Sunday, 10 March 2013

(Two) Scenes on a Sunday: A Room With a View

Like much else on the blog, as of late, I’ve been very remiss with my typically favourite running feature on here – my semi-regular “Scene on a Sunday” offerings. But, looking ahead towards imminent normalcy around these parts (soon), I felt it was high time for a look at a scene. I was re-watching parts of the delightful 1987 A Room with a View and realised I’ve never truly given the Merchant/Ivory film much space here, which is a shame because it’s one of the finest of the 80s. The adaptation of E. M. Forster’s novel is a surprisingly humorous adaptation; in fact I tend to think of the film as more comedy than drama. I couldn’t decide on a single scene to assess and decided I’d use two short ones to clarify my point. For, another great thing about this film is seeing so many great actors in their youth.

The film, told in parts with quaint title-cards directing us – begins in Italy where Miss Lucy Honeychurch is on a sojourn with her older cousin Charlotte Bartlett. The straight-laced Miss Bartlett stands in contrast to the more worldly occupants at their inn, for example the talkative novelist Miss Eleanor Lavish. The first scene sees Miss Lavish and Miss Bartlett out for a walk in the Italian sun.

This scene does not show it as much, but Tony Pierce-Roberts photography beautifully showcases the city. Incidentally, Helena Bonham Carter was the star of another film with beautiful Italian cinematography – in The Wings of the Dove.

           MISS LAVISH: “Look at that adorable wine cart. How he stares at us, dear simple soul! I love these little dark alleys.”

Is he checking out Judi Dench?

          MISS LAVISH: “They're all peasants, you know. Come along.”

 The shot immediately above is probably my favourite of the shot. Dench hops into the narrative for only a bit, but it’s such a delightfully spry performance and Smith is perfect in her nervous stuffiness.

...More of this scene ...and another pair of British greats in another scene...
...Below the jump...

          MISS LAVISH: “I do declare we're lost.”

          MISS LAVISH: “No, Miss Bartlett, you will not look into your Baedeker. Two lone females in an unknown city, that's what I call an adventure. We will simply drift.”

 Of the three “major” Merchant Ivory productions this one is the most female focused. I don’t think that’s what accounts for the cheeriness – perhaps it’s the long vacation away from England – but it’s such a particularly jovial film and Dench’s Miss Lavish is a great part of that in the first third.

          MISS LAVISH: “One always has to be open – wide open. I think Miss Lucy is.”
          MISS BARTLETT: “Open to what, Miss Lavish?”

          MISS LAVISH: “To physical sensation. I'll let you into a secret. I have my eye on your cousin, Miss Lucy Honeychurch.”
          MISS BARTLETT: “For a character in your novel, Miss Lavish?”


          MISS LAVISH: “The young English girl, transfigured by Italy. And why should she not be transfigured? It happened to the Goths.”
And, at 52 Judi is just radiant.

           MISS LAVISH: “The smell! A true Florentine smell. Inhale, my dear. Deeper. Every city, let me tell you, has its own smell.”

Clearly, Cousin Charlotte is not very….open.

It’s a titbit of a scene, but a charming one nonetheless. It’s not quite analogous with the scene below, but I do include them both because they have two qualities which I’m moved to touch on – the chance to see two pairs of British actors opposite each other decades ago is one. Then, the juxtaposition of a more open character alongside a more inhibited one is fun to watch especially since the “moral” of A Room with a View if there is one is opening your mind the senses.

So, young Lucy Honeychurch takes a walk with her betrothed – Cecil Vyse, who is something of a bore. It’s been some months since she kissed that passionate stranger in Italy and she is…restless.

           CECIL: “Lucy.

          LUCY: “Hmm? Yes, I suppose we ought to be going.
(Gorgeous shot above, right?)

          CECIL: “I want to ask you something that I have never asked before.”
          LUCY: “What, Cecil? Yes?”

          CECIL: “I have never kissed you.”

           LUCY: “No. You haven't.”

          CECIL: “May I now?”

          LUCY: “Well, of course you may, Cecil. You might before. I can't run at you.”
I love how even in such an incidental way, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s excellent script touches on the issues of females being sexual of the era.


This is another shot I love. Lucy raising her veil so anxious to be kissed, but Cecil too nervous to focus on her wondering who could be watching.
It so perfectly zeroes in on the reasons the two are incompatible. Consider it with my favourite shot of Miss Lavish and Miss Bartlett above – one persona willing to feel, one nervous and somewhat dull.

(PS. Helena Bonham Carter is like a cherub.)

The kiss is picturesque at first.
It might not translate well in a still, but Lucy gets earnest and it throws Cecil.
I love how he reaches for his spectacles, completely unnecessary at the time in question but Cecil is always grossly indebted to conventions and things.

          LUCY: “I'm sorry.”

 Poor Lucy.

What an awkward retreat. And like with the previous scene we close on the shot of the reticent party.

Lucy is much too open for Cecil, indeed. She’s thinking about things that have already gone, like this...

Do you find A Room with a View as delightful as I do? How great is it seeing Judi and Maggie and DDL and HBC back in the day?


Walter L. Hollmann said...

Oh I love this movie, and I love that you love it, because it means I get to revisit it, even if it's just one scene on a Sunday.

Judi Dench's Eleanor Lavish is a perfect example of a side character who refuses to be at the margins. Her effect is felt throughout the film, and I ain't just talking about her book. Such a rich (if flamboyant) well of FEELING!

Also: "And why should she not be transfigured? It happened to the Goths." Favorite line delivery in the film.

Suzy said...

Excellent choice, it's one of my favourites.

If I'm honest the one weakness for me is Julian Sands, never liked his acting in it but still a brilliant film.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

walter; suzy i'm glad that you both are fans of this one. it's unfortunately rarely spoken of, even among film legitimate film fans which is a shame considering how great it is.

i have to admit i do like sands here, but he is not the strongest of the actors.

and judi is just sublime.