A Room With A View

A Room With A View

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's easy to look back at Edwardian England and see a starched, deeply self-conscious society whose repressed inhabitants had little to enjoy in life, but this kind of pity isn't necessarily appropriate. For many people such a life seemed pleasant enough. Lucy (Helena Bonham-Carter) has led a sheltered existence in big houses with beautiful gardens. She's been well (albeit cautiously) educated and she's never had to want for anything - at least, nothing she's aware of. But a sojourn in Italy with her chaperone Charlotte (Maggie Smith) changes all that. There, amid the cool marble interiors of galleries and museums, she meets the elderly yet bold Mr Emerson (Denholm Elliot) and his young son George (Julian Sands). When the latter grabs her in a cornfield and kisses her with sudden, unanticipated passion, he sparks a fire within her that will never go out.

E.M. Forster's delicate examination of changing mores and manners is brought to life beautifully in this most famous of Merchant Ivory adaptations. The cast could not be better, with even the frequently bland Sands delivering the sort of energetic performance essential to making George's impact on Lucy believable. Daniel Day Lewis provides memorable support, playing against type as Lucy's uptight fiancé. There's splendid cinematography both in the English countryside and in Florence, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has done a good job of adapting Forster's gentle yet incisive wit.

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Unfortunately, the elegance of this production is ultimately what works against it. Forster's original ambiguous ending is made much more (modern) conventional, and the story becomes little more than a romance between two beautiful people with all the advantages they could want in life. Though something of tragedy remains in the sidelined friendship between Charlotte and Mr Emerson, what's lost is the essential ingredient of the novel - Lucy's personal struggle for freedom. Here her focus is too much on George and not enough on herself. It's not just that part of the story is lost (there's no particular harm in an adaptation choosing to tell a different story); it's that we are left with fragments of it which don't gel with the whole. We see Lucy's anger and frustration as she begins to realise how restricted her world is because of her sex, but we don't see her direction, and she seems too willing to give up everything she has discovered for a man, with no doubt left in her. This may be a fine romantic fable but it's all too clearly unrealistic for this still-complex character.

As a result, A Room With A View doesn't give us the perspective we might have hoped for; somebody has drawn the blinds too soon. But what we do see offers much that can be admired, and this is also a fascinating opportunity to see some great actors at a pivotal stage in their careers. Well worth a second glance.

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2009
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A chance encounter in Florence leads a respectable young Englishwoman to develop secret passions.
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Director: James Ivory

Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the book by E.M. Forster.

Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Patrick Godfrey, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Rupert Graves

Year: 1985

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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