“Don’t you agree that on one’s first visit to Florence, one must have a room with a view?”
Though I have never been to Florence, I must agree. Whether I’m looking thirty stories over Boston, sitting in a window to watch the rain pour over the Black Forest or climbing on furniture to peep my head out a skylight to see the Swiss Alps in the distance, it’s always worth it to get a room with a view. Of course, in A Room with a View, with its Edwardian society, scaling furniture is ever deemed appropriate. There is a dignified air that must be maintained at all times. So when Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) and her chaperon Charlotte (Maggie Smith) find themselves view-less in Florence, they hesitate on trading rooms with the kind Emersons, a father and son on holiday. How rude it would be to leap at such kindness, so the Emersons take the initiative and make the trade, reasoning that, “Women like looking at a view. Men don’t.”
The trade is worth it and they spend time with the Emersons in Florence. As Lucy and young George (Julian Sands) experience misadventures together a bond grows which eventually leads to George kissing Lucy on a day in the country. Unfortunately, Charlotte sees this lewd behavior and must get Lucy back to England without anyone knowing about the incident. They make a pact to never speak of it to anyone, for the sake of Lucy’s reputation and for Charlotte’s job.
Not long after returning to England, Lucy accepts the proposal of Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis). While socially, this is wonderful for Lucy, it looks like a trap for such a passionate young lady. Cecil is extremely snobby and cynical, I doubt he could ever know real enjoyment in anything. Their first kiss, that Cecil is extremely formal and cautious about taking, is so hilariously awkward his glasses nearly fall off. All it does is make Lucy remember her and George together, the relationships are quite opposite.
Things get stirred up when the Emersons are staying close by. This puts Lucy and Charlotte into a damage control status. But it turns out that Charlotte has broken their silent pact and told Eleanor Lavish (Judi Dench), a novelist, about Lucy and George’s moment together. Now that scene is in full detail in her latest book, which Cecil reads aloud in front of Lucy and George. This only flares up the flames Lucy left Florence over. In this society of repression will Lucy choose the safe path with Cecil or the one that will make her happy with George?
I always find Edwardian and Victorian era films so fascinating because of their quiet repression. In A Room with a View, it seems we’re on the threshold of the modern era and some of the young people are trying to move forward while most of the older generation are trying to hold them back. We see Lucy playing Beethoven on the piano with such passion and vigor she’s sometimes scolded by older women for it. Yet, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) seems to encourage George in his eccentricities and eventually encourages Lucy to accept her love for George.
One scene I was not expecting in this sort of film was the scene where George, Lucy’s younger brother Fred (Rupert Graves) and the priest go for a swim. It starts off like a normal summertime swim, the boys strip down and splash around. Eventually they start horsing around and chasing each other naked around the pond. Surely this is not proper etiquette, and it only gets better when Lucy arrives at the pond hilariously horrified at the nudity displayed before her. Just remember that British films are very generous about male nudity, you will get more ball shots here than most Edwardian women saw in their lifetime.
I enjoyed A Room with a View much more than I thought I would. The elegant society, the forbidden romance and tip-toed scheming all drew me in so well. Plus, it is all filmed in such beautiful scenes and lavishly landscaped courtyards. Unless you are the kind that can only watch action movies, I highly recommend this film.
“A young girl, transfigured by Italy! And why shouldn’t she be transfigured? It happened to the Goths!”
Just another Merchant-Ivory production, with typical outstanding technical work in cinematography, art direction, costuming, music; an excellently written screenplay; and brilliant performances by all…lots of well-deserved nomination here…as usual. A real work of art!