A Room with a View (1985)    2 Stars


A Room with a View (1985)
A Room with a View (1985)


Director: James Ivory

Cast: Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Denholm Elliott

Synopsis: When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation.




Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter – Fight Club, Sixty Six) is a feisty but innocent girl on the cusp of womanhood when she holidays in Florence with her chaperone, the spinster Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith – Curtain Call, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone).   At their pensione, they find they have been given a room with no view, but when they mention this at their first meal, fellow guest Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott – The Boys from Brazil, Raiders of the Lost Ark), who is holidaying with his son, George (Julian Sands – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), immediately offers the women their room.   Later, on a trip to the countryside outside of Florence, the quiet, diffident George steals a passionate kiss from Lucy, much to the distress of Charlotte, who immediately cuts short their stay.

Back home in Britain, Lucy accepts the marriage proposal of the prissy Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis – Gandhi, Stars and Bars), a pompous snob whose superior airs belie his ignorance and insularity.   Vyse is an avid book reader who would rather read about life than experience it, and is palpably unsuited for the spirited Lucy.   So when Emerson and his son rent a cottage in the village, she becomes increasingly unsure of her feelings for both Cecil and George, and constructs a web of lies to persuade herself – and everyone else – that Cecil is the man she loves.

James Ivory and Ismail Merchant made a number of these period dramas in the 1980s and ‘90s, most of which were met with positive reviews and decent box office.   They were quality productions, crafted with precision and care, and for A Room with a View Ivory assembled a cast of actors who were either already highly regarded, or who would come to be so over the years.   The eighteen-year-old Bonham-Carter, whose delicate, angelic looks and wild hair once looked as if they would pigeonhole her in period dramas such as this, concocts an appealing combination of beguiling innocence and feisty independence which is tempered by her confusion over the conflict between what she wants from life and what is expected of her.   As her fussy, repressed beau, Daniel Day-Lewis exhibits few traces of Butcher Bill, Daniel Plainview, or even the gay ruffian Johnny from My Beautiful Laundrette, which was released on the same day as A Room with a View in the States, thus highlighting his impressive range as an actor.   Ironically, Day-Lewis’s performance in A Room with a View, while brimming with talent, is a little too broad, even for a drama with gentle comic undertones, and the feeling that Vyse would be more at home in a Wodehouse comedy is inescapable.   Unfortunately, Julian Sands is truly wretched as the quiet but passionate George Emerson, which might explain why his lines appear to have been kept to a minimum.   It’s a shame he couldn’t have brought Day-Lewis’s conviction and skill to his role because, with a character played by an ineffective actor as her only alternative to an effeminate beau, it sometimes feels as though neither of Lucy’s options aren’t particularly enviable.

Amongst the more established actors of the era, Denholm Elliott stands out as the unexpectedly free-thinking Mr Emerson, a man whose modest roots don’t prevent him from being the most intuitive and enlightened of those to offer advice to Lucy, while Maggie Smith wrings sympathy from the audience for a passively controlling character whose middle-aged aloneness holds a warning for her young charge, and a relatively subdued Simon Callow (Amadeus), shares a hilarious nude bathing scene with Sands and movie debutant Rupert Graves (Callow later remarked in an interview that he resembled a hippo between two gazelles) as the faintly Dickensian Reverend Mr Beebe.   Other well-known faces, such as Judi Dench (Nine, Philomena) as a gossipy novelist of bodice-rippers, TV actress Rosemary Leach as Lucy’s mother, and Amanda Walker (28 Weeks Later, Captain America: The First Avenger) as the cockney owner of the pensione in which Lucy and Charlotte spend their holiday, make up a colourful, vaguely eccentric cast.

A Room with a View’s slight plot – which, it has to be said, relies a little too heavily on coincidence – is bolstered by these keenly observed characterisations, while providing a telling insight into the Edwardian social mores and conventions which Lucy must overcome to prevent herself from becoming nothing more than an ornament on the arm of an unsuitable man.   While it might not resonate with a modern audience, it does at least provide an amusing glimpse of an era long past.

(Reviewed 14th January 2016)

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