Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB
United Kingdom, 1985. Goldcrest Films International, National Film Finance Corporation, Curzon Film Distributors, Film Four International, Merchant Ivory Productions. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by E.M. Forster. Cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Music by Richard Robbins. Production Design by Brian Ackland-Snow, Gianni Quaranta. Costume Design by Jenny Beavan, John Bright. Film Editing by Humphrey Dixon. Podcast: My Criterions.
Merchant Ivory’s inspiring adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel is the first of three of the author’s works that the group would make and the team’s first Oscar nomination for Best Picture. While on vacation in Italy, young Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) and her spinster cousin Charlotte (a terrific Maggie Smith) make friends with an uncouth older gentleman (Denholm Elliott) and his wildly unorthodox son (Julian Sands) after the two groups switch rooms at their Venetian pensione. When the two men coincidentally take up residence near Lucy’s home in England, her budding attraction to Sands threatens to disrupt her politely acceptable engagement to starch-collared Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis).
The filmmaking team’s reputation for ravishing production design and costumes are an asset as always, but beneath all the white linen is Forster’s not-so-subtle criticism of lofty British morality and its direct opposition to human nature (and happiness). Performances are all memorable, particularly a dewy Carter making a strong appearance in her film debut.
The Criterion Collection: #775
Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Denholm Elliott); Best Supporting Actress (Maggie Smith); Best Director (James Ivory); Best Cinematography
Golden Globe Award: Best Supporting Actress (Maggie Smith)
Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Director (James Ivory)
Venice Film Festival: In Competition