Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
United Kingdom/Japan, 1992. Merchant Ivory Productions, Sumitomo Corporation, Imagica, Cinema Ten, Japan Satellite Broadcasting, Ide Productions, Film Four International. 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 Luciana Arrighi. Costume Design by Jenny Beavan, John Bright. Film Editing by Andrew Marcus. Podcast: My Criterions.
The team at Merchany Ivory productions complete their E.M. Forster trilogy after A Room With A View and Maurice and save the best for last with this phenomenally good drama (which was also Forster’s best novel). Three sets of families, one upper class, one middle and one lower, all have interactions, confrontations and clashes in some way connected to the titular English country cottage. Headstrong and bohemian, the bourgeois Schlegel sisters are as different as sisters can be: Margaret (Emma Thompson, in the role that brought her deserved acclaim and stardom) is sociable and wise, reserved and cerebral, at first befriending the aging Mrs. Wilcox (a heavenly Vanessa Redgrave) and eventually her wealthy industrialist husband (Anthony Hopkins). Her sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter, more spirited than ever before) is passionate and impetuous, taking a poor desk clerk (Samuel West) under her wing and taking full responsibility when her financial advice does him a bad turn. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay adaptation is flawless, Tony Pierce-Roberts’s cinematography incredibly beautiful, and Luciana Arrighi’s stunning production design brings out the opulence of the period with incredibly strong life. I first saw this film as an inexperienced fourteen year-old, the first great film I’d ever watched in my entire life; twenty years later, after experiencing everything else that cinema masterpieces have to offer, it hasn’t lost a single bit of its quality or appeal.
The Criterion Collection: #488
Academy Awards: Best Actress (Emma Thompson); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Art Direction
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Vanessa Redgrave); Best Director (James Ivory); Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Original Score
Cannes Film Festival Award: 45th Anniversary Prize
Golden Globe Awards: Best Actress-Drama (Emma Thompson)
Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Director (James Ivory); Best Screenplay