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Friday Film Review: A Room with a View

A Room with a View (1985)
Genre: Romance/Drama/literary adaptation
Grade: A

This is one of those movies I knew immediately was destined to be among my favorites. I remember having my sister tape it for me then, after watching it for the first time, immediately rewinding the tape to watch it again. Now, over twenty years later, I still love it to pieces.

Miss Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) and her older cousin-chaperone Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith) are dismayed when they arrive at a pensione in Florence, Italy and discover that they won’t have the rooms with views of the Arno they were promised. Over the course of dinner that evening, Charlotte – in her usual fashion – makes a fuss causing an older man, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliot), and his son George (Julian Sands) to offer their rooms in exchange – something considered indelicate by several of the women present. But Lucy wants her view and persuades their new vicar Mr. Beebe (Simon Callow), who happens to also be there, to intercede with Charlotte and the switch is made. It soon becomes obvious that George, something of a free thinker as is his father, is falling in love with Lucy and after he steals a kiss during an outing to the countryside, Lucy and Charlotte pack up and head for home.

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Once there, Lucy becomes engaged to Mr. Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis) of London who is something of a repressed snob. To score a petty victory over a local landowner he despises, Cecil recommends the Emersons, who he doesn’t even really know, as tenants for a vacant house in the area all without realizing the events which occurred in Florence. As George takes the opportunity to press his love, will Lucy admit her feelings and follow her heart or will she remain safe with a man she obviously doesn’t care for?

The first thing about this film I noticed was the music. From the opening credits with the glorious “O mio babbino caro” sung by Kiri te Kanawa, musically the film is a treat. After listening to that plus “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” I knew I had to have the soundtrack – which I went out and bought and have enjoyed over the years. I also love the use of the chapter titles to divide the film into sections and the artwork which opens the film and is interspersed throughout. In the commentary, Ismail Merchant reveals he initially wasn’t crazy about it but I’ve always found that the Florentine artwork fits perfectly.

The cast is fabulous. Judi Dench is delicious as the overly florid female novelist Eleanor Lavish and Rosemary Leach shines as Lucy’s exasperated mother who isn’t too sure of Cecil yet makes sure Charlotte is invited for a visit while the plumbers tear up her house. Fabia Drake and Joan Henley are sweet as the Miss Alan sisters and then newcomer
Rupert Graves catches the eye as Lucy’s younger brother, and also sometimes the cause of his mother’s exasperation, Freddy. Bonham Carter – with her amazing mass of hair – carries most of the movie and has real chemistry with the intense Sands while Callow manages a fine performance that doesn’t exactly stand out in this crowd yet which never puts a foot wrong. The performance by Day-Lewis is so mercurially wonderful that I once had to convince someone, who was more used to him in LotM, that he was even in the film.

Yet for me, the real stars of the film are Elliot, who conveys the new thinking, which many of the others find tacky, but who never comes off as crass while doing so and Smith who manages to show Charlotte as a passive aggressive spinster (“Poor Charlotte”) without making us eventually hate her. We even see the hints of the young woman in love she once was and realize that all along she’s thrilled at the romance Lucy experiences.

The cinematography is divine both in Florence and in England. Listen to the commentary to find out what Merchant and Ivory had to go through to secure the location filming in the first place and then after that how hard they still had to work to get the actual film footage. Pasta lunches, crowd control, schmoozing up to the Vatican and sharing a location with communist speakers are some of the things they had to do in the name of art. But what shots they got for their troubles. Watch for one overhead scene in the Basilica di Santa Croce which almost looks like a tennis match.

The costumes, which the actors seem entirely at home in, are also perfect as is Bonham Carter’s mastery of the piano pieces she needed to be able to fake for the film. The script is marvelous and conveys the dilemma faced by Lucy as she grapples with her heart’s desire vs the social mores of the time while still remaining humorous and entertaining. For Lucy must choose between her restricted upper-class life and the freeing new world represented by the Emersons. As her mother tries to convey to Freddy, there is a right sort and a wrong sort and Lucy must decide who falls into which category for her.

This is a smart, intelligent film which takes its time but which never wastes time nor makes me look at my watch to see how much time is still left. It flows effortlessly for me and before I know it, I’ve reached the scene which is depicted on the cover and that shows which man Lucy has picked. This isn’t a stuffy, period drama. It’s light, romantic and fun. It’s a favorite of mine for years and one I’d recommend in a heartbeat.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

63 Comments

  1. ka
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 04:10:22

    Can you go wrong with a Merchant Ivory film? Or Helen Bonham Carter in her early days? Thanks for the reminder of a great film given that today’s box office is trash.

