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Saturday, April 12

A Room With a View: The Beige Version

Inquiring readers: This blog will continue to review Masterpiece Classic films as long as the movies demonstrate some connection to Jane Austen. Therefore, these reviews come under the heading: Six Degrees of Austen Adaptation Separation. For a fuller explanation, please scroll to the bottom of this post.

A young Englishwoman falls in love but doesn't realize it, in E.M. Forster's gently satirical romance set in Italy and England in the early twentieth century. Originally published in 1908, A Room With a View is a lighthearted tribute to all that Forster loved about Italy and family life in England, with the less cherished aspects of English society veiled in parody, much in the spirit of Jane Austen. Masterpiece Classic presents A Room with a View, airing Sunday, April 13, 2008, 9-10:30 pm ET on PBS.

Oh, no, I said to myself, when I saw that Masterpiece Classic was showcasing a new version of A Room With A View. Every movie loving cell in my brain rebelled at the thought. You must understand, gentle reader, that Merchant and Ivory’s production of A Room With a View with Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands was one of my favorite movie from the 80’s. I have seen it numerous times. I own the VHS tape. I have the DVD. I even bought the book by E.M. Forster.

Then I learned that Andrew Davies was having a go at another film adaptation of this little piece of cinematic perfection. Sacrilege! I literally slammed the DVD into my player and sat (with a surly expression) to view this upstart movie.

Who could top Maggie Smith as Cousin Charlotte in the 1985 film adaptation, I asked myself? Or Simon Callow as Mr. Beebe? Judy Dench played the definitive Eleanor Lavish, a novelist with many fixed opinions but very small talent. The two Miss Alens were adorable elderly ladies who I wanted as my own aunts. And Daniel Day-Lewis as foppy, effeminate Cecil Vyse not only created an unforgettable character, but successfully hid his sexy, masculine side (Think Last of the Mohicans.) Rupert Graves has caught my attention ever since his wonderful turn as Freddy, Lucy's brother. I last saw him as a Hollywood playboy in Death at a Funeral, with Darcy-hottie Matthew Macfadyen. Well I could go on. To my way of thinking, no movie ending could be more glorious than seeing a young and luscious Lucy/Helena, her thick dark hair flowing down her back, sitting in a window being showered with kisses by a delectable man. With the Duomo as a backdrop and the strains of an unforgettable soundtrack reaching a crescendo, how more romantic could a film ending get? Mr. Davies, on the other hand, confuses nudity with romanticism and sexuality, and although this scene was in the novel, he missed the mark entirely.

I watched this 2007 ITV movie adaptation twice. I had to. Lucy's hair started out short, then it became long, then it was short again. Oh, I said, finally getting it, Andrew Davies is using flashbacks. It seems he found a reference written by E.M. Forster: “Forster himself wrote a little postscript in 1958, 50 years after writing the book, imagining what might have happened to the characters. He imagined George Emerson visiting Florence after the Second World War, looking for the Bertolini boarding house". I won't give away the plot, but the ending of this movie is nowhere near anything that E.M. Forster had in mind for George.

My muted impression of this film is echoed by the color palette. The feeling of beige predominates, from the settings to the costumes to the musical score. Even the lush Tuscan countryside seems tepid. How this was accomplished puzzles me, for my recollections of Italy are of a country filled with riotous sights, sounds, smells, and colors, and people filled with passion and a zest for life. If Nicholas Renton, the director, and Andrew Davies wanted to depict the beigeness of Lucy's life before she found her passion, then color and sound should have predominated towards the end of the film. However, not all is lost. The film was shot entirely on location in Florence and Rome, and for this backdrop alone it is worth watching.

Be that as it may, on second viewing I started to appreciate this movie for some of its good qualities. In fact, had Merchant and Ivory not produced their gem twenty years ago, this new adaptation would stand up very well, and Mr. Davies would probably not have been prompted to alter the script in order to make his version stand out. Young Elaine Cassidy, though not beautiful, plays the role of Lucy convincingly. Miss Honeychurch's small rebellion against strict convention, and her restlessness and desire to break free from the mold and find her passion are paralleled by the setting of Florence, which represents the epitome of art, culture, and civilization in the Italian Renaissance. With this phrase - "We're here to see Italy, not meet Italians" - Cousin Charlotte echoes the thoughts of the other English tourists in the boarding house: that the Italians who live amongst all this splendor and were its creators, are uncouth and uncivilized. The British Empire, at the height of its power before WWI began to sap it of its economic strength, is represented by this snobbish group, who feels superior and entitled, and justified in imposing their values upon others, even the occupants of a foreign land.

