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A Room with a View (1985)

Film review: A Room with a View (1985), directed by James Ivory

aroomwithaview1985Based upon a novel by E.M. Forster, A Room with a View is about young Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) who is on holiday in Italy with her older cousin and chaperon Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith).

In Italy, they meet the English tourist Mr Emerson (Denholm Elliott) and his son George (Julian Sands), to whom Lucy take a shine. He’s much more modern than the Victorian Lady that she is, and it’s a bit of a culture clash.

They eventually go back to Britain, and there are lots of cups of tea, and strolls and that sort of thing, and if you’ve ever heard Eddie Izzard’s routine about British period dramas, this is spot on. For reference (whole transcript here), this:

But we’ve got known in Britain for making the smaller films, you know. Recently, we’ve been pulling out of that into the more “Trainspotting” area, but the smaller films, they’re kind of “a room with a view with a staircase and a pond”-type movies. Films with very fine acting, but the drama is rather sort of subsued and – subsumed or – a word like that. Sub- something or another. You know, just folded in and everything’s people opening doors.

“Oh, I’m – oh, what? Well, I’ve – oh.”
“What is it, Sebastian? I’m arranging matches.”
“Well, I – I thought you – … I’d better go.”
“Yes, I think you’d better had.” ( sings morose melody )

And you can’t eat popcorn to that!

Also starring Simon Callow as the Reverend Mr Beebe, Patrick Godfrey as the Reverend Mr Eager, Judi Dench as novelist Eleanor Lavish, Daniel Day-Lewis as Cecil Vyse and Rupert Graves as Freddy Honeychurch.

James Ivory and friends were so famous for their period dramas that “Merchant Ivory” became a film genre of its own. If they’re all like this, they’re beautifully made, have a solid cast (this one with a very young Helena Bonham Carter in the lead role) and be terribly … nice. A lot of things happen in this film, but it happens slowly, like a flower opening up to the morning sun. Basically, you need to have a lot of patience, or all you’ll end up doing is clock-watching, and miss all the little bits that are both charming and amusing.

In a nutshell, A Room with a View is a story about old, repressive values vs new, more open values. A society that goes from blushing at the mere hint of a lady’s calves, to kissing your sweetheart – whom you’ve not even married yet – in public. And yes, that’s quite interesting, and I did like the sense of humour … it was just a bit … slow. Nice and beautiful, like the flower thing I mentioned earlier, but boy does it take its time to get where it’s going.

Then again, with a cast like this, just being along for the slow unfurling is a treat.

3.5 out of 5 skinny dips.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

5 thoughts on “A Room with a View (1985)

  1. This is a favorite of mine. Yes, it flows on the slow side, and there is lots of gratuitous beautiful Italian countryside scenery. But I think the point the filmmakers were making is just that – things are not always so obvious at the start. Things unfold, and reveal, and then suddenly something alters the assumed normalcy – a murder in a Piazza, awaking from a faint in an almost strangers arms, a stolen kiss in an open field hillside. And then things change whether you like it or not. Uniquely the film flows like that of the book, deliberately starting scenes like the chapters. But it is not the type of drama where people behave like that of soap operas. Some of the best dramas are on the tamer, more subdued side – such as Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, or Wings of Desire (movies in that same time period) But, as you have said, the best part of the film is its richness of characters played by that of veteran actors Dame Judy Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, and Sir Denholm Elliot. And, of course, it was the start to many a star’s career such as Helana Bonham-Carter, Rupert Graves, and of course, Daniel Day Lewis, in what now seems like against-type. You might find it worth another watch.

    1. From what I could find online, it’s a very faithful adaptation of the book, like the sections of film that reflect the different chapters. Wish more adaptations were that faithful to the book.

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