Sunday, December 5, 2010

1986 - A Room With a View

Here's a tip for the unaware...

When at the supermarket browsing bottles of wine, it may be worth looking more closely at the labels. Although the label on the bottle you purchase may, at first glance, have a design that is indistinguishable from the labels on more expensive bottles found in boutique wine shops, don't wait until you get it home to read the small text that describes the contents as "Wine Product." Not the same thing...

To wrap up the viewing of 1986's Best Picture nominees, yesterday I watched...

A Room with a View
James Ivory
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
(based on the novel by E.M. Forster)
Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
3 wins, including Best Adapted Screenplay

Just as Platoon is not for those with an aversion to war films, it seems safe to say that those lacking passion for period pieces would be well advised to stay away from A Room with a View. Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham Carter) is a young impressionable Englishwoman at the turn of the 20th century. Escorted by her chaperone, the neurotically proper Charlotte Bartlett (Smith), Lucy's horizons are widened on a holiday in Florence. Here, she meets George Emerson (Sands), who, along with his father (Elliott), is unperturbed by the repressive social etiquette of the day. In fact, in a moment of spontaneity, George boldly plants a passionate kiss on Lucy while picnicking in the Italian countryside.

Lucy's tingly feelings are short-lived, however, for when she returns to England, she soon accepts a marriage proposal from the stuffy but dependable Cecil Vyse (Day-Lewis), whose kissing technique is decidedly awkward. Not to worry, though. George and his father coincidentally move into the neighbourhood, which evokes romantic memories in Lucy, who now attempts to suppress her desire for him.

As a Merchant Ivory production - and one of their biggest hits, to boot - A Room with a View is unmistakably a lavish period piece. The costumes, the sets, the locations are all enchantingly beautiful, and each sequence is preceded by delicate title cards with text taken from the original novel's chapter headings. The result is a kind of storybook effect, successfully transporting the viewer to another time and place.

All the familiar themes of a period drama - social standing, keeping up appearances, repressed love - are present in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's exquisitely written script, her first of two E.M. Forster adaptations to nab her the Adapted Screenplay Oscar, followed a few years later by Howards End. In fact, with three Best Picture-nominated adaptations from his work (A Room with a View, Howards End and A Passage to India), E.M. Forster is one of the Academy's most represented authors.

The most amusing scene in the picture comes as George takes a swim in a pond with the local vicar, Mr. Beebe (Callow) and Lucy's brother, Freddy (Graves). The three men, naked as the day they were born, splash and jostle in and out of the water with a genuinely care-free attitude. Initially, it is a strange interlude in an otherwise family friendly film, but the scene soon becomes hilariously awkward when Lucy, Cecil and Mrs. Honeychurch (Leach) stumble upon the nude trio.

Helena Bonham Carter, youthful and pretty, portrays Lucy's awakening adorably. Daniel Day-Lewis is almost unrecognisable as the prissy Cecil. My favourite performance was by Denholm Elliott as the charmingly goofy Mr. Emerson, which garnered him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Maggie Smith received the film's other acting citation - for Best Supporting Actress -for her delightful turn as the uptight Charlotte.

1 comment:

  1. I watched the HD-DVD of Room With a View in early 2008 (I was one of the unfortunate who bought HD-DVD players), so I took a pass on another viewing. While I wouldn't put it quite on the same level as the other Forster/Ivory/Jhabvala collaboration, Howards End, or David Lean's adaptation of Forster's A Passage to India, it still was a sumptuous, whimsical, well paced comedy of manners.

    It is the strength of film, that allows us to experience such varied settings and behavior as exemplified by this years nominees. There's just no other art form that can compare.

    Denholm Elliot and Maggie Smith richly deserved their supporting nominations. Daniel Day-Lewis had his breakout year with two polar opposite characterizations in this film and My Beautiful Laundrette.

    Pauline Kael is the only critic I have read that is readily fascinated and comments on the physical aspects of actors and actresses. She talks about Brando's huge head or the big cupid face of Robert Preston. My favorite off-the-wall descriptions of hers are Richard Castellano (he looks like a cross between Al Capone and Edward G. Robinson with a vagrant streak of Oscar Levant), and the alien in Close Encounters as having the lopsided smile of Jean Renoir. What's amazing is that I can see what she is talking about. Anyway, this is how she describes Helena Bonham Carter: "Lucy is played by the nineteen-year-old Helena Bonham Carter, who certainly fits the author's description as a young lady with a quantity of dark hair and a very pretty, pale, undeveloped face. Bonham Carter fits it and then some. Under her masses of dark hair and thick eyebrows she has the face of a child - wide and soft, with no visible cheekbones. And she's top-heavy like a child, Her head seems very large for her tiny, voluptuous body...often jutting forward, depriving her of a neck. Too bad Kael died before seeing Carter in this year's Alice in Wonderland as the Queen of Hearts - extra big head and all.