A Room with a View
May 12, 2002
Starring: Starring: Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Patrick Godfrey, Judi Dench, Fabia Drake, Joan Henley, Amanda Walker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Maria Britneva, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Peter Cellier, ,
In the 1980s, Merchant Ivory were the undisputed kings of the period film. A Room with a View (1985) cemented their reputation. Their productions were independently financed and featured lavish settings on a budget, exquisite cinematography, impeccably scripted adaptations of classic novels and a cast that mixed veteran British actors with talented up-and-coming ones.
Adapted from E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name, A Room with a View is, at its heart, a love story. Charlotte Bartlett (Smith) and her young charge, Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham-Carter) are vacationing in Florence, Italy. At a dinner with the other British guests staying in their hotel, Charlotte complains that they have no view of the city in their room. Mr. Emerson (Elliott) and his son, George (Sands), offer to swap rooms with the ladies so that they may have the view that they desire. Lucy is smitten with George and is moved by his father’s gesture. It is classic love at first sight but Charlotte does not approve because of Mr. Emerson’s tactless attitude and tells George to say away from Lucy.
Charlotte and Lucy return to England where she is quickly arranged to marry Cecil (played with foppish glee by Daniel Day Lewis), a proper gentleman. However, when George comes to England and confronts Lucy, she must choose between the freedom George represents and the societal repression symbolized by Cecil.
The characters live in a culture that is governed by strict rules of etiquette. There is a certain way that things are done and a way that people behave in the upper class milieu of turn of the century England. To deviate from these practices is to commit cultural suicide. This repressive side of society is represented by Cecil, a pretentious git who understands love only in theory. George, on the other hand, is a mysterious man who listens to his heart and is empathetic to those around him.
The beautiful establishing shots of Italy show off the stunning architecture of its buildings. Tony Pierce-Robert’s cinematography showcases the old churches of Italy steeped in centuries-old history and impressive architectural design. The gorgeous landscapes of England are framed perfectly so that each shot could be a postcard. The meticulously decorated rooms that the characters inhabit are the apex of opulence.
The first disc features an audio commentary with actor Simon Callow, filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and the film’s cinematographer, Tony Pierce-Roberts. Ivory dominates the track and talks about the origins of the film. He wanted to get away from period dramas and was interested in making a contemporary American film. Merchant had read Forster’s book, fell in loved with it and pushed to make it their next project. They had nothing else ready and went ahead with the adaptation. All the participants talk eloquently and intelligently about their experiences on the film and the challenge of making an expensive looking period film on a small budget.
The second DVD starts off with interviews conducted with Simon Callow and Daniel Day Lewis on a BBC magazine show around the time the film was first released. Callow talks about the rain that constantly plagued the production while the usually publicity-shy Day Lewis talks at length about his character and what about him he found so appealing.
“Report on UK Films in the US” is from the same BBC magazine show in the aforementioned extra and shows what a cultural phenomenon A Room with a View became in the United States. There is vintage footage of long line-ups in New York City and interviews with theatregoers. This is a nice cultural snapshot of the times.
“Merchant-Ivory Profile” is a 1996 featurette on the famous independent filmmakers. They got their start making movies in India and then made the move to the US before hitting the jackpot with A Room with a View that established their reputation in North America. Some of the actors that worked with them in the past (Bonham-Carter, Hugh Grant) are interviewed and speak highly of the duo. The only drawback of this extra is that it’s too short. A fascinating career such as theirs deserves a more in-depth examination.
Also included is a BBC documentary on writer E.M. Forster that aired in 1970 shortly after he died. This is a good overview of the man’s career and the thematic pre-occupations of his prose. Fans of Forster are in for a treat as there is also vintage footage of the man writing and audio of him speaking.
Finally, there is a modest gallery of stills taken from the movie and behind-the-scenes shots.
A Room with a View set the standard for all other period films to follow. It is one of the best examples of the genre. This two-DVD set with a new anamorphic widescreen transfer, 5.1 surround soundtrack, and a nice collection of extras is a fitting tribute to this movie.