A Room With a View captured the attention of the world upon its release, bringing the novel by E.M. Forster to dazzling life in the Florentine countryside and in the well-appointed homes of the English Edwardian upper classes. A comedy of manners with a quick wit and impeccable comic timing, A Room With A View is also a portrait of the quiet solitude that lies beneath Forster's characters, and of the need for human connection in a world of rigid convention.
The young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham Carter), arrives in Florence on a Baedecker-style grand tour with her aunt Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith). Through a series of events involving English expatriates Miss Eleanor Lavish, an unflappable novelist (Judi Dench), and the Emersons, a free-thinking father and son (played by Denholm Elliot and Julian Sands), Lucy's life is changed forever under a loggia in Florence and in the Tuscan countryside.
Lucy returns from her sentimental journey to her mother, brother, and their local vicar in England (played by Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, and Simon Callow) and attempts to resume her life as it was before her trip, consenting to an engagement with Cecil Vyse (played by Daniel Day Lewis), a bookish snob who never uses an English word when an Italian or italicized one would do. Lucy must then choose between an easy but untruthful life as Cecil's wife and one that will require a renunciation of all she has been taught at her childhood home at Windy Corner.
Ivory's delicate and playful direction spirits us from an adventure in the back alleys of Florence, lost with Dench and Smith, to the lace-parasolled rigidity of English lawn parties. Shot on location in and around Florence (including unforgettable scenes in the Piazza della Signoria and at Giotto's frescoes in Santa Croce), A Room With A View made stars not only of Bonham Carter, Day Lewis and Sands, but of the Tuscan landscapes (as photographed by Tony Pierce - Roberts) and Puccini arias (as sung by Kiri Te Kanawa) featured throughout.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Oscar-lauded screenplay, to which the director contributed, continues to be regarded as one of the best literary adaptions ever written for the screen. Maggie Smith received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Charlotte Bartlett as at once an incisive schoolmarm and a poignantly lonely woman; as did Denholm Elliot, for his childishly knowing portrait of Mr. Emerson.
Awards: BEST PICTURE, BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (Daniel Day Lewis), National Board of Review. BEST SCREENPLAY (ADAPTED), ART DIRECTION, BEST COSTUME DESIGN. Academy Awards. BEST PICTURE, BESTACTRESS (Maggie Smith), BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Judi Dench), BAFTA. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Maggie Smith), Golden Globs Awards. BEST FOREIGN FILM, Independent Spirit Awards. BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, Writers Guild of America.
After Bombay Talkie, Merchant Ivory turned next to a documentary. BBC television commissioned them to do a film on Nirad Chaudhuri, the celebrated Indian polymath whom Merchant, Ivory, and Jhabvala had all known in India, and who was then in England doing research for a book on the Sanskrit scholar Max Müeller. Chaudhuri is clearly an extraordinary man. His interests are not only cross-cultural (he is a brilliant commentator on comparative cultures of India and the West), but also interdisciplinary--involving history, anthropology, linguistics, political science, sociology, and a half-dozen other fields. He can talk on any subject under the sun. Chaudhuri is also a passionate Anglophile, as he proclaimed in his book A Passage to England, one of whose chapter titles provides the title of the documentary.
In the 54-minute film, Ivory observes the diminutive (he is only five feet tall), seventy-six-year-old scholar in the settings of Oxford and London. Ivory places him in a number of situations: a dinner party, a don's study, a visit to a graveyard, a fitting at a tailor's, a walk along the town's High Street--and lets him talk. Nimble-witted and voluble, he expounds on everything from the beauties of his beloved Mozart to the misrule, or rather the lack of any rule at all, of India; from his passion for Kipling (the best of all English writers on India, he maintains) to the vacuousness of the yoga cult and the intellectually damaging effects of the Indian diet, deficient in protein. His spryness as a walker of Oxford's streets is matched by his biting and provocative opinions, which he appears to relish. He becomes a self-creating portrait; and Ivory, in fact, regards the film, so concise and yet so full of life, as a "profile."
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