The script also (rightly) points to the huge disparity in social class between the boarders, who represent the strictures of society, and Mr. Emerson and his son George, (Timothy Spall and Rafe Spall) who represent a free-wheeling, more open minded but vulgar, socialist class of people. Lucy is not only trapped between convention and her desire to break free, but she is sexually awakened by an uncouth young man. Any time Lucy's emotions get the better of her, she plays the piano with such passion, that one needs to use very little imagination to guess her internal state of mind.

By and large the actor Laurence Fox as Cecil Vyse fought an uphill battle and lost. He is too handsome and masculine to play Cecil; and his portrayal of this effete, effeminate snob did not oust my memory of Daniel Day-Lewis's comical yet sensitive interpretation of a man who, as Mr. Beebe described in veiled homosexual reference, "like me, [is] not the sort of man who should marry." The lovable Freddy is reduced to a mere cypher, and I don't recall that the camera ever lingered on Mrs. Honeychurch's face. If it had, I would have recognized Elizabeth McGovern playing the part sooner.The Miss Alens, too, were given short shrift. Having said that, I was pleased with the overall quality of the acting, for as I watched this production for the second time, I became engrossed in the story.

Sometimes, first impressions (as Elizabeth Bennet discovered all too well) are not what they seem. And so, I give this film a positive wave with my regency fan. However, this adaptation of A Room With a View is to the Merchant and Ivory production what the mini-series Scarlett was to the 1939 adaptation of Gone With the Wind: a pale imitation, or beige in this instance.

Six Degrees of Austen Adaptation Separation:
E.M. Forster, an unabashed Jane Austen fan, wrote
: "Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers". Thus we have a close connection between Jane and the author. In addition:

Sophie Thompson
(Cousin Charlotte) enjoys several degrees of Austen adaptation separation:

One Degree: She performed as Miss Bates in Emma,1996, and Mary Musgrove in Persuasion, 1995.

Two Degrees:
  • Sophie played Dorothy, the maid in Gosford Park. Maggie Smith, Sophie's costar, played Charlotte Trentham in Gosford Park. Maggie also played Cousin Charlotte in 1985's Room With a View, and Lady Gresham in Becoming Jane;
  • Emma Thompson, Sophie's sister, played Elinor Dashwood in 96's Sense and Sensbility;
  • Phyllida Law, Sophie's mother, played Mrs. Bates in Emma, 1996 and Mrs. George Austen in Miss Austen Regrets, 2007;
  • As Lydia, the bride in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sophie costarred with Hugh Grant, who played Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility, 1995 and Daniel Cleaver in the Bridget Jones's Diary movies;
  • Anna Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral) played Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, 1995; and as Jane Austen's descendant, she also hosted The Real Jane Austen, BBC, 2002.
Three Degrees:
  • Hugh Grant (Sense and Sensibility) played opposite Frances O'Connor in the Importance of Being Earnest. Frances starred as Fanny Price in 1999's Mansfield park;
  • Maggie Smith and Dame Judy Dench performed together in Ladies in Lavender. Judy Dench played Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, 2005, and as Eleanor Lavish in Room With a View, 1985. Maggie played Lady Gresham in Becoming Jane.

Mark Williams (Mr. Beebe)

One Degree: Played Sir John Middleton in Sense and Sensibility, 2007;

Two Degrees: He played Wabash, the stutterer in Shakespeare in Love. Gwyneth Paltrow, the star of that movie, played the title role in Emma 1996;

Three Degrees: As Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Mark enjoys three degrees of separation from Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman(Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility, 96), Daisy Haggard (Anne Steele, Sense and Sensibility, 2007); and Imelda Staunton, (Mrs. Palmer, Sense and Sensiblity, 96.)

More about A Room With a View:


Anonymous said...

I`ve enjoyed reading your detailed write-up on ARWAV, plus the bonus tidbits. You`ve got me all prepped for Sunday`s PBS airing...for this occasion, I watched the 1985 movie again, also re-reading the book. Thanks for such an informative post! I look forward to your further discussion after the airing of this AD version.

Anonymous said...

Another 'Two Degrees' for Sophie Thompson--she's also married to Richard Lumdsen, who plays Robert Ferrars in S&S 1995. And of course since he's now married to Emma Thompson, Greg Wise, who was Willoughby in S&S 1995 is Sophie's brother-in-law.

And for Mark Williams--he plays Mr. Weasley in the Harry Potter film series. In the series his boss, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, is played by Robert Hardy, who is the other Sir John Middleton in S&S 1995 and General Tilney in the 1980s version of Northanger Abbey. Actually, most of the cast of S&S 1995 is in the Harry Potter film series, including Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Gemma Jones, Alan Rickman, and Elizabeth Spriggs.

