In the previous post we saw David Lean end his career with A Passage to India however two men would soon pick up the baton from one of the best British directors of all time. Those men were director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant who became synonymous with costume drama during the 1980s and 1990s. Merchant Ivory productions’ first entry into this blog comes in the form of another Forster adaptation – A Room with A View.
In addition to being the first Merchant Ivory film to feature during the challenge, A Room with A View was also one of the first movies to be co-produced by the then-fledgling Film 4 company. Although a lot lighter in tone, A Room with A View shares many similarities with A Passage to India including the fact that it focuses on a foreign holiday taken by a young woman and an older companion. In this case the country is Italy, the young woman is Miss Lucy Honeychurch and her older companion is her cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett. The first half of the film looks at their stay in Italy which is initially plagued by the fact that they haven’t got the room with the view they ordered. Their holiday is partly influenced by the people they meet including their local vicar, a pair of gentlewomen and a worldly novelist who is currently researching her next book. However Lucy’s head is turned by the free-thinking George Emerson, who is staying at her hotel along with his father. Their time in Italy is cut short by a kiss that George steals from Lucy, an act that Charlotte is later appalled by. The second half of the film then takes place in Lucy’s small Surrey town where her somewhat foppish family is criticised by the local snobs. One such snob, Cecil Vyse, is intrigued by Lucy and eventually asks her to marry him, a proposition she accepts. But when George, and later Charlotte, arrive in town things chance for Cecil and Lucy all together.
The third part of the Merchant Ivory family was screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala who often proved adept at providing accessible adaptations of English literature. I certainly think she did a great job with A Room with a View as I found the film to be well-paced and delightfully comic throughout. The majority of the characters within the film, with the possible exception of Lucy, were utter eccentrics but I have to say I didn’t mind this too much. Jhabvala also broke down the story beautifully by interspersing various sections with the original titles of the book’s chapters and was rewarded for her work here with an Oscar. Tony Pierce-Roberts’ perfectly captured both the Italian scenery and the English countryside giving both unique identities and making sure they were the ideal backdrop for the story to take place. Richard Robbins’ score provided great accompaniment for each scene and really enhanced the joy of the film. The art direction and costume design was equally fantastic and both areas were similarly honoured by Oscar. In another similarity with A Passage to India, A Room With a View is bolstered by a cast of reliable English actors. Maggie Smith is excellent as the reserved Charlotte as she excels at playing the woman who has never really lived life. A fresh-faced Helena Bonham Carter excels as the innocent Lucy who grows over the course of the film as do her feelings for Julian Sands’ George. Plenty of reliable support is provided by Rupert Graves as Lucy’s idiot brother, Judi Dench as the aforementioned novelist and Simon Callow who goes full-frontal as the local vicar. Interestingly, Daniel Day-Lewis also makes his debut on the blog as the incredibly insensitive Cecil whose incompatibility with Lucy didn’t seem to affect his desire to propose to her. Even at this early stage in his career, Day-Lewis proved that he could become the character he was tasked with playing and indeed he is able to portray Cecil as the fool of the piece. Whilst not an outstanding film, A Room with a View was an enjoyably light period drama with plenty of eccentrics played by reliable actors. It perfectly demonstrated why Merchant Ivory were successful for so many years and why they would go on to garner a number of Oscar nominations in the next decade.