Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Part 2: A Room with a View, The 1986 Merchant-Ivory Film

Lucy Honeychurch looking out over Florence from her "Room with a View"
Julian Sands as George Emerson
Yesterday's post talked about my revelation about how I came to my life at this point, all 42 long years of it.  Today, I want to continue the conversation by telling you a little about my all-time favorite film, A Room with a View.  This movie is about as true to the original novel as a two hour film can be.  The cast is amazing and most of them have had noteworthy careers up until this point, although they may appear very young to our eyes 15 years later.
Daniel day Lewis as Cecil Vyse

Daniel Day Lewis plays the character of Cecil Vyse, the passionless, reserved fiance of Lucy.  He reminds me of a cold impenetrable marble statue both in demeanor and personality.  Daniel Day Lewis is spectacular in this role.  Lucy Honeychurch is the main character whom the novel revolves around.  She is played by Helena Bonham-Carter, whom we have seen more recently as the young Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in The King's Speech.  Lucy is as compassionate as Cecil is sneering, as soft as Cecil is hard.  She is an accomplished pianist who, before she undergoes her trans-formative period, puts all her passion into her music.  As Mr. Beebe, the clergyman in the church in Windy Corner (Lucy's home), states,  "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays-it will be very excited-both for us and for her."  With this statement, we are offered a glimpse of what is to come as the film progresses and unfolds. Lucy's music exposes the real Lucy, the genuine side of her just waiting to come out and be known.

Julian Sands plays the character of George Emerson, "silent George", a man ignorant of propriety but not of happiness, nor Fate itself.   Through clandestine meetings, Lucy and George begin to fall in love.  George recognizes this, but Lucy refuses to acknowledge the feelings she has for George.  George is both sultry and innocent at the same time.  He is bold and unafraid to show his passion and to believe in what he feels.

Maggie Smith plays the bumbling and incorrigibly exhausting Charlotte Bartlett, chaperon to Lucy in their journey to Italy.  The novel seems to pivot around Charlotte.  She is at times antagonistic to the novel's ability to resolve itself, and at others, she gives the novel its momentum to come to a turning point.  Judy Dench plays a minor role as Eleanor Lavish, the feisty lady novelist.  We also see Rupert Graves as Freddy Honeychurch, Lucy's brother, and Simon Callow as Mr. Beebe.

The most important chapter of the novel is aptly named The Twelfth Chapter and this Merchant Ivory Production really does this chapter a good amount of justice.  I think Forster had highlighted this particular chapter because it exhibits exactly what Forster is attempting to achieve with this novel.  Freddy, and George meet here, along with Mr. Beebe, and all three decide to spend the afternoon at the "Sacred Lake", the village pond mostly secluded by all but those who happen to pass through the woods.  The three men become naked and almost immediately natural, without any sign of civilization and polite society to hold them back.  They throw their clothes around in play as to show that this is what they think of society and its trappings.  I might also add this scene contains a shocking amount of male frontal nudity, which really is all right by me.  There is too much female-centric nudity in film these days.  I wanted to pull a quote from the novel that really fits with this scene:

Lucy and Cecil at the Sacred Lake
"I believed in a return to Nature once.  But how can we return to Nature when we have never been with her?  Today I believe that we must discover Nature.  After many conquests, we shall attain simplicity.  It is our heritage...In this-not in other things-we men are ahead.  We despise the body less than women do.  But not until we are comrades shall we enter the garden." I must add here, though, that this quote does not appear in the movie.  In fact, much of Forster's language and idealism has been left out for what I would assume are time constraints.

Lucy and George in Florence
It is quite appropriate that Lucy and Cecil walk over to the Sacred Lake to escape from their engagement party. Cecil is a surreal, misplaced figure here-the marble statue placed inside the wilderness.  Cecil is ill at ease here amidst the natural world and when they kiss, it is awkward, humorous, and his glasses get in the way.  Pretty much a disaster!  Not a very natural kiss to say the least.  Not like the kiss that Lucy experienced with George in Florence. (It really doesn't get any better than that!)  Cecil is unable to enter nature with Lucy, so they cannot be comrades.  He won't allow for equality.  He sees her as something to possess, to be had for show, for her beautiful "playing" on the piano.  But, not for the passion of what she plays, for what it will tell others about his choice of a wife.

I love how James Ivory is able to exhibit this idea of nature and civilization clashing throughout this film.  We see Cecil in one scene smoking inside the house gazing at Lucy who is running back from tennis, all flushed with the fresh air, exercise, and passionate feelings toward George.  In another, Cecil is taking Lucy, her mother, and Charlotte for a walk past the Sacred Lake while the three men are playing naked.  Now this is a hysterical scene!  Cecil is not one of the "natural" men.  He is "one of the ladies" trying to defend them from the men, clearing a path in the brush so they do not have to directly walk past the lake.  In another scene, Cecil is annoyed by Freddy's humorous, very "middle class", singing at the piano, so is forced outside into the unknown natural world because he prefers this to being with the lower classes.

To conclude, I will leave you with another quote from the novel:

"Yes, we fight for more than Love or Pleasure, there is Truth.  Truth counts, Truth does count."

The 1986 film version of A Room with a View is available for immediate viewing on Netflix.  I hope you will consider my recommendation and watch it for yourself.

This film gets a perfect 5 stars from me.


Avid Reader said...

I love this movie and if you haven't seen Howards End, I hope you will immediately!

TheWingchairTraveller said...

Oh I have! Howard's End is another one of my favorites, the book and film. I never met a Forster novel I didn't like.

Anonymous said...

My favourite movie ever! It's amazing and I can't believe how fw people know about it. I'l have to find Howard's End as well.