By Nick Alderink
A novel adaptation set in the early 20th century, an opening aria, fanciful title cards, a romantic plot and a certain British charm not only describes characteristics of Merchant-Ivory Productions’ 1985 romantic feature A Room With A View but they are also motifs and themes found in the collaborative achievements of Director James Ivory, Producer Ismail Merchant, and Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala who became so well known for their style that they are also considered the creators of their own genre.
As described in a previous post, A Room With A View is Cinema Revolution’s second feature highlighting the ‘Indiewood’ chapter of independent film history when such films became critical successes lead by major, box office drawing actors. The film is the series’ first and only that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and leads among the group with eight nominations, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design.
A Bit You Should Know
Costume dramas such as this that focus on the troubles of upper class, white elitist families may be less popular and important in today’s social climate but the film holds up well by approaching the setting with some absurd, dry witted humor and light heartedness. Ultimately, the plot is irrelevant and loose, and the conflicts are insignificant, but for these characters every choice they make has ramifications that must be debated and contemplated step by step which draws out some humorous banter. For instance, the film opens with Helena Bonham Carter’s Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone Charlotte Bartlett, played by Maggie Smith, opening the window of their room in Florence, Italy only to find the shabby streets instead of the beautiful view they were promised. The first conflict of the film is incited but with some luck they meet two gentlemen at dinner who offer to trade their rooms with views at no cost. A simple fix, but their ultimate decision does not come without debating and arguing, and getting bystanders into the mix as well
Nevertheless, the choices that Lucy makes in the film as the story grows and progresses not only ground and humanize her character but they also draw historical and extremely important implications that signify the coming of a new social age in the 20th Century. Although she begins the film under the control of her chaperone, she ultimately finds her voice. In the next decade, by 1918 women in England, like Lucy, would earn the right to vote and earn the chance to speak for themselves as well.
Although it exhibits a stellar cast in today’s perspective, the film was an introduction for Helena Bonham Carter, who only had a TV movie under her belt at the time, and a career launch for Daniel Day-Lewis. Maggie Smith was the most prominent Box Office draw as she already had won two Academy Awards and been nominated four times, as well as Judi Dench and Denholm Elliot who appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark four years prior.
By 1985, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had been collaborating for almost over 20 years
under the title Merchant Ivory Productions. They originally started with inspiration to make English language films set in India but came to be known better for their adaptations of British novels set in the romantic Victorian and Edwardian periods of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, launching a new wave of similarly natured costume dramas to follow in its wake. A Room With A View is adapted from the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster, which was followed by two more adaptations from Merchant-Ivory Productions: Maurice (1987) and Howard’s End (1992), also starring Helena Bonham Carter. Outside of their company, his novels Passage to India, Billy Budd, and Where Angels Fear to Tread were all produced within a span of six years.
What to Look Out For
- Daniel Day-Lewis was not well known for his method acting at the time but already displayed a level of understanding for the character that makes him one of the most interesting and critically successful actors today. Oddly, he is mostly available for comic relief in this film and the moments that make him stand out are those when he is at the edge of the frame, avoiding the center of attention, with quirks and habits only visible when he thinks nobody is watching.
- In meta-fashion, during the picnic scene Lucy can be heard discussing Where Angels Fear to Tread with some winking to the camera from Merchant-Ivory. Unbeknownst at the time however, Helena Bonham Carter would go on to star in this film adaptation 6 years later.
A Room With A View will play in the Screening Room tonight at 7:00 PM! Visit michtheater.org/show/a-room-with-a-view/ to get your tickets and mark your calendars for next week’s feature, My Own Private Idaho starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.
See you at the Michigan!