A Room With A View - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

UK, 1986

Director: James Ivory

Production: A Room with a View Productions; Technicolor, Dolby Stereo; running time: 117 minutes; length: 10,501 feet. Released January 1986. Cost: £2,000,000.

Producer: Ismail Merchant; screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, from the novel by E. M. Forster; photography: Tony-Pierce Roberts; second unit photography: Sergio Melaranci; editor: Humphrey Dixon; sound editors: Tony Lenny, Peter Compton, Alan Killick; sound recordists: Ray Beckett, Brian Masterson; sound re-recordist: Richard King; production designers: Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow; art directors: Brian Savegar, Elio Altamura; costume design: Jenny Beavan, John Bright; music: Richard Robbins; musical directors: Francis Shaw, Barrie Guard.

Cast: Maggie Smith ( Charlotte Bartlett ); Helena Bonham-Carter ( Lucy Honeychurch ); Denholm Elliot ( Mr. Emerson ); Julian Sands ( George Emerson ); Daniel Day-Lewis ( Cecil Vyse ); Simon Callow ( Reverend Arthur Beebe ); Judi Dench ( Miss Eleanor Lavish ); Rosemary Leach ( Mrs. Honeychurch ); Rupert Graves ( Freddy Honeychurch ); Patrick Godfrey ( Mr. Eager ); Fabia Drake ( Catherine Alan ); Joan Henley ( Teresa Alan ); Maria Britneva ( Mrs. Vyse ); Amanda Walker ( The Cockney Signora ); Peter Cellier ( Sir Harry Otway ); Mia Fothergill ( Minnie Beebe ); Patricia Lawrence ( Mrs. Butterworth ); Mirio Guidelli ( Santa Croce Guide ); Matyelock Gibbs and Kitty Aldridge ( The New Charlotte and Lucy ); Freddy Korner ( Mr. Floyd ); Elizabeth Marangoni ( Miss Pole ); Lucca Rossi ( Phaeton ); Isabella Celani ( Persephone ); Luigi Di Fiori ( Murdered Youth ).

Awards: Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, 1986. BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Actress (Smith), Best Supporting Actress (Dench), 1986.



Pym, John, The Wandering Company: Twenty-One Years of Merchant Ivory Films , London, 1983.

Long, Robert Emmet, The Films of Merchant Ivory , New York, 1991, 1997.

Pym, John, Merchant Ivory's English Landscape: Rooms, Views, and Anglo-Saxon Attitudes , New York, 1995.

A Room with a View
A Room with a View


Hollywood Reporter , 29 January 1986.

Variety (New York), 29 January 1986.

Johnston, Sheila, in Stills (London), April 1986.

Strick, Philip, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1986.

Sigal, Clancy, in Listener (London), 17 April 1986.

Mayne, R., in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1986.

Anderson, P., in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1986.

McFarlane, Brian, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), July 1986.

Magny, Joel, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1986.

Pierce-Roberts, Tony, in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), April 1987.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1987.

Levine, J. P., "Two Rooms with a View: An Inquiry into Film Adaptation," in Mosaic (Washington, D.C.), no. 3, 1989.

LeMahieu, D. L., "Imagined Contemporaries: Cinematic and Televised Dramas about the Edwardians in Great Britain and the United States, 1967–1985," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (Abingdon, Oxfordshire), no. 3, 1990.

Kaaber, L., "Forster pa film," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Fall 1992.

Hipsky, M., "Anglophil(m)ia: Why Does America Watch Merchant-Ivory Movies?," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 22, no. 3, 1994.

Chambers, L, "Fade In," in The Journal: Writers Guild of America, West (Los Angeles), vol. 8, December/January 1995.

* * *

During a visit to Florence in 1907 with her cousin Charlotte Bartlett, Lucy Honeychurch meets the bohemian Mr. Emerson and his son George. During the course of a country outing George makes a pass at Lucy, who rebuffs him. The incident is seen by Charlotte, and both women return to England before the allotted end of their stay. Back home in the village of Summer Street with her mother and brother Lucy becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse. At the same time the Emersons rent a cottage in the area and, through becoming friendly with Lucy's brother, George is soon a regular guest at the Honeychurch home. He again attempts to seduce Lucy, who tells him to leave. However, she begins to realise that she is attracted to George, breaks off her engagement with Cecil, and she and George return to Florence on their honeymoon.

The theme of Forster's second novel—the counterpoint between uncomplicated Mediterranean passions and the stultifying, hypocritical restrictions of Edwardian social order—fits in particularly comfortably with one of the favourite subjects of the remarkably unified and consistent Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala oeuvre, namely the clash of conflicting cultures, be they based on race, class, or generational differences—witness Shakespeare Wallah , The Europeans , The Bostonians , and Heat and Dust . But, above all else, A Room with a View stands out as a re-creation of the Indian summer of Edwardian England—quite an achievement considering the diverse origins of producer, director, and screenplay writer. Significantly (and courageously) even the Florentine scenes are not milked for all their considerable visual worth; rather, the film concentrates on the relations between the English visitors to Florence and the various goings-on at the Pensione Bertolini, faithfully reflecting its characters' blinkered, insular sensibilities.

On the other hand, it has to be admitted that, as a reflection on "Englishness," the film, like the novel, does not stray beyond the bounds of lightly critical satire and affectionately observed comedy of manners. Like so many of its ilk on both film and television A Room with a View is decidedly ambivalent about the England which it portrays—one eye cocked at the oppressive effeteness of the Edwardian upper and middle classes, the other captivated by all those ravishing country walks and languorous games of tennis. It is almost certainly these latter elements which have made the film such a commercial success (not least outside Britain) along, of course, with a particularly impressive display of acting skills. Again, one might be critical of the British cinema's over-reliance on essentially theatrical performers and performances but on the other hand it would miss half the point of the film to ignore Maggie Smith's Charlotte, Lucy's spinster chaperon who has clearly got enough "nous" to realise, and regret, what she has missed in life, and who eventually connives at Lucy's affair with George; or Daniel Day-Lewis's Cecil, a prissy wimp who is as different to the actor's earlier incarnation as a punk in My Beautiful Laundrette as it is possible to imagine.

In the last analysis, however, it's hard not to apply Forster's comment on his novel—"clear and bright and well constructed but so thin"—to this beautifully made but ultimately rather gossamer-like film.

—Julian Petley

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