A Room with a View

A Room with a View ★★★½

"I have no profession. My attitude -- quite an indefensible one -- is that as long as I am no trouble to anyone, I have the right to do as I like. It is, I dare say, an example of my decadence."

Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Rupert Graves, location filming in Florence and the Piazza della Signoria and London and Sevenoaks… on a three million dollar budget. Boy, 1985 feels like an eternity ago.

The Merchant/Ivory joint A Room With a View takes the acclaimed E.M. Forster novel of the same name about late-Victorian era aristocracy and love (history/literature snobs will call it "Edwardian," you may rightly scoff at these fools), and crafts an intelligent and charming romantic comedy with superb art direction and acting performances.

In the year 1907, Lucy Honeychurch (a young Bonham Carter in her debut role) travels to Florence, Italy with her older spinster cousin Charlotte Bartlett (Smith); immediately they are disappointed not to receive a room with a view of the Arno. Fortunately they meet Mr. Emerson (Elliott) and his pensive son George (Sands) who offer to switch rooms in their hotel. While out one day, Lucy witnesses a violent tragedy, begins to faint, and is "rescued" -- in a very Victorian way -- by George, who assumes this moment was made for them to become closer. When they continue third course of courtship, Charlotte is enraged and cuts the trip short. Part of the reason is to return to England for a planned meeting with her suitor Cecil Vyse (Day-Lewis), prim and proper but haughty and pretentious. She accepts his marriage proposal as a way to move on from George. But, when a chance coincidence brings the two near again, Lucy may be forced to reconcile love with practicality.

Adapting an acclaimed novel isn't easy, but an entertaining and smart book like this one by Forster -- you may also know two other works later turned to films, Howards End and A Passage to India -- in the right hands can make for a charming and lovely picture. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Oscar-winning adapted screenplay does just that. Subtle humour and observations on Victorian life, some quaint and some serious, bring Forster's story of romance to life with the doses of social critique and satire that are impossible to ignore. This is not just a stuffy British costume drama; anyone who has read a Forster novel knows the layers of social intrigue you'll get.

Day-Lewis is just excellent in an early role for him, yet a vastly different one from the first that garnered acclaim as a young gay man in an interracial relationship in My Beautiful Laundrette. Here, he's delightfully snobby as Cecil though not without charm, who'd rather recite novels aloud walking with his cane instead of playing tennis; don't miss his first terrible attempt to kiss Lucy as she immediately compares it to the life-changing passionate embrace from George. As always, Day-Lewis is the best thing about a good but imperfect film. Denholm Elliott is probably my other favorite supporting role as the freethinking and witty Mr. Emerson. He's one of those actors I love in every movie, probably because I watched him as Marcus Brody in the Indiana Jones films like twenty times when I was younger.

I wasn't as impressed with Helena Bonham Carter. She's very raw here, though sweet and full of energy. I'm not sure she'd found herself as an actor quite yet, and seems a little stiff when she is required to carry scenes on her own. Just 18 or 19 at filming, she looks years younger.

James Ivory -- millennials know him as the screenwriter of Call Me by Your Name -- earned the first of his three Best Director Oscar nominations here, and his professional and domestic partnership with producer Ismail Merchant would last until the latter's death about fifteen years ago. Though I love the screenplay and the original novel, there's a little bit that's missing here in terms of selling the romance of George and Lucy, and as well with Cecil and Lucy. Still, adaptations of beloved British works are movies I will watch every time, and there's still a ton to like about this period piece with like fourteen BAFTA nominations that manages to stay comic and smart throughout. If anything, for those who fancy themselves Daniel Day-Lewis completionists, you'll probably enjoy this early film too.

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