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A Room with a View

Posted by martinteller on October 20, 2013

When I was younger, “Merchant-Ivory” was synonymous with stuffy, stodgy period dramas (I hadn’t yet connected them to the flawed but offbeat Slaves of New York).  They were basically a punchline, shorthand for describing a very specific type of film that appealed only to boring Anglophiles.  Then I saw The Remains of the Day, and while it is stuffy and stodgy, it’s also about being stuffy and stodgy, doing far more to criticize that sort of constrained repression rather than celebrating it as an aesthetic.

This film is also a buttoned-up period picture, but one that manages to loosen the buttons quite a bit.  There’s always a light touch to it, with humor found in the repressed attitudes of the times.  No film with title cards like this one has could be accused of taking itself too seriously.  Nor with a performance like the one given by Daniel Day-Lewis, an overblown dandy snob that must be taken as caricature (although his arc concludes with a subtly touching denouement).

And so, although the plot (I’ve not read the Forster novel) is rather predictable, the movie is quite charming to digest, with the help of reliable assistants like Puccini and Florence.  It’s a beautifully crafted piece of work, easy to watch and enjoy.  Especially with a stellar and memorable cast including, besides Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Denholm Elliott.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of Carter and Sands together to feel more assured about their romance, but perhaps that works against the story’s purposes.  Perhaps one is meant to consider that their love might be short-lived, based largely on surface impressions.

If so, it is the culture of repression that makes this sort of bold romantic fantasy so attractive.  It could be an impossible climate for Lucy to ever find “true” love, whether with a Cecil or a George or someone else.  Rating: Very Good (82)

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7 Responses to “A Room with a View”

  1. This review makes me very happy. Truth be told, I’ve felt a bit self conscious in expressing my love for this film because I know the stereotype “Merchant Ivory” holds. But I do love the film – and you point out so many of the reasons why, reasons that cannot be reduced to the romantic: the humor and the skewering of manners and stodgy-ness, particularly. The nuance at the end of Day-Lewis’s character, too, makes it a so much more complex story/character-arc than you might expect – he’s not merely a dandy, not merely a laughable character. The novel is really great, too, very funny and very piercingly clear-eyed – the film is a very close adaptation, actually..

    • Thanks Melissa! Does the novel flesh out the romance more? Or perhaps paint as a more iffy situation?

      • I wouldn’t say the novel fleshes out the romance more – at least not too much; in many ways, Lucy and George are types, in the way comic Edwardian characters might be, rather than being fully complex characters themselves. It is a pretty light novel – his “nicest,” Forster called it. I always rather think the story – even more evident in the book – is most interesting for its underlying critiques of social structures and mores, for its hints of Forster’s homosexuality, for example. And I do think Forster, though he is following a sort of Edwardian comic genre, embeds the piece with a kind of unease about the romantic relationship at its center – Lucy, for example, wants independence, but ends up marrying George (something which, in the novel, Mr. Beebe is deeply disappointed with), and we don’t really see her fully achieving her own voice; in the novel, she parrots George’s words in order to argue with Cecil, and she herself doesn’t reach maturity – unless we think marriage = maturity. But Forster, clearly, wouldn’t have thought that. Interestingly, Forster originally ended the novel with a failed elopement and George being killed in an accident. My copy of the book notes Forster wasn’t completely satisfied with having changed the ending to a happy, tidy one: “Forster was worried by the book, wondering if he had ended it correctly and whether it was anything more than ‘tosh.’ He was concerned that the Comic Muse had led him to the ancient ‘happy ending’ of marriage, in which for several reasons he did not believe.” Personally, i don’t think the novel is tosh. 🙂 It is delightfully comic with that edge of satire – and the happy ending, given the questions concerning social structures the novel has raised, leaves one pensive rather than merely believing it is, truly, a happy ending. So if Forster worried about the happy ending, I think he problematized it enough in the course of the novel to show us he was using the comic/romantic genre for his own ends, rather than actually buying into it, if that makes sense. The movie, perhaps, does not problematize the ending enough, but still, it has enough satire to show us its self-awareness.

      • Thank you for the valuable insight into the novel, Melissa! Even though much of that didn’t quite end up on the screen, it’s interesting to learn more of the story.

      • You’re welcome! It’s a fun, breezy read if you’re ever in the mood for a quick novel. 🙂

  2. Alan said

    This is one of those movies that I have a soft spot for. It displays the richeness and texture of what one feels is best about Europe and the past. So many of the modern films are gimmicky and substitute a script wit a plot and a lot of bad language- sorry if I sound like a prig. But the Ivory films are certainly a pleasure to listen to, which is a raririty nowadays , if you care for language at all. The intense light and color of the Summer in Italy is just a joy and so good to witness actors- acting as opposed to just being. And then the lovely summer in the English countryside. The bathing scene was so enjoyable for it’s humor and fun as well as being lovely to look at. The charecters are sympathetic and well drawn, funnily enought the DAniel Day Lewis is the one most difficult to relate to.

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