Saturday, March 29, 2014
Maurice (1987 film)
Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, Maurice is the story about a homosexual relationship in the 20th Century set in a university in Britain. Directed by James Ivory and screenplay by Ivory and Kit-Hesketh-Harvey, the film is an exploration into the world of homosexuality in early 20th Century Britain where two men try to deal with it in a time when homosexuality was taboo. Starring James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw, and Ben Kingsley. Maurice is a touching and mesmerizing film from James Ivory.
Set in the early 20th Century at a university in Cambridge, the film is an exploration into the world of homosexuality in those times as two men fall in love with each other while keeping the relationship a secret. While the two men would play very close friends around their respective families, things would become complicated when a friend is arrested for his homosexuality as their friendship and romance would start to fall apart as the two diverge into different directions. It’s a film that plays into a world where homosexuality was taboo and also considered to be obscene as it is largely set in this Edwardian-period where two men from different class backgrounds have to play into the rules of society in order to get ahead.
The film’s screenplay has a very unique structure where the first half of the film is set in Cambridge where the titular character (James Wilby) meets and falls for the more upper-class Clive (Hugh Grant) as they have this very secretive yet platonic relationship. The second half is set a few years later where Maurice and Clive are in two different worlds of their lives where the former tries to deal with his homosexuality as well as feelings for the latter’s young gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves). Add some very stylized dialogue that plays with the period of the times as well as the world of upper-class aristocracy, there’s a story that plays into some aspect of emotional repression as well as the desire to fit in with the confines of a society that is in a new century but with some old rules intact.
James Ivory’s direction is very simple and understated in the way he presents early 20th Century Britain where much of the film’s first half is shot on location in Cambridge with the second half shot in Wilbury Park. Much of it involves some close-ups and medium-shots along with a few wide shots where Ivory create some dazzling compositions while play into a certain rhythm and tone to that pre-World War I period in Britain. Most notably in its pacing where for a film that’s nearly two-and-a-half hours, Ivory makes it feel a bit shorter in the way he conveys much of the drama as well as some suspenseful moments over the way Maurice deals with his feelings for Clive and later Alec. Even as Maurice would go to all sorts of help where an unconventional American doctor in Lasker-Jones (Ben Kingsley) would offer various suggestions over what he should do. Overall, Ivory crafts a very captivating film about homosexuality in early 20th Century Britain.
Cinematographer Pierre Lhomme does excellent work with the film‘s lush photography from its use of natural light for its exterior scenes as well for some low-key lighting schemes for the interior and nighttime exterior scenes. Editor Katherine Wenning does brilliant work with the editing in creating something that is straightforward in some cases but also with a flair of style that includes a very rich dream sequence. Production designer Brian Ackland-Snow, with art directors Peter James and Brian Savegar, does splendid work with the set pieces from the look of the different homes of Maurice and Clive as well as some of the places they go to during that Edwardian period.
Costume designers Jenny Beaven and John Bright do fantastic work with the costumes from the clothes the men wear to the lavish dresses the women wear. The sound work of Mike Shoring is superb for its intimate approach to sound in the way dinners are conducted to some of the outdoor activities that Maurice and Clive do. The film’s music by Richard Robbins is amazing for its low-key yet elegant orchestral score that has some moments of suspense but also some serene moments in its drama and humorous moments.
The casting by Celestia Fox is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it includes a cameo appearance from Helena Bohnam Carter as a guest watching a cricket game as well as notable small performances from Peter Eyre as the very nosy Reverend Borenius, Kitty Aldridge and Helena Michell in their respective roles as Maurice’s sisters Kitty and Ada, Catherine Rabett as Clive’s sister Pippa, Patrick Godfrey as Clive’s family butler Simcox, Barry Foster as Clive and Maurice’s college dean who is bewildered by their behaviors, Mark Tandy as a fellow classmate of the two in Lord Risley, and Phoebe Nicholls in a wonderful performance as Clive’s naïve yet well-meaning wife Anne whom Maurice likes. Denholm Elliott is terrific as Maurice’s family doctor Barry who tries to deal with what Maurice is going through as well as a sublime performance from Simon Callow as Maurice’s old schoolteacher Mr. Ducie who only appears briefly in the film where he would tell a young Maurice about what to expect in puberty.
Billie Whitelaw and Judy Parfitt are superb in their respective roles as Maurice and Clive’s mothers who both bring their own opinions over their friendship while being unaware of the secret relationship they have. Ben Kingsley is great as the very unconventional Lasker-Jones who examines Maurice when he knows what Maurice is and offers him some very insightful advice. Rupert Graves is excellent as the young gamekeeper Alec Scudder who knows what Maurice is as he tries to prompt him into being in a relationship despite the rules of society. Hugh Grant is marvelous as Clive as this upper-class man who falls for Maurice as he tries to prompt to go into a relationship until circumstances forces him to play by the rules of society. Finally, there’s James Wilby in a fantastic performance as the titular character as a man trying to find himself in this new world while dealing with his own feelings in an attempt to fit in as well as becoming lost in his repression.
Maurice is an exquisite yet compelling film from James Ivory and the Merchant-Ivory team. With a great cast and some amazing technical work, it’s a film that showcases how a period film can do so much more than just be a film with window-dressing and such. Especially in how it tackles the world of homosexuality in pre-World War I Britain where the risks of exposing something like that was very severe. In the end, Maurice is an incredible film from James Ivory.
James Ivory Films: The Householder - (The Dehli Way) - Shakespeare Wallah - (The Guru) - Bombay Talkie - (Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilization) - (Savages (1972 film)) - (Autobiography of a Princess) - (The Wild Party) - (Roseland) - (Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie’s Pictures) - (The Five Forty-Eight) - (The Europeans) - (Jane Austen in Manhattan) - (Quartet (1981 film)) - (Heat and Dust) - (The Bostonians) - A Room With a View - (Slaves of New York) - (Mr. & Mrs. Bridges) - Howards End - The Remains of the Day - (Jefferson in Paris) - (Surviving Picasso) - (A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries) - (The Golden Bowl) - (Le Divorce) - (The White Countess) - (The City of Your Final Destination)
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