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Boston, 1876: At a Women's Movement meeting, fiercely independent Olive (Vanessa Redgrave) becomes mentor to gifted young orator Verena (Madeleine Potter) - who soon attracts the amorous attentions of Olive's Southern cousin Basil (Christopher Reeve). The contesting demands of courtship and sapphic friendship in this love-triangle in all but name are further complicated by New York society matron Mrs. Burrage (Nancy Marchand), who tries to secure Verena for her son. Merchant Ivory explores the subtle power struggles between sex, class and the Women's Movement at the heart of Henry James' classic novel with delicate precision and a marvelous sense of social milieu.