In this Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s 1908 critique of priggish Edwardian manners, a moment of passion threatens to overturn everything when Lucy Honeychurch, a young Englishwoman touring Italy with her older cousin, finds herself unchaperoned in the ravishing Tuscan countryside…
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All these years later, surely it’s time to sweep aside the preconceptions and see the film for what it is: fresh, sophisticated, and above all, passionate. And that A Room With a View is also lovely to look at detracts neither from its comic wisdom nor its status as one of the best movies of the ’80s.
Part of Merchant Ivory’s gift was recognizing which masterpieces of world literature would translate well, providing material that can actually be photographed in addition to superlative prose (which can’t). A Room With A View, with its clash between stiff propriety and unruly passion, was ideal, and also provided a superb showcase for some of England’s greatest actors, few of whom were well known at the time.
A Room with a View is a masterful example of how to take well-regarded literary source material, render it in a manner that displays the visual markers of middlebrow sophistication, like ornamental costume design and fine-tuned “art direction,” as the Oscars like to call it, and intersperse it with surface-level controversies, like three heterosexual men chasing each other around a pond with their dicks out.
Merchant/Ivory's fine adaptation of the Forster novel is a clever study of social decorum versus the emergence of passion that struck a strong note with audiences on release in '85. A major launching ground for performers namely Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and Julian Sands; but also strong turns by veterans Smith, Elliot and Dench as well. Exceptionally crafted, acted and written picture.
I wish it never had to end. Helena is so sweet in ivory and floral, and I now want to decorate my room with cornflowers and poppies and become an expert in Italian opera. Oh Mr. Beebe and his grasp of Beethoven. Oh George, our Byronic Hero.
Ivory's film is one of the rare examples for literary adaptions where every detail - cinematography, music, dialogues, actors, colors, a subtle irony and more - fit together perfectly. Besides, Judy Dench as the smart-alec English writer and Maggie Smith as her correct counterpart are a marvellous choice.
Ivory has an enormous sensibility to depict inner passion, and these characters are just brimming with life and love. The central romance between Bonham Carter and Julian Sands is a thing of aesthetic and poetic beauty. The film doesn't quite reach the dramatic heights of Howard's End, but it is in its own right a fantastic piece of celluloid.
At the time, this was a refreshing change of pace, with so many excellent actors. Then the costume drama turned into a plague, and there is now a law saying that England must churn out 2 or 3 of these a year.
Suitably arch adaptation of Forster's sly comedy of English manners with some gloriously fruity cameos and typically restrained direction from Ivory. See through its fey, lace doily reputation if you can into a film with more to say about England (regardless of period) than a couple of Loaches and Leighs thrown together.