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  2. Maili
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 05:29:10

    I didn’t realise until now that I haven’t seen this film for ages. A nice reminder. Thank you.

    @ka: Trash? Too harsh, surely? Jane Campion’s Bright Star (2009) isn’t trash, for instance.

    To be fair, A Room With a View wasn’t a box office hit (it has something like only US$40K during its U.S. opening weekend) until it attracted awards almost a year later. Mid-1980s films were all about military films (Platoon, No Way Out and Top Gun) and fish-out-of-the-water films (Back to the Future, Crocodile Dundee, Tarzan: the Lord of Greystroke, Three Men and a Baby, Rainman, Pretty in Pink, and so on). The 1980s wasn’t too kind to gentle period drama, I think.

    Ah, sorry. I went a bit too geeky there. Excuse me. :D

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    Nov 19, 2010 @ 05:37:26

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  4. Marsha
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 05:56:40

    Oh, how I love this one! I caught it on a Friday afternoon after skipping the last three periods at school and turned around the next day and made two friends sit through the Saturday showings – each of them – with me.

    I haven’t seen it in forever. I’ve got a weeklong break coming up next week…maybe that’s the time. Thanks for reviving so many excellent memories!

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  5. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:24:29

    @ka: If you want to check Bonham Carter out in a more recent role, try “Bagdad.” She and Michael Keaton are wonderful in it.

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  6. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:25:50

    I do believe I’ve never seen this. That’s just wrong. DH gone for a few days. A perfect time for Merchant Ivory. Will rent–or stream, if available. Thanks, Jayne.

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  7. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:27:49

    @Maili:

    I didn't realise until now that I haven't seen this film for ages. A nice reminder. Thank you.

    Actually, I hadn’t watched it in a while either but pulled it out the other day with an eye to doing this review!

    To be fair, A Room With a View wasn't a box office hit (it has something like only US$40K during its U.S. opening weekend) until it attracted awards almost a year later.

    the dvd commentary mentions how the production team went to an American studio for financing and the studio wanted the roles of Charlotte and Mr. Emerson cut because they didn’t think audiences would be interested in “old people.” Good thing Merchant Ivory went somewhere else for the moolah needed.

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  8. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:30:05

    @Christine Rimmer: It is available for streaming from Netflix. Enjoy!

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  9. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:35:31

    @Marsha: LOL, I know exactly how you felt. I could still watch it twice in a row today.

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  10. Eileen
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:44:30

    I love this movie also, and I have it on DVD.

    For anyone who is interested, there was another version made a few years ago that aired on PBS. I think it is available on DVD.

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  11. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:46:40

    @Eileen: I saw that at Netflix and was thinking of watching it until I read that the ending was drastically changed.

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  12. Mireya
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 06:59:19

    Strangely enough, I have never seen this movie. Now that I’ve researched it enough to know it doesn’t end with a death, I think I am getting it. Sounds like the type of film I’d enjoy watching. :D

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  13. Vi
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 07:12:09

    This is such a sumptuous movie, one of my favorites. Everyone seeking this movie, please avoid the dreck that was the 2007 Andrew Davies’ adaptation.

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  14. Jorrie Spencer
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 07:32:02

    I love this movie so much. I think it may be time for a rewatch. I don’t know if Julian Sands ever did much after this, but he was wonderful in it, and not the only wonderful actor.

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  15. Sarah Morgan
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 07:38:57

    Another great choice, Jayne. This film is visually dazzling and you’re right about the music. The use of Puccini is perfect, especially the scene in the field.

    The first time I watched this I didn’t recognise Daniel Day Lewis as the mincing Cecil – compare that to his performance in something like Gangs of New York or even our mutual love The Last of The Mohicans. It shows how incredibly versatile he is as an actor.

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  16. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 07:46:04

    @Jorrie Spencer: I think Sands has done a lot of work since this, just not a lot of good work. I liked him in Vatel and loved him in Arachnophobia. An earlier excellent movie he’s in is The Killing Fields.

