PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

The Emotional Pitch Can Run High in 'A Room With a View', But It’s Also a Very Funny Film

Ornate title cards place the filmmakers in a position similar to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, enjoying the human carnival while at the same time proclaiming “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”


A Room With a View

Director: Keva Rosenfeld
Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julian Sands
Distributor: Criterion
Studio: Merchant Ivory Productions/Goldcrest Films International
Release date: 2015-09

A Room With a View may be the quintessential Merchant-Ivory film. Based on a classic work of fiction? Check. Featuring a story in which most of the action is internal and emotional rather than external? Check. Shot in beautiful locations and with exquisite attention to period detail? Check. Boasting an ensemble case of A-list actors working for a fraction of their usual fee? Check. Edited in long takes that allow the actors to act and the story to breathe? Check.

Fortunately, A Room With a View is not just an examplar of the Merchant-Ivory style (it was the 18th film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, and their first E. M. Forster adaptation), but also a thoroughly enjoyable film. It was successful both critically and at the box office upon its initial release in 1986, and also picked up some big prizes, among them five BAFTAs (including Best Film) and three Academy Awards (for Art Direction, Costume Design, and Adapted Screenplay).

Merchant-Ivory films are noted for their beauty, and A Room With a View is no exception: Florence has never looked better on screen, and neither has the English countryside. Watching this film is like spending two hours in the company of English aristocrats who never have to worry about things like pleasing a difficult boss or paying off their student loans, let alone dodging bullets or wondering where their next meal is going to come from. This lack of mundane worries leaves them free to focus their energies on their emotional lives and social status, and when they manage to screw things up despite all their inherited privileges, that lets the rest of us enjoy a little Schadenfreude at their expense.

At the same time, we can sympathize with the characters in this film, because they’re dealing with issues that are still pertinent today. Take the central character of Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter), who isn’t sure if she should yield to the urgings of her heart or obey the proprieties dictated by her cousin and chaperone, Charlotte (Maggie Smith). Does handsome George Emerson (Julian Sands) really love her, or does he just want to take advantage of her so he can brag to his friends about it? Women still struggle with this question today, but it’s magnified for Lucy, because in Edwardian England a proper young lady’s career consisted of making a good marriage, and one lapse in judgment (or even rumors about having made such a lapse) could destroy your chance of a happy future. Men, of course, did not suffer the same risk, and thus women had to be suspicious of any professed affection.

The character of Charlotte should also be familiar to viewers today—she’s a person who lacks basic human understanding and tries to make up for it with an excessive concern for following all the right rules. Charlotte is treated rather harshly in this film, as a figure of fun, but she’s also somewhat pitiful because she seems unable to ever be honestly present in a situation. In contrast, George’s father (Denholm Elliott) represents the wise voice of the older generation, willing to acknowledge human imperfection and understanding that sometimes people’s emotional needs should be given priority over observing social conventions. Although the obvious story line of the film is which of two suitors Lucy will marry, beneath it lies the question of what kind of a person she will be—one who hides behind rules and conventions, or one willing to follow her heart and take the consequences of wherever that choice may lead her?

Lucy’s two suitors also represent personality types still present in society today. George is an emo kid, all wrapped up in himself and his feelings while imagining he’s contemplating the big questions of life (as exemplified by his annoying habit of writing large question marks on everything). Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an aesthete who would not feel out of place in an MFA program, given his habit of pretentiously drops Italian phrases into conversation, his constant attempts to exert his superiority by putting down everyone and everything around him, and his appearance that suggests he’s auditioning for the role of Eustace Tilley.

The emotional pitch can run high in A Room With a View, but it’s also a very funny film, and one that observes its characters with some detachment. One way this detachment is expressed is through the use of ornate title cards that break the story into episodes (e.g., “In Santa Croce with no Baedecker”) that place the filmmakers in a position similar to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, enjoying the human carnival while at the same time proclaiming “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

The Criterion release features a newly restored 4K digital transfer of A Room With a View, produced from the 35mm original camera negative, which looks splendid. The extras package for this release is adequate but no more, which is disappointing considering that the extras are usually a strong selling point for Criterion discs. A 2015 documentary, “Thought and Passion” (21 min.) centers on production issues in A Room With a View and features director James Ivory, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, and costume designer John Bright.

The documentary “The Eternal Yes” (36 min.), also produced in 2015, features interviews with actors Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Callow, and Julian Sands. An excerpt (4 min.) from a 1987 episode of NBC Nightly News profiling Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant is also included on the disc, as is the film’s trailer. A 12-page illustrated brochure is included with the DVD, and features an essay by John Pym and information about the transfer process.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.