A Room With a View captured the attention of the world upon its release, bringing the novel by E.M. Forster to dazzling life in the Florentine countryside and in the well-appointed homes of the English Edwardian upper classes. A comedy of manners with a quick wit and impeccable comic timing, A Room With A View is also a portrait of the quiet solitude that lies beneath Forster's characters, and of the need for human connection in a world of rigid convention.
The young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham Carter), arrives in Florence on a Baedecker-style grand tour with her aunt Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith). Through a series of events involving English expatriates Miss Eleanor Lavish, an unflappable novelist (Judi Dench), and the Emersons, a free-thinking father and son (played by Denholm Elliot and Julian Sands), Lucy's life is changed forever under a loggia in Florence and in the Tuscan countryside.
Lucy returns from her sentimental journey to her mother, brother, and their local vicar in England (played by Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, and Simon Callow) and attempts to resume her life as it was before her trip, consenting to an engagement with Cecil Vyse (played by Daniel Day Lewis), a bookish snob who never uses an English word when an Italian or italicized one would do. Lucy must then choose between an easy but untruthful life as Cecil's wife and one that will require a renunciation of all she has been taught at her childhood home at Windy Corner.
Ivory's delicate and playful direction spirits us from an adventure in the back alleys of Florence, lost with Dench and Smith, to the lace-parasolled rigidity of English lawn parties. Shot on location in and around Florence (including unforgettable scenes in the Piazza della Signoria and at Giotto's frescoes in Santa Croce), A Room With A View made stars not only of Bonham Carter, Day Lewis and Sands, but of the Tuscan landscapes (as photographed by Tony Pierce - Roberts) and Puccini arias (as sung by Kiri Te Kanawa) featured throughout.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Oscar-lauded screenplay, to which the director contributed, continues to be regarded as one of the best literary adaptions ever written for the screen. Maggie Smith received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Charlotte Bartlett as at once an incisive schoolmarm and a poignantly lonely woman; as did Denholm Elliot, for his childishly knowing portrait of Mr. Emerson.
Awards: BEST PICTURE, BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (Daniel Day Lewis), National Board of Review. BEST SCREENPLAY (ADAPTED), ART DIRECTION, BEST COSTUME DESIGN. Academy Awards. BEST PICTURE, BESTACTRESS (Maggie Smith), BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Judi Dench), BAFTA. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Maggie Smith), Golden Globs Awards. BEST FOREIGN FILM, Independent Spirit Awards. BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, Writers Guild of America.
Lucia Lane (Jennifer Kendal), an English novelist, comes to Bombay to research the Bollywood film scene for a book she is planning to write. She is introduced by a producer (none other than Ismail Merchant) to the dashing movie star Vikram (Shashi Kapoor) and the screenwriter Hari (Zia Mohyeddin). Vikram, who is married to the beautiful but barren young Mala (Aparna Sen), falls in love with Lucia and they begin an affair, evoking a fierce rivalry between Vikram and Hari, and a painful envy on the part of Vikram's wife. Lucia, seeking escape and enlightenment, flees to a guru (Pincho Kapoor) but cannot bring herself to abandon her worldly desires for a subservient life in the ashram. She returns to Vikram and the various love triangles collapse, bringing the characters to desperation and the entanglement to a startling resolution.
Shot entirely on location in and around the city of its title, Bombay Talkie is one of Merchant Ivory's most distinctive films, at once a psychological drama and a parodic hommage to the Indian film scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The eclectic dramatis personae include Uptal Dutt as Bose, a corrupt producer, Nadira as Anjana Devi, Vikram's confidante, and a full complement of women who enact a musical number on a giant typewriter (one of Ivory's favorite film sets to date), as the dancers' movements type out Fate ("It's very symbolic," Lucia compliments). Subatra Mitra, the master cameraman of Satyajit Ray, provides the photography, and it is to great effect that his unassuming lens is set upon the director's shrewdly observed scenes. At one moment in the film, an elderly Indian fan of Lucia's novel Consenting Adults arrives at her hotel to ask her for an autograph: as Lucia flees and the absurd exchange is played out, the camera pulls back and patiently watches the two descend the grand staircase of the Taj Mahal Hotel. It is one of the film's many moments in which the comedy of a situation is made more acute by the lyricism of the visuals.
Jennifer Kendal is magnificent as Lucia: her offhand candor and genuine sweetness make her all the more believable as a homewrecker who doesn't seem to grasp the consequences of her actions. She moves effortlessly from quiet despair, a middle-aged woman alone in a foreign hotel, to fish-out-of-water scenes at an ashram which put one in mind of Maria von Trapp in the convent, dreaming of the hills and the Captain. Shashi Kapoor brings to Vikram that star quality which attracts the legions of adoring women who seem always to surround him; and Aparna Sen paints a quietly affecting Mala. Like the goddess Devi, whose image appears on screen, Sen's Mala is part long-suffering wife, part Fury.
From the opening credits sequence (probably the most original of any Merchant Ivory film) to the films within the film (the musical, the Indian western), Bombay Talkie claims a unique place in Ivory's work for its elements of meta-film -- a film about film, in which the viewer is at once involved in what is on-screen and aware of the medium. Yet there are also those familiar elements of uprooted persons and cultural difference that characterize both the earliest and the most recent films of Merchant Ivory. Lucia, late in Bombay Talkie, tries on one of Mala's saris and Vikram explains to the uninformed Englishwoman that it is his wife's wedding sari. Just then, Mala enters to see her husband's lover dressed in her own wedding clothes: as in many of Merchant and Ivory's films, cultural misunderstanding leads to human drama of the most visceral and affecting kind.
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