The novel of "Lolita" has justly been called one of the best works written in the English language since Shakespeare. The fact that its author was not a native speaker of English makes his achievement all the more amazing. "Lolita" simply must be read, and any attempts to convert it to the medium of film must inevitably suffer in comparison. That said, Adrian Lyne's film is as close to perfect a translation from book to screen as one could hope to find. The performances are pitch-perfect: Dominique Swain, in her first film role captures the essence of Nabokov's creation, at once gangly and seductive; endearing, infuriating and a definite "starlet". The viewer, like Humbert, is quickly wooed and won. Melanie Griffith gives her small role as Charlotte a tarnished dignity and a weary grace, and Frank Langella does what he can with the enigmatic, barely-seen Quilty. But Jeremy Irons simply carries the film. Known for plumbing baser human emotions in all his films, he embues Humbert Humbert with a simple humanity that is heartbreaking to watch. To admit to liking Humbert even a little is uncomfortable--it means empathizing on some level with the force that drives him, even as we may be disgusted by his actions, but it is impossible not to be charmed. Irons drops his customary reserved demeanor to mine the humor in the role, and his voice-overs of dialog straight from the book are most effective.
This film version succeeds where Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version failed in remaining true to the spirit of Nabokov's vision. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's just a shame that the self-serving hypocrisy of the studio heads involved prevented its American theatrical release when so much commercial swill packed with violence and degradation of all kinds passes for entertainment in this country.