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A Room with a View
2 Disc Special Edition

A Room with a View
Warner Home Video
1985 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 117 min. / Street Date April 6, 2004 / 26.99
Starring Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Production Designer Brian Ackland-Snow, Gianni Quaranta
Art Direction Elio Altramura, Brian Savegar
Film Editor Humphrey Dixon
Original Music Richard Robbins
Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the novel by E.M. Forster
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Directed by James Ivory

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Of all of the Merchant Ivory productions, A Room with a View was the most popular. And well it should be, as it combines their impeccable knack for historical recreations of famous books with an enviable comedic touch. Nobody's tongue is in their cheek, but with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's coy screenplay reducing events to their humorous basics, a smile stays on our lips no matter how seriously the Edwardians on screen take themselves.


Inexperienced wealthy Briton Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) encounters both dramatic and romantic possibilities in Florence despite the stifling influence of her chaperone, cousin Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith). Back in Surrey she tries to avoid forward-thinking Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) and his handsome son George (Julian Sands), who back in Italy had the audacity to steal a kiss from her. Lucy's engaged now to the priggish but wealthy Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis), but that arrangement isn't providing the shield from George Emerson that she hoped it would.

It's hard to imagine a more imaginatively cast version of Forster's comedy of manners. Helena Bonham Carter is an ingenue with (as Reverend Mr. Beebe says) "possibilities." Maggie Smith is the impossible interfering spinster incapable of paying her own way or accepting anything foreign in a foreign country. She has a couple of fine scenes with Judi Dench's hack romance novelist, wandering the alleys of Florence. Daniel Day-Lewis shows his dedication by playing a dreadfully unlikeable twirp of an Englishman, and investing his full measure of talent into him. And finally, this is the movie to see Denholm Elliott as a life-loving free spirit, struggling at every turn with the unyielding disapproval of society around him.

Julian Sands has the not-so easy role of the young man who shows Lucy that romance and propriety don't have to go hand-in-hand. Along with Rupert Graves and an uninhibited Simon Callow, Sands has a wild naked pond swim, where nobody (including the director) gives a hang about avoiding male nudity.

Displaying the Merchant Ivory knack for staging period scenes in exotic settings on a modest budget, A Room with a View is one of those "Italy" pictures that give us the thrill of an idealized Florentine vacation, even when the characters on-screen don't seem to be appreciating it. It's all in the details: the desperation on the face of a youth stabbed in a public square, as if Lucy were witnessing a real staging of Romeo and Juliet, or a young Italiana's disappointment when she's forced to walk home alone from the stuffy English picnic. Lucy gets her romantic awakening in a hill covered with flowers. It's both thrilling and funny when George sees her and closes in for his kiss. Lucy just stands there, unclear as to what's happening, as if her entire life up to that moment has been based on the certainty that nothing ever happens.

The little scenes back in England are a tangled series of awkward encounters, interrupted by humorous illuminated intertitles: "Lucy Lies to Cecil." "Lucy Lies to George." Lucy arranges for a cottage to be rented by two adorable spinster sisters (Fabia Drake and Joan Henley) but the intolerable Cecil substitutes other tenants at the last minute. Charlotte wants to visit, and Lucy's good-hearted mother (Rosemary Leach) sympathizes with her no matter how terribly she behaves. Snubbed and rejected, George Emerson and his father are about to retreat to London when Charlotte's snooping inadvertently has a positive effect, for once. It's all charming and absorbing and rushes by so fast it's difficult to believe the film is 117 minutes long.

Warner & CBS's double-disc set of A Room with a View completely overshadows what was reportedly an older, flat and not very colorful existing release. The enhanced picture is breathtakingly perfect - the studio stats say it was transferred with the director and cinematographer's input, from the original negative. The sound is crystal clear.

The director, the producer, the cinematographer and actor Simon Callow contribute a lively commentary much like the ones on the other Merchant Ivory series released by Home Vision Entertainment. On the second disc, E.M. Forster Remembered is a 30-year old long-form BBC documentary about the author that's both informative and entertaining. A tribute to Merchant-Ivory is a featurette showing the producing pair at work in London. There are also some good BBC snippet interviews with Simon Callow and Daniel Day-Lewis (generously promoting a film that wouldn't directly reward his career) and a U.K. report on the success of the film in the states. A cute lady with a NY accent tells the Brit reporter she just swoons over the way English people speak English! There's also a photo gallery.

My review copy of this DVD came as two loose check discs, so I'm not going to have an opinion about the packaging.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, A Room with a View rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Producer Ismail Merchant, Director James Ivory, actor Simon Callow and cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, E.M. Forster Remembered BBC documentary, A tribute to Merchant-Ivory featurette, U.K. Archive television promotional appearances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Simon Callow, BBC report on the film's success in the U.S., Photo gallery, English, French, Spanish audio tracks.
Packaging: 2 discs in Keep case
Reviewed: March 22, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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