What to make of Maurice? Based on the posthumously published
novel by E.M. Forster, created by Merchant Ivory, and starring James
Wilby and Hugh Grant, the film has a pedigree that would fit it
neatly beside the excellent adaptations of Forster's A Room with a
View and Howards End. That's certainly a powerful draw.
Yet at the same time, Maurice is very clearly a film about an
issue, rather than a story, and "issue" films are always a
The "issue" here is male homosexuality, or in the parlance
of the Edwardian setting of Maurice, the "unspeakable vice of
the Greeks." Maurice Hall (James Wilby) and Clive Durham (Hugh
Grant) are college friends whose close friendship develops into
romantic love... a potentially explosive situation in a culture that
criminalized homosexuality. Both Maurice and Clive have to work
through their own responses to their newly discovered sexual
orientation, and each takes a somewhat different path, resulting in
tension and conflict between the two men.
The 140-minute film takes its time telling its story, which isn't
such a bad thing for a story that should rely on viewers being
interested in its characters and their fates. Nonetheless, Maurice
remains oddly unengaging. Though the film clearly centers on
Maurice's character and experiences in college and beyond, we're
given no real reason to relate to him or be interested in his
identity conflict, and the same holds true for Clive. James Ivory
comments in one of the featurettes that one of the problems with this
novel (considered one of Forster's weakest) is the basically
unmotivated mid-story change of heart by Clive. The script for
Maurice attempts to address this, but not particularly
successfully. The end result is a story that doesn't seem to have an
inherent narrative drive, making it into more of an extended
character and thematic study.
The story immediately pushes the issue of homosexuality to the front
and center, with the characters even discussing its place in English
culture and its inherent right or wrongness. While the actors strive
to make the story relevant on a personal level, Maurice
remains stubbornly self-conscious about its handling of the "issue."
Too hot a topic for Forster to feel comfortable publishing it in his
own lifetime, homosexuality evidently remained, in this 1987 film, a
touchy issue, and one that competes with the draw of the narrative on
its own merits.
Maurice may be of interest to viewers as being Hugh Grant's
first feature film role. Grant turns in a solid performance here, but
doesn't seem to really be stretching; he seems largely to be "acting
as himself" throughout the film, whereas James Wilby seems to
create a greater depth in his role as the title character.
The two-disc DVD set is packaged in an attractive slim keepcase.
The film is presented on the first disc, with the special features on
the second disc.
Maurice's anamorphic widescreen transfer, at the film's
original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, offers a solid and attractive
viewing experience. Colors are clean and bright, skin tones always
look natural, and the print is clean, with a generally crisp
appearance. It's not a perfect transfer, as there is some grain in
darker scenes and occasional noticeable edge enhancement. The
contrast is generally handled well, with a satisfactory amount of
detail always appearing, even in dark scenes; however, in dimly lit
scenes the darkest areas of the image do tend to be a bit overly
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack provides a satisfactory listening
experience, balancing dialogue and the theme music well throughout
the film. At times, the dialogue sounds a bit flat and
center-focused, but on the whole, it's a nicely done soundtrack.
There aren't as many special features here as the two-disc nature of
the set would seem to suggest, but given the 140-minute running time
of the film, it was probably the best move to preserve image quality
by separating the bonus material.
"Conversation with the Filmmakers" is an interesting
13-minute piece that features interviews with director/co-writer
James Ivory, composer Richard Robbins, and producer Ismail Merchant.
Though Ivory spends the first few minutes providing a plot summary,
from there the featurette enters into more interesting and original
"The Story of Maurice" is a 30-minute
mini-documentary that gives a fairly comprehensive overview of the
creation of the film, through interviews with the main actors and the
We also get a section of 12 deleted scenes, running about 15 minutes.
Viewers who are interested in the Merchant Ivory films in general
will appreciate these, as ten of the deleted scenes have the option
to be viewed with an audio commentary by James Ivory. A theatrical
trailer is also included.
is a polished production, as you'd expect from Merchant Ivory. It's
based on one of the weakest of E.M. Forster's novels, though, and
that weakness appears to continue into the film itself, which relies
on the issue of homosexuality, rather than an inherently interesting
story or situation, to move the film along. It's not a bad film, but
neither is it a particularly compelling one. I'll suggest this as a