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  17. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 07:49:04

    @Sarah Morgan: In the commentary, someone says that A Room with a View and My Beautiful Laundrette opened the same day in NYC and that this was the start of Day-Lewis’s rise to stardom and the source of a lot of critical acclaim. The fact that he could play two such totally different roles had people buzzing.

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  18. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 08:30:03

    @Jayne: Thanks! I put it in my streaming queue. Tonight, absolutely. Oh, and I love “Live From Baghdad.” I bought the DVD for that one a few months back and have watched it more than once since.

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  19. tim
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 08:51:51

    julian sands is also famous for Boxing Helena and Warlock–i find his acting suspect at times but he’s gorgeous so it’s forgiveable

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  20. Susan
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 09:09:47

    I saw Room with a View not long after I saw My Beautiful Laundrette, a British film that stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a gay racist punk/thug who has a relationship with a Pakistani former schoolmate (whose family owns the laundrette). It was hard to believe that the same actor that played the punk also played Cecil!

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  21. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 09:49:54

    @tim: Yes, he is a beautiful creature. Warlock was a strange little film. I thought he was actually quite good in it even if the film itself didn’t work so well for me.

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  22. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 09:54:38

    @Mireya: The ending here is very upbeat and happy – for people looking back on these times. I’m not sure how people of these times would have viewed it. Some would probably have been horrified at Lucy’s choice.

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  23. ka
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 10:09:06

    @Maili: To be fair, the only marquee I see these days is on base … and what they offer is trash. I may have to leave base to see The Tempest with Helen Mirren which was filmed on the island of Kauai.

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  24. Cate Rowan
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 10:36:03

    My all-time favorite film! I just watched it again last week. Make sure to keep your eye out for the pond scene… :-D

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  25. Zoe Archer
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 10:52:35

    I’ve loved this film ever since it came out. Every single line of it is utterly quotable.

    “Why does she have to look like that?”
    “Like what?”
    “Like Charlotte Bartlett.”
    “Because she is Charlotte Bartlett.”

    The best is that I got my older brother into this film, and he and his college suitemates would put on smoking jackets and watch it at school.

    On a side note, I watched the BBC miniseries Sherlock, and, dear God, Rupert Graves has grey hair now! So do I, come to think of it.

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  26. mireya
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:03:28

    Ooohh streaming on Netflix? … YAY! Hubby is subbed.

    @Jayne: Yes, from what I’ve read, the ending is upbeat, but in the modern sense of the word. I can’t picture that ending back in the time the action takes place.

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  27. Lisa Hendrix
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:05:50

    One of my favorite films of all time, right up there with Enchanted April. Thanks for highlighting it.

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  28. Maryann Miller
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:10:17

    Thanks for the reminder about a wonderful film. I have not seen it since its theatrical release, but will rent it soon. I remember being captivated by the music and the whole mood of the opening. What a great way to set up a story.

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  29. Susanna Ives
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:15:46

    He’s saying his creed.

    Joy! Beauty! Joy…!

    He’s declaring the eternal “yes”.

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  30. Susanna Ives
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:17:56

    Sorry…that was a quote from the movie, not spam.

    ReplyReply

  31. Zoe Archer
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:25:07

    @Susanna Ives:

    *falls out of tree*

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  32. Sabrina Darby
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:31:29

    I love this film. One of the few instances where an adaptation of an amazing book is near perfect. Lovelovelove and now need to watch again. Conveniently, I have it right here :D

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  33. Sabrina Darby
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:32:58

    Oh and I forgot to add that I recently saw Sands in two theater productions and he was amazing!

    ReplyReply

  34. Susanna Ives
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 11:46:09

    @Zoe Archer

    Yes! Great scene.

    ReplyReply

  35. Katie
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 12:34:31

    Poor Mr. Beebe!

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  36. Claudia Dain
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 12:55:06

    I’m embarrassed and somewhat shocked that I’ve never seen this movie! I’ve heard of it for most of my life, it seems. Why have I never seen this movie? It sounds wonderful. I now have the motivation to Seek It Out! Thanks so much!

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  37. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 13:21:24

    @Zoe Archer: Love the image of your brother and his suitemates in smoking jackets!

    And I have gray hair now too, sob.

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  38. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 13:23:38

    @Susanna Ives: I love how George declaring the eternal “Yes” is intercut with the other three men fixing their tea.

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  39. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 13:25:03

    @Claudia Dain: Oh, I have a tidy list of “Can’t believe I’ve never seen it” movies. I hope you enjoy this one.

