Room with a View - A Summer Classic

Required Summer Viewing

I think we all fall in love with Helena Bonham Carter when we first see the utterly charming 1986 Merchant Ivory film adaptation of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View — a romantic film of simmering English passion, which isn't a contradiction in terms — just ask Emily Brontë.

Is there a film better suited to viewing in the summer months than A Room with a View? (Possibly the first couple of episodes of the definitive Brideshead Revisited.)

The story is set in Edwardian times, when the stifling manners of Victorian England are starting to loosen a little, but not crazily so. Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena) is visiting a loose and free Florence, Italy, with her chaperone and cousin Charlotte Bartlett. The Emersons, a father and his son (played by Denholm Elliott and Julian Sands), are staying at the same hotel with a room with a view that they offer to Lucy and Charlotte, who were promised a view of the Arno but did not get one. To avoid any possibility of social inappropriateness, Charlotte declines the offer.

The Emersons appear less refined and rather Bohemian in outlook. George, the son, becomes enamoured of buttoned-up Lucy, which he manages to express with a snatched kiss when they travel together in a party from the hotel to Fiesole. Was it Italy that inflamed such passion? Charlotte witnesses the kiss, putting a halt to George's advances. Lucy is left bewildered and unsure as to how she should react.

Before Lucy has a chance to collect her feelings for George, she is whisked back home to a rural Surrey village and engaged to be married to a severe aesthete named Cecil Vyse, played wonderfully by Daniel Day-Lewis. (The casting for the film is pitch-perfect.) Life seems settled, then infinitely more complicated when the Emersons move to the village. Will Lucy settle for 'ideal bachelor' Cecil as society arranges and expects? Can she continue to deny her feelings for George? I think you'll know the answer.

As Forster wrote: 'It isn't possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.'

The film is beautifully shot and — I'm sure you're the same — leaves you feeling that the softness of the English countryside in summer and the stimulation and culture of Italian city life offer everything you might ever want from your existence. Some of the filming of the English countryside was made at the National Trust's Emmetts Garden.

So many of our interests are covered in the story: from straw boaters and blazers to upright bicycles. The film won a deserved Oscar for costume design.

The film is also funny, with lots of memorable lines from an Oscar-winning script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. 'Care for a bathe?'  That line has always made me chuckle, but it obviously needs a bit of context and the right delivery.

Using Puccini's aria O Mio Babbino Caro from Ginni Schicci as the main theme and leitmotif for the stirrings of love and romance initiated in (or by) Italy was also a master stroke.  Anyone who has seen the film will forever associate the music with it.

I have watched this film so many times it must now form part of my DNA.

I think I'm probably 5% A Room with a View.


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