Fleur said...

Thank you for such an informative post. I rarely watch remakes or sequels as they are usually not worth the effort.ARWAV, however, is one of my favourite films and I had been trying to decide whether to see the new version. You have helped me decide. It would be very hard to improve on anything made by Merchant Ivory and once a film had been made starring Julian Sands it can never be bettered.

Vic said...

Thanks for the additional degrees of separation, Anon, and for your comments, arti and fleur! I, too, adore Julian Sands. Anyone know where he's been lately?

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what piano pieces Lucy plays?

The Queen Vee said...

Another disappointing remake, I should have known better than to watch it. The ending of this remake was simply awful and cannot compare to Mr Ivoy's glorious lush ending. I agree with fleur, Merchant Ivory's ARWAW really can't be topped.

Anonymous said...

Another degree of seperation:
Helena Bonham-Carter, who played Lucy in the 1985 ARWAV is cousin to Crispin Bonham-Carter, who played Mr. Bingley in P&P (1995), and Greg in Bridget Jones' Diary.

Vic said...

I love these degrees of separation; keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

After the last two Andrew Davies adaptations I've seen (S&S and ARWAV), I'm starting to wonder if maybe he should get out of the adaptation game and start writing his own stories. Because he's adding so much to these classics that not only don't fit the original stories/characters but that are starting to really tick off the fans. He used to be my favorite (adaptation) screenwriter, but now I'm doubting his commitment to the material and will approach any other adaptation of a classic he pens with trepidation!

Anonymous said...

More degrees of separation:
(One degree) Laurence Fox (Cecil) played Mr. Wisely in Becoming Jane. (Two degrees) He was also in Marple: The Sittaford Mystery with Robert Hardy (Sir John Middleton, S&S 1995).

(Three degrees) Rafe Spall (George) is the son of Timothy Spall, who was in the Harry Potter Movies with Mark Williams (S&S 2008), Emma Thompson (S&S 1995), Alan Rickman (S&S 1995), etc.

(Two degrees) Sinead Cusack (Miss Lavish) was in North & South, which featured Anna Maxwell Martin, who was in Becoming Jane. (Three degrees) She was in V for Vendetta with Rupert Graves, who was in Death at a Funeral with Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy 2005).

(Two degrees) Timothy West (Mr. Eager) was in Bleak House with Anna Maxwell Martin (Becoming Jane) and Carey Mulligan (NA 2008, P&P 2005). He was also in Ever After opposite Judy Parfitt, who played Lady Catherine in P&P 1980.

Better get back to work now. :-)

Anonymous said...

Timothy West is also the father of Samuel West, who played Mr. Elliot in the film version of Persuasion.

Laurence Fox (Mr. Vyse) is married to Billie Piper, who was Fanny Price in the latest version of MP. He is also a cousin to Emilia Fox, who was Georgiana Darcy in P&P 1995and a nephew to Joanna David, who was Mrs. Gardiner in 1995 P&P and Elinor Dashwood in an early 80s/late 70s version of S&S.

Anonymous said...

I loved the 1985 movie and have seen it at least 10 times. I can quote verses from it, so I saw that a lot of the dialogue was the same. Overall, I surprised myself that I enjoyed this version until the last 10 minutes. I liked the chemistry between Lucy and George. I liked watching how she came to realization that she did love him. But the last 10 minutes threw me for a loop and I didn't expect it. Sorry I am a romantic at heart and want a happy ending.

Vic said...

Great observations, everyone. Yeah, Kaye, one wonders why Andrew Davies doesn't write original material, but I also agree with the last anon that this film (until the last 10 minutes), held my attention.

Vic said...
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eric3000 said...

OK, I was wondering whether the flashback technique was part of the original novel. I didn't mind it but it really is such a cliched storytelling technique that it seems an unnecessary addition.

I thought this adaptation was enjoyable enough and I thought the casting was really good but it doesn't really add anything to the previous adaptation so I don't know what the point was. As with many of these new adaptations, it seemed rushed and choppy, though a few scenes were beautiful.

Anonymous said...

coming from someone who has yet to read the book or see the previous film adaptation - i really liked it.

i did think the end was a bit sudden - they finally get together and then he dies. but i thought the casting was great and overall a very well done film.

oh, one thing i wasn't entirely clear on - when lucy finally admits she loves george - at mr. beebe's house - mr. beebe walks in and seems furious. is that because of the social difference or because HE likes george or what?

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I love your blog! I just finished writing my own rant about how much I hate this new version when I came across your review.

pixzlee said...

I love the "Six degrees" thing, but i have to descendant of Jane Austen???