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  40. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 13:27:24

    @Katie: LOL, it would be hard to face your parishioners after Sunday service once they’d seen you at the sacred lake. ;)

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  41. Cate Rowan
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 14:27:36

    LOL, I always wondered what happened when next they met Mr. Beebe…

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  42. Randi
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 15:17:23

    Generally speaking, in my world, a Merchant-Ivory production = WIN!

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  43. Janine
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 15:17:59

    Oh, I’m so glad you reviewed this film! It’s one of my absolute favorite movies of all time. I can’t even tell you how much I adore it.

    The cast is stellar and all the performances are sublime. I agree with you that Elliot and Smith are amazing. I think my favorite scene might be the climactic one in which Mr. Emerson talks Lucy through her “muddle.”

    And the cinematography! Those gorgeous shots of Florence! It is really great if you can see this film on a bigger screen with HD.

    Best of all for me, perhaps, is that this movie turned me on to E.M. Forster’s sublime early novels (I still have to read his later stuff) which I adore and which I think have even been an influence on my writing. The titles in the film come from the chapter titles of the book. Hard to believe Forster was only in his twenties when he wrote A Room with a View.

    The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the novel, and only a few things were changed, including the ending, which is slightly happier than the ending of the book. Though the book still has a relatively happy ending, and no one dies in it, I’m glad to say.

    I think this movie is underrated for the masterpiece it is. I love it so much that I even have Merchant’s related cookbook, Ismael Merchant’s Florence: Filming and Feasting in Tuscany, which contains anecdotes from cast members and beautiful pictures of Italy and Italian food.

    I agree with your grade; this one is a perfect A for me as well.

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  44. Zoe Archer
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 15:20:54

    @Katie:

    “Look! No, don’t look! Poor Mr. Beebe!”

    ***

    “Everyone’s being so horrid today, Uncle Arthur. Let’s go out to tea.”

    ***

    “I believe those were my photographs!”

    “They were covered in blood. I didn’t know what to do. There. Now I’ve told you.”

    *Seriously, I could do this all day.

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  45. Evangeline Holland
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 16:26:11

    Even though I read the book (loved it) after viewing this film, I am on the fence about it. Sure, the cinematography is sumptuous, and the cast are spot on, but I think the script lost the essence of the book in playing up the romance between Lucy and George. The theme behind the book was an exploration of class and society (Lucy was so shocked and conflicted by the lower middle-class George because the Honeychurches had such a nebulous foothold into the middle class) via a young woman’s awakening. The script muddled that a bit and made it seem like an opposites-attract type of romance.

    But don’t get me started on the 2007 TV drama. It dashes everything in the book to pieces and tacks on ending that completely misses the point of A Room with a View. I’m still bitter over those wasted hours…

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  46. Janine
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 17:00:31

    @Evangeline Holland: Interesting thoughts on the book. To me the main theme of the book was about being true to oneself in the face of social conventions and judgments. Yes, the class difference played an important role, but I saw the Emersons as characterized by their free thinking. There’s an interesting take on religion, too.

    I may be reading too much into this but I think the book was informed by Forster’s life experience as a gay man in a homophobic society which did not allow him to express his romantic and sexual feelings openly. I think A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread and Maurice all dealt with class-difference romance but also had this central theme about finding the courage to express the truth of your feelings, your thoughts, and your love in the face of social disapproval.

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  47. Laura D.
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 17:16:57

    How much did I *heart* this movie? My daughter’s last name is Church. Her given name is Lucy. Guess what her middle name is?

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  48. Sabrina Darby
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 17:52:16

    @Laura D.:

    :D Did you play her Beethoven when she was a baby?

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  49. DeAnna Cameron
    Nov 19, 2010 @ 21:48:19

    How can you not love this movie?
    I can’t even listen to Puccini without swooning now :-)

    Lucy Honeychurch: Mother doesn’t like me playing Beethoven. She says I’m always peevish afterwards.

    Revered Beebe: I can see how one might be… stirred up.

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  50. Tae
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 01:21:46

    This was the first movie I purchased on VHS back when I was a teenager. I loved this movie so much, still love it. I wish I had remembered it and watched it before I went to Florence this past summer. I had such a huge crush on Julian Sands after this.

