While not on the level of Howard's End and other Merchant/Ivory films at their later peak, this film is where they truly took off in presenting period films. the look and details are excellent as has been commented on here. The cinematography is particularly wonderful in capturing a beautiful New England autumn, especially the sunlit buggy-ride with Robert Acton and the baroness. What is serendipitous is that the company wanted to film in May and June, when the book is set but filmed in Fall because that's when they got the money. The autumn here is practically a character in itself, and were the film set in a very green June, would look less like New England and might have been anywhere, and the constant reminder of the puritanical background of old New England would have been lost.
The casting is also very good. I take issue with some earlier views in that I find Lee Remick excellent as the Baroness. Faye Dunaway would haveseemed too aristocratic, and Jane Fonda still a bit too young, at leastin looks. Lee Remick is a bit too good looking to be the Baroness of thebook who is a plain looking woman who carries herself as if she is abeauty. Wesley Addy is a perfect Patriarch and Felix was played with much youthful gusto by Tim Woodward, who also looked perfect for the part.
It is not always considered fair or useful to compare aspects of a literary adaptation And its source book but in this case it's so literal that it is valid to an extent. Two major differences do stand out and add to the overall film.
The role of Clifford ,the young son is expanded and brought more forward in the film, especially his comic visits to the Baroness. Tim Choate did a wonderful job of creating his awkward, smiling,humorous young Yankee who in the novel seldom gives more than "a growl" to any question.
The addition of the big party scene at the Acton house(there is none in the book) was a wonderful inspiration. A period piece like this needs a scene to really show off how everyone would look at their best and the attention to detail of dance and music was obviously great. As the Baroness says, "They're quite exuberant"
The problem many people may have with the film is that the characters' motives and desires may seem a bit unclear, this despite almost all the dialog being taken directly from the novel. But this is not one of those later Henry James novels where three pages of exposition of thought and motive precedes each spoken sentence but rather a short and simple book which is faithfully recreated here on film.
The Baroness finds what she is looking for (money) but feels not enough passion from the man ("I am admired in Europe")and not enough to enjoy in the staid community ("She has grown tired of us" She leaves but most everyone else finds exactly what they were looking for.A fine film.