Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Room with a View

Lucy Honeychurch stands at a window and finds that she in fact does not have a room with a view.   She and her chaperone/cousin Charlotte are aghast that their guest house in Italy could not offer them such.  Mr. Emerson and his son George, who do possess the coveted view offer to switch with the ladies.  Charlotte will have none of it, finding the offer an offensive gesture.  Her Victorian sensibility would not allow this chance for indebtedness to the friendly but socially crude elder Emerson.  Lucy is intrigued, and will continue to so be with the younger.

Back home in Surrey, Lucy becomes engaged to a wealthy, polished boor called Cecil Vyse.  Face always in a book, he's the sort who immerses himself in the arts but never finds a real connection with it.  Or with people, for that matter. A man who asks permission for a kiss, but those blasted spectacles do get in the way.  But it is he who alerts the Emersons of a cottage for rent in town.  I forgot to mention that Miss Honeychurch had shared a passionate kiss with George in a barley field back in Florence.  George and the lady will reunite.  Does she love him? Is she in denial? Does Cecil really love Lucy, or just the idea of her by his side? 

1985's A ROOM WITH A VIEW is a James Ivory/Ismail Merchant/Ruth Prawer Jhabvala production.  The directing/producing/ and writing collaboration that would later bring us HOWARD'S END and THE REMAINS OF THE DAY.  Their productions sparkle with class and wit, never reeking of pretension or smugness (even if some of the characters do).  The fourth individual of this team is English writer E.M. Forster, whose novels (including the later Maurice along with Howard's End) provided the others with a meticulous framework from which to work   Themes of class structure, free thinking, mores, and even passionate love flow throughout these works and the Ivory adaptations.

Through the leisurely paced but never dull A ROOM WITH A VIEW (which even allows some innocent nude frolicking in the countryside) we explore the heart and the mind, how amazingly they can coexist.  By the end, anyway.  Lucy agonizes over her feelings, while George is entirely comfortable with his. They represent a changing tide in British society as the twentieth century charges along.  The Emersons may be ignorant of social graces, but have embraced a curiosity about life, other cultures.  But lest you think Ivory and company get too carried away with bohemian lust, George is seen falling to the ground, downed by the snapped twig he clutches as he screams his love for nature.  A nice moment of gentle deflation.

The cast is wonderful.  Helena Bonham Carter gets her first real showcase as Lucy, a study of confliction and reconciliation with her true spirit.  I love how her character may be defined by her furious playing of Beethoven on the piano, giving way to more self awareness as she discovers her feelings for this alleged ruffian, or rake, if you will.  Daniel Day Lewis is funny, almost Chaplinesque in his clueless dance. Denholm Elliott is fine as the always seemingly inebriated, unwashed, but honest Mr. Emerson. Need I mention Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, effortless in their embodiment of Edwardian era England polarity?  A place where break ups are engineered with such politeness and everyone seems most concerned about having tea.

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