    However, I think I’m losing my mind because I swear when I saw it on TV once that the ending involved Lucy running after George and catching up with him at the train station, but I’ve never seen that ending again. Did I just imagine this???

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  51. Jayne
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 06:20:48

    @Tae:

    However, I think I'm losing my mind because I swear when I saw it on TV once that the ending involved Lucy running after George and catching up with him at the train station, but I've never seen that ending again. Did I just imagine this???

    Now that you mention this, it is ringing vague bells for me too. Perhaps I’m just sharing your delusion. Will investigate more.

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  52. Mary Jo Burke
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 09:47:06

    I saw this movie with my boyfriend, now husband. The acting is superb. Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful. It’s hard to believe he’s the same guy in Last of the Mohicans. The music is wonderful as well. When the movie came out on tape, my husband bought it for me. He’s a keeper and so is the movie.

    Mary Jo Burke

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  53. Likari (LK Rigel)
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 13:10:59

    The performance by Day-Lewis is so mercurially wonderful that I once had to convince someone, who was more used to him in LotM, that he was even in the film.

    I can believe this! The two performances are 180 turns, one exuding sex and the other repressing sex completely.

    I too have adored this movie since it came out. (And I just started it streaming in Netflix)

    We even see the hints of the young woman in love [Charlotte] once was and realize that all along she's thrilled at the romance Lucy experiences.

    Thank you for this! To me Aunt Charlotte, while irritating, is a sadly tragic character. I love the director’s decision to show her reading the letter from Lucy (with real happiness) at the end.

    Aside: Have you seen Rupert Graves in The Forsyte Saga?

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  54. Winther
    Nov 21, 2010 @ 04:23:21

    This is my all time favourite movie! I was 11 when I saw it the first time and loved it then. It took me about 4 years to get myself a copy which I then watched and watched and watched until it didn’t work any more. After that I saw it every time it was shown on the telly.
    It wasn’t until 3 years ago I got myself a dvd copy…and let’s just say that I watch it often.

    I think it’s the way that all the characters supplement each other all the actors are great in their roles. Often you feel that one or two of them could have been better or been replaced, but you just don’t feel that in this movie. That and I just fall in love with Julian Sands’ George every time I watch this movie.

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  55. Jayne
    Nov 21, 2010 @ 10:40:18

    @Winther: Isn’t it great that DVDs will last much longer than tapes ever did?

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  56. Likari (LK Rigel)
    Nov 21, 2010 @ 11:33:19

    And the new-ish edition on a high definition teevee is gorgeous.

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  57. Kristi Astor
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 16:28:40

    Ah, this is one of my all-time favorite movies, and part of the reason I’m writing romance set in the Edwardian era now!

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  58. Laura Florand
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 16:46:54

    Oh, yes, what a wonderful movie! I remember watching everything with HBC or by Merchant Ivory trying to recapture this film, and although there are many good ones, this to me is the best. I haven’t seen it in 15 years, though! You’ve reminded me of what I’m missing by not rewatching it regularly. I remember the book being very good, too, but that’s also been 15 years or more.

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  59. Little Red
    Jan 02, 2011 @ 21:25:56

    I freaking love this movie! I begged my mother to take me to see this movie and I was only twelve years old when it came out. It is single-handedly responsible for my love of Italy. I still haven’t made it to Florence and Tuscany but I’ll get there one day.

    The cinematography, costumes, music, and everything else are just perfect and still thrill me more than twenty years later.

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  60. zizi
    Jan 16, 2011 @ 22:09:27

    @Jayne:

    Did you ever find out if this version existed? I love everything about this movie, but the only thing I would change is that I would want to see Lucy tell George that she loves him, and see their reconciliation.

    I also wonder if Lucy ever reconciled with her family. The book is a bit vague on this point.

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  61. Jayne
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 06:26:47

    @zizi: I did poke around a little but haven’t found anything about this scene. Perhaps I’m thinking of Lucy chasing after her mother and Charlotte in the carriage.

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  62. tam
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 19:23:51

    @Jayne:

    Yes, that’s probably it. Thanks for the response. :)

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  63. REVIEW: A Room with a View by E.M. Forster | Dear Author
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 21:41:48

    [...] by E.M. Forster February 16, 2011| by Janine | 6 CommentsDear Readers,I don't know if it was Jayne's recent review of the Merchant-Ivory film adaptation of this novel, or a discussion of Forster's works that some of us on Twitter got into a while [...]

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