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Room with a View, A (1985)

Courtesy of Goldcrest Films International Ltd

Main image of Room with a View, A (1985)
DirectorJames Ivory
Production CompanyMerchant Ivory Productions Ltd
ProducerIsmail Merchant
ScreenplayRuth Prawer Jhabvala
Original novelE.M. Forster
Director of PhotographyTony Pierce-Roberts
MusicRichard Robbins

Cast: Maggie Smith (Charlotte Bartlett); Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy Honeychurch); Denholm Elliott (Mr. Emerson); Julian Sands (George Emerson); Daniel Day-Lewis (Cecil Vyse); Simon Callow (Reverend Arthur Beebe); Judi Dench (Miss Eleanor Lavish)

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Sheltered Lucy Honeychurch, holidaying in Florence with her spinister chaperone Charlotte, is kissed by unconventional George Emerson. Frightened by her confusing feelings for him, she returns to England and accepts stuffy Cecil Vyse's proposal. When George reappears, she questions her feelings for Cecil.

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A Room With A View (d. James Ivory, 1985) was the first of three adaptations of E.M. Forster novels to emerge from the creative team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and was followed by Maurice (1987) and Howards End (1991).

The film delights in its literary heritage, even choosing to use the novel's (published 1908) chapter headings as intertitles. Jhabvala's Oscar-winning script captures Forster's wit, language, and affectionate tone: she pokes gentle fun at the English abroad and their preoccupation with class, social conventions, and etiquette. Yet, the film is more than social satire: like many of Forster/s novels, at the heart of A Room With A View is the conflict between human desire and society's moral codes. Jhabvala successfully navigates the more idealistic and serious aspects of the novel without resorting to sentimentality; the result is a romance with comic elements, rather than a romantic comedy.

Through an exploration of character dynamics, the film examines the culture clash between the generations. The restrictive attitudes of the older generation (still inhibited by Victorian morality) are contrasted with the freer values of Edwardian youth (representing change and the modern age). The resulting friction is encapsulated in Lucy's choice between security and passion, and her desire to break free of hypocrisy and conventionality.

Ivory draws theatrical, yet balanced performances from his mainly British cast. Initially, the differences between prissy Charlotte and passionate Lucy (Helena Bonham-Carter) are exaggerated for dramatic effect. But Charlotte is no caricature: Maggie Smith's multi-faceted performance reveals that Charlotte is a closet romantic who once shared Lucy's passion for life. Her embittered martyrdom serves as a warning to Lucy of the consequences of refusing to follow her heart.

Cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts creates a nostalgic fantasy world for the English scenes: an idealised pastoral bliss where women, dressed in white finery, parade through beautiful houses and sunlit manicured gardens. In contrast, Florence - lush, fertile, and untamed - offers Lucy a taste of life outside her sheltered existence in England. Her experiences in Italy trigger her sexual awakening, allowing her passionate nature and self-awareness to emerge.

The combination of postcard-pretty scenery, gorgeous costumes, and soaring classical soundtrack result in a glossy confection that perhaps slips down a little too easily. But the beautiful wrappings belie an enlightened treatise on the nature of love and freedom that remains relevant to contemporary audiences.

Louise Watson

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Video Clips
1. Room negotiations (3:34)
2. The picnic (5:29)
3. Lying to Cecil (2:54)
Production stills
Bonham Carter, Helena (1966-)
Callow, Simon (1949-)
Day Lewis, Daniel (1957-)
Dench, Judi (1934-)
Elliott, Denholm (1922-1992)
Graves, Rupert (1963-)
Ivory, James (1928-)
Merchant, Ismail (1936-2005)
Sands, Julian (1958-)
Smith, Maggie (1934-)