Mississippi lawyer, also has eyes for the young woman, played by newcomer Madeleine Potter. He tries to woo her away from Redgrave (the movie’s sexual complexities are subtle and tantalizing) and thus sets up a romantic quadrangle—a man, two women and a cause. Against the backdrop of proper Boston, the movie, from the Henry James novel, is relentlessly stuffy. The acting is stilted, especially in the case of Reeve, who slips in and out of his drawl. Linda (The Year of Living Dangerously) Hunt adds interest as a woman doctor whose dialogue is used to explain the action. Nancy (Lou Grant) Marchand plays a scheming New York society matron, and the marvelous Jessica Tandy is all but wasted as the elder stateswoman of the suffrage movement, a kind of good-natured granny. The film has a rich, sumptuous look; the costumes are scenery in themselves; and the locations—Boston, New York and Cape Cod—are shot with loving care by cinematographer Walter Lassally. Yet the movie is far too deliberate; watching it is like watching a stew simmer. (PG)

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