Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Room with a View

Movie name: A Room with a View
Year of release: 1985
Director: James Ivory
Stars: Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliot, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day Lewis, Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, Judi Dench, Rupert Graves
Genre: Independent
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

“A Room With a View” introduced to the larger movie-going public, the Merchant Ivory seal of films – literary adaptations filled with superlative production values, great acting and solid screenplays.

James Ivory, the American director that many believe to be British (he’s actually from California), had directed quite a few amount of films with his partner Ismail Merchant serving as a producer, since the 60’s, however “A Room With a View” changed the perception and reach that they had gathered thus far. From the early 80’s Ivory had been making and releasing a string of interesting and accomplished films, as “Quartet” (1981 – that won Isabelle Adjani the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, alongside her performance in Andrzej Zulawski “Possession”), “Heat and Dust” (1983 - that introduced Greta Scacchi to the acting world) and “The Bostonians” (1984 – their first collaboration with the late Christopher Reeve). “A Room with a View” marked the first of their E.M. Forster adaptations (following on the footsteps of their previous literary adaptation of Henry James), and as always, they worked on a shoe-string budget (the late Ismail Merchant, deceased in May of 2005, had the reputation for luring high talent for small fees, and for cooking on the set, due to budget constraints). While E.M Forster had already been adapted before, namely by David Lean with his epic “A Passage to India” (1984 – with Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft), “A Room with a View” which started with small showings in small venues, grew with positive word of mouth and great reviews. The film ended up being nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 3 amongst many other awards (namely the Baftas, Golden Globes), and played on movie theaters for numerous months. Though many people called the film “charming” and “delicious”, the film relied on three very crucial factors for its success: a solid screenplay, great acting and an exquisite production. The screenplay (one of the winning Oscars) by Ruth Prawer Jahbvala, the usual collaborator of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, retained all the traits of the E.M. Forster novel – the love for the Italian scenery, the social and personal conflicts, the moral dichotomies and the habits of the wealthy classes (which were also seen in the following adaptations that Merchant-Ivory did of E.M. Forster novels - “Maurice” in 1987 and “Howard’s End” in 1992, two other superb films). The screenplay showcases the delicate balances of the period’s society, between what was deemed acceptable and a far bolder attitude towards relationships – something that can be seen as the “awakening” of Lucy Honeychurch, the main character. This can also be seen in the differences between Lucy’s suitors – the bolder George Emerson and the strict and repressed Cecil Vyse (the “new” versus the “classic”). The fact there is a wonderful sense of humor throughout the film helps tremendously, particularly in the character of Eleanor Lavish, played wonderfully by Judi Dench.
The acting by the ensemble cast was wonderful, starting by the more well known Maggie Smith (who had already won 2 Oscars, and was nominated again for this role), as Ms. Charlotte Bartlett, the spinster cousin, simultaneously caring and affected (and again, extremely funny), the late Denholm Elliot as the all too honest Mr. Emerson (Elliot is remembered mostly for his roles in Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – 1981 and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” – 1989) and Judi Dench as the novelist Eleanor Lavish (the academy award winning actress of John Madden’s “Shakespeare in Love” – 1998). James Ivory also managed to introduce new talents in the shapes of the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter, as the heroine Lucy Honeychurch (a tremendously gifted actress, as can be seen in her subsequent films, “Howard’s End” – James Ivory 1992 and her academy award nomination for “The Wings of the Dove” – Ian Softley 1997, to name a few), Julian Sands as George Emerson, the “new” definition of the male identity, direct and acting upon his longings (that went from very interesting films as David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” – 1991 to not so accomplished films as Jennifer Lynch’s “Boxing Helena” – 1993) and establish Daniel Day-Lewis, as Cecil Vyse, the “stiff” and “repressed” male (he who went to an Academy Winning career with Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot” – 1989, with subsequent nominations in Sheridan’s “In the Name of the Father” – 1993 and Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” – 2002).
As for the production itself, Ivory worked with his usual collaborators, namely Richard Robbins for the music, Tony Pierce-Roberts for the photography and Jenny Beavan and John Bright for the costumes, all superb and also award winning. They created an utterly plausible scenario for the screenplay to take place, and made Italy and the English countryside of the late 19th century, early 20th century present for the viewers.
“A Room with a View” is a film that stands as a staple in the Merchant-Ivory body of work, but also a film that has it’s own merits, simultaneously as a wonderful work of art and as a vision of a romanticized reality, something that films masterfully captures.