Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward give "the performances of their careers" (Judith Crist) in Merchant Ivory's adaptation of Evan S. Connell's two novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, artfully combined into one screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Walter and India Bridge (Newman and Woodward) are a Midwestern American couple struggling to keep up with the changing world around them in 1930s America. Mr. Bridge, a stout-hearted, staunch paterfamilias, quietly lords over his children -- Ruth (Kyra Sedgwick), Carolyn (Margaret Welsh), and Douglas (Robert Sean Leonard) -- and his wife, who is warm and kind but lacks the independence to forge an identity apart from her husband. As the music, the mores, and the politics of Kansas City are transformed in front of them, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge attempt to keep up with the drama of a changing society within their own family: Ruth wants to go to New York and become an actress; Carolyn is determined to marry a man whom her father deems unsuitable; Douglas is embarrassed by his mother's attentions and rebukes her attempts at intimacy.
In one of the film's most memorable scenes, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge eat dinner at their country club while a tornado sweeps through Kansas City. The other patrons evacuate, yet Mr. Bridge insists on staying in the dining room until he finishes eating. As glass shatters and the world around is literally swept away, Mrs. Bridge searches for butter for her husband's dinner.
Blythe Danner and Gale Garnett play Grace Barron and Mabel Ong, two friends of Mrs. Bridge who seem to embody the comic ennui of suburban life, but play out a quiet tragedy underneath. Simon Callow is Dr. Alex Sauer, a worldly European psychiatrist who represents the progressive attitude Mr. Bridge scorns; Diane Kagan is Julia, Mr. Bridge's secretary, who stands unnoticed in the background until she steps forward to tell Mr. Bridge her secret.
"[A]nd we should die of that roar that lies on the other side of silence," George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch, one of the nineteenth century's great domestic dramas. Ivory and Jhabvala here seek out that roar that is underneath Connell's exploration of American domestic life: Newman's spartan silences and Woodward's abortive attempts to communicate with her husband and her children are perfect portraits of the things that are not said, and of the despair that lies beneath a quiet evening at home in the suburbs. The final scene, with Woodward at her best, provides us with one of the most affecting -- and terrifying -- images of Ivory's career to date.
Shot on location in Kansas City and in Paris (in this film, Merchant Ivory add the Louvre to their peerless list of shooting sites), the film was powerfully received at the box office and was greeted with rave reviews. The New York Times wrote that Newman and Woodward's roles were "the most adventurous and stringent of their careers." Woodward received an Oscar nod and the New York Society of Film Critics Award for her performance: her Mrs. Bridge is like an American Mrs. Dalloway, all warm smiles on her daily errands but seeped with a depth of feeling that her husband forever fails to understand.
The filmmakers were similarly lauded for a breakthrough in their first film with a Midwestern American theme: "With the quiet assurance of a perfect work of art," one critic wrote, "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge sweeps all other contenders off the screen to become the best movie of the year."
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.
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