TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
Many regard this first Merchant/Ivory production of an E.M. Forster novel as a masterpiece. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three, including Best Adapted Screenplay as well as the Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction. While I agree it has its charm and several shining moments, the acting here is good, not excellent, and the storytelling with its frequent title cards is interesting, not awesome.
Specifically, Helena Bonham Carter was making her feature debut here and had not yet found her feet as a film star. She portrayed the central character Lucy Honeychurch like a tennis ball being batted back and forth by the other characters. She could scarcely keep up with veteran Maggie Smith playing her cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett. Similarly, Daniel Day-Lewis seemed wooden rather than comedic in his role as Lucy's fiancé Cecil Vyse. All the really funny moments in the film are provided by sub-characters, such as a naked romp around a small pond delivered by Rupert Graves as Lucy's brother Freddy, Simon Callow as the Reverend Mr. Bebbe, and Julian Sands as the inscrutable free-spirit George Emerson, who inserts himself with passion into Lucy's life.
Other excellent performances were turned in by Judi Dench as the novelist Eleanor Lavish, Denholm Elliott as George's father and Rosemary Leach as Lucy's mother. The scenes shot in Italy were so sublime, I felt like adding Florence to my bucket list of places to visit before I die. And the camera managed to make the English countryside look quite appealing, too, albeit this was supposedly a time of horse-drawn carriages and bicycles used as primary means of transportation.
Like the book, the film is very much concerned with manners, unexpressed feelings, and the paradigm shift of a society moving from Victorian Era repression to the more liberal Edwardian Age. That means there's not much action to watch, apart from the pond incident, a fist fight in the Florence square and a tennis match on the Honeychurch estate. Instead, look for garden strolls, formal dining, piano recitals and lots of talk to carry the plot forward. I'm afraid I really couldn't enjoy it as much as I did Merchant/Ivory's Howard's End, which was produced eight years later, but I'm still glad I've seen this highly acclaimed film at last.