Merchant/Ivory films are works of art. Beautiful, charming, ethereal and provocative in a period film kind of way. The photography is colorful and inviting. The costumes look authentic and not at all theatrical (as some film’s costumes do.) They are somewhat slow in pacing, but that is to be expected when you are watching a story about a time distant to ours. And they are thoughtful and engrossing. So obviously, I enjoy Merchant/Ivory films.
A Room With a View is my favorite of the bunch. Such a lovely, simple story with an incredible cast. Denholm Elliot is a perfect Mr. Emerson: pensive yet outspoken, passionate and sincere. And oh, how could one not adore Maggie Smith? She is just one of the best actresses of all time! Staunch and collected and somehow frazzled in the same moment. Her Charlotte Bartlett is funny because she is so absurd in her indignation. And of course, Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands are always treats.
The novel on which the film is based is written by E.M. Forster and was published in 1908. I’ve owned this book for years and have never read it, though I have read another of his works, Where Angels Fear to Tread. But because I love the film I decided I ought to give the source material a proper read.
The first thing that struck me was just how faithful the adaptation from book to screen was. There is scarcely a scene left out and I can’t think of much that was actually changed. This is unusual for adaptations, I find. So reading this almost gave me dÃ©jÃ vu. However, it also allowed me to appreciate the film more. I came to understand the characters in a way the film didn’t allow me to experience. Because the novel was written in 1908, it follows literary conventions of the time and thus is written in the third person narrative, often flitting between this character’s introspection to that one’s though generally it follows our heroine, Lucy, closely. At times the author even addresses the reader. It is one of those things that takes you out of the moment and is slightly jarring, though I can attribute that to my being more accustomed to contemporary fiction, as it is what I tend to read more often these days.
A synopsis of the book:
A ROOM WITH A VIEW portrays the love of a British woman for an expatriate living in Italy. Caught up in a world of social snobbery, Forster’s heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, finds herself constrained by the claustrophobic influence of her British guardians, who encourage her to take up with a well-connected boor. In the end, however, Lucy takes control of her own fate and finds love with a man whose free spirit reminds her of a “room with a view.”
from Vintage International
A Room With a View is very much a gentle study in egalitarianism. Forster frequently remarks on issues of equality, classism and sexism through his various characters. In a society preoccupied with decorum and maintaining respectable appearances–a most precarious and delicate venture, it seems–young Lucy Honeychurch oscillates between frustration with societal expectations and the embracing of them. She is only a conventional young woman because that is what expected of her and not because it is what she chooses to be. And that is the charm of her character. She yearns to break free from the conventions and traditions. She wants freedom and independence. But she also knows that as a woman, she ought not to want such things. So when the Emersons invade her Italian excursion she can’t help but be both repulsed and intrigued by them.
It is a good read, if not a particularly fun one. It isn’t exactly a page turner but it is interesting and oddly conversational. The prose is fluid and quite more modern than some other books written in the same era. And Forster has an excellent way of involving the reader in the idyllic (and sometimes not quite so idyllic) scenery of Italy and the quixotic locale of Windy Corner, the Honeychurch estate.
If you are interested in reading this book, you can do so for free through Project Gutenberg and Google Reader.