Vic said...

Hi Pixlee, I should have said descendant. So I made the change. Your statement prompted me to write a more detailed post :).

pixzlee said...

I knew it was a simple oversight, but I couldn't help teasing. ;)

Vic said...

one thing i wasn't entirely clear on - when lucy finally admits she loves george - at mr. beebe's house - mr. beebe walks in and seems furious. is that because of the social difference or because HE likes george or what?

Kirsten: E. M. Forster allows us a glimpse into Mr. Beebe's mind in Chapter XVIII: "His belief in celibacy, so reticent, so carefully concealed beneath his tolerance and culture, now came to the surface and expanded like some delicate flower. "They that marry do well, but they that refrain do better." So ran his belief, and he never heard that an engagement was broken off but with a slight feeling of pleasure. In the case of Lucy, the feeling was intensified through dislike of Cecil; and he was willing to go further--to place her out of danger until she could confirm her resolution of virginity. The feeling was very subtle and quite undogmatic, and he never imparted it to any other of the characters in this entanglement. Yet it existed, and it alone explains his action subsequently, and his influence on the action of others. The compact that he made with Miss Bartlett in the tavern, was to help not only Lucy, but religion also."

In the last chapter, it is evident that Mr. Beebe will not forgive Lucy, and that he has great influence over her family, who is also mad with her:
""But it will all come right in the end. He has to build us both up from the beginning again. I wish, though, that Cecil had not turned so cynical about women. He has, for the second time, quite altered. Why will men have theories about women? I haven't any about men. I wish, too, that Mr. Beebe--"

"You may well wish that."

"He will never forgive us--I mean, he will never be interested in us again. I wish that he did not influence them so much at Windy Corner. I wish he hadn't-- But if we act the truth, the people who really love us are sure to come back to us in the long run."

Vic said...

Oops, I did not finish my thoughts before publishing the comment.

It is evident Mr. Beebe means Lucy to remain virginal, and to perhaps show her passion through her music. She lied to her family, Mr. Beebe, George, Cecil, and to herself about her feelings for George, and alienated quite a few people in the process. I like E.M. Forster's prediction that those who love you will come 'round. I believe that Lucy's family will, but that Mr. Beebe will not forgive her.

Anonymous said...

thank you - much more clear now!

Anonymous said...

I found the sepia tone fits the context because it's a memory, further, the lack of color somehow made me concentrate more on the dialogues. Having said that, I'm generally disappointed with this version, and with AD. Just written a review on it, you're welcome to stop by.

Vic said...

Arti, what a great point about the color. Linking the flashback to the lack of color makes sense! Thanks for your insight.

eric3000 said...

Oh, my goodness! I have to revise my previous comment. I just watched the 1985 film last night for the first time in about 20 years and it changed my mind about the new adaptation. I think the tone of the two films are as different as night and day.

While the 1985 version was beautiful and the longer running-time made it feel more leisurely and let us spend more time with the characters, there were many aspects of the new adaptation that I preferred.

Again, I can't compare it to the novel, but I found the tone of the 85 version to be too light and fluffy and I didn't think Helena Bonham Carter was very good.

I know it's sacrilege, but I actually preferred most of the actors in the new version. Part of this is due to the fact that I hadn't seen the 85 version since it first came out so, unlike many people who have watched the film over and over since then, those actors had not become so associated with the characters for me.

The long naked bathing scene in the 85 version was excellent, however! LOL!

Vic said...
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Icha said...

Love your review, Ms Place! I haven't seen the latest adaptation due to access and my schedule (unless I can get it via YouTube), but I am so in love with the 85 version! I will be open minded with the new one when I see it, but the 85 will still hold dear in my heart.


LogoGirl said...

I had a hard time with this version after he missed her lips in the big kiss and hit her chin. *ugh*

And killing George gutted me. Why was he in the war? Seemed so disjointed. And getting all romantic with the next guy? WHAT??? I blamed it on the fact I had never read the book and was glad i hadn't. Thank goodness.

Anonymous said...

I did not know they did another Room with a View movie. I am appalled! The Merchant of Venice version is an all time favorite movie of mine, but the book ties with The Age of Innocence as my two favorite books (of all time). Thanks for the review, I don't think I'll bother with this version - I don't want to lose the visuals I already have in my mind's eye of this story.

-Heidi of

DP Nguyen said...

Didn't the book have a happy ending, and they were finally together?

This film version totally made the ending so depressing. I am really getting ticked at Andrew Davies, he keeps wanting to put words and change storylines to fit his thoughts and ideas. If you're going to do an adaptation, you should stick to the novel! Gr!