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BBC Video presents
A Room with a View (1985)

"It is fate. But call it Italy, if it pleases you."
- George Emerson (Julian Sands)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 12, 2004

Stars: Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day Lewis
Director: James Ivory

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:51m:57s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 794051197924
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B+ C

DVD Review

This may be the paradigmatic Merchant-Ivory film, and it's a pitch-perfect apotheosis of sorts—A Room with a View gets it just right. Other films dealing with this period have gotten lost in the Edwardian layers of silk, satin, and velvet; others have made the mistake of thinking that it's perfectly fine to put actors of a contemporary sensibility into period costumes, and have the story work just fine. The mid-80s may have been the most fruitful period for this sort of thing—the epic television production of Brideshead Revisited would be another highlight of the time—and only occasionally does A Room with a View border on the twee. But mostly it's a handsome and heartfelt movie, and may well be the finest film adaptation of any of E.M. Forester's five novels. (Though I suppose both A Passage to India and Howards End have their partisans.)

Forester's story has the familiar trappings of its time, featuring a young Englishwoman taking a tour of the Continent, and discovering not the grandeurs of European civilization, but her own true nature. The young woman in question here is Lucy Honeychurch, traveling with her older cousin, Charlotte Bartlett, to a Florentine pensione—they are there to see the sights, the churches, the glorious Mediterranean sun, but horrors, their rooms look out on a back alley. And as long as the Emersons are around, chivalry is not dead; George (Julian Sands) and his garrulous father (Denholm Elliott) graciously give up their own lodgings, so that Lucy, on her first visit, may have the crucial chamber of the film's title.

What unfolds is a tale of Lucy coming to understand the truths of the human heart—should she love George, who is soulful but socially inappropriate, or Cecil, who on paper fits perfectly with her social standing? Despite the societal pressures, Lucy knows that a life isn't lived on paper, and the struggle for her affections, and the ramifications for family, town, and class, make up the main tension of this picture. Director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant have always demonstrated a keen eye for casting, nowhere more so than here. Helena Bonham Carter can look a little smurfy sometimes, but she fits the bill as Lucy; we see what she wants, and what she needs, and that her own answers aren't what her world is telling her, causing her untold psychological pain. Sands is storybook perfect as George, handsome, mysterious and alluring, but not without foibles; even better is Daniel Day Lewis, as the hopeless, hapless Cyril. Forever afraid of being the butt of someone else's jokes, he has cultivated for himself a sensibility so exquisitely delicate, that he'll abruptly leave the room before even an improper word can be uttered. They are all well supported, especially by Elliott, soulful without caring a fig for propriety; Maggie Smith as Charlotte, a nattering old busybody if ever there was one; and, in a brief but typically fierce performance, by Judi Dench, as a romantic novelist whose books may not be very good, but who knows a proper bit of raw material when she stumbles upon it.

As much praise should be heaped on those behind the camera, as well. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay is a model of telescoping and restraint; she communicates Forester's prose style without excessive obeisance to her source material. The film is dewy and glistening, as shot by Tony Pierce-Roberts; and the design teams have produced images that are sumptuous without overpowering the people in the frames. It's not difficult to see what the appeal of this film was upon its initial release—with Top Gun playing on every screen in every multiplex, here was a movie that wasn't test-screened to death, that comes with a story, a point of view, a style, and emotion. It's every bit as rich and nuanced as you may remember it; it's a lovely film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The print still has occasional specks, but generally this is a clear and spruced-up transfer, with a delicate palette and excellent color saturation. This release is clearly superior to the film's previous appearance on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The balance is generally fine, though you'll hear a bit of tape hiss on the English-language track. The Spanish track is worth a listen, if only because the opening credits are read to us.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, Tony Pierce-Roberts, Simon Callow
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. stills gallery
Extras Review: Although the package is handsome indeed, don't judge this particular book by its cover, as you'll find it a little thin, unfortunately. The director and producer are joined on the commentary track by director of photography Tony Pierce-Roberts, and by Simon Callow, who plays Reverend Beebe. They discuss the history of the project (Jhabvala initiated the idea; Callow, jokingly, wanted to play George), though in fact they don't have a whole lot to say; lots of blank patches go by, and much of what's here are shared, dimly recollected details of the shoot. It is interesting, though, that this most English of films was produced and written by Indians, with a director from Oregon.

Disc 2 has a few sparse offerings. First are some clips from Breakfast Time, a British morning chat show—the first set (07m:03s) features two interviews with Callow, just after shooting, and a third with Day Lewis, his head shaved, as the film was opening. Next is a report (03m:21s) from the same show on the popularity of the movie in the U.S.; it features New Yorkers lining up at the Paris Theater, paying an astronomical $6.00 a ticket. A profile (05m:10s) on the Merchant-Ivory collaboration seems to have been cut from a longer piece; it traces their journey as filmmakers, from India, to America, and then to England, and features interviews with some of the actors with whom they've worked, including Greta Scacchi, Helena Bonham Carter, and Hugh Grant.

You'll also find a BBC obituary (26m:23s) for E.M. Forester, broadcast just after his death in 1970; among those interviewed are literary critic Frank Kermode, and Forester's colleague, friend and fan, Christopher Isherwood. This show is particularly notable for featuring a clip from a late 1960s BBC production of Howards End, starring Glenda Jackson. Finally, there's a stills gallery, featuring on-set and behind-the-scenes snapshots. All in all, small beer, considering the potential for a film of this repute.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A Room with a View remains the standard by which pictures of this sort are judged; it gets both the period and the emotions right in this Edwardian love story. It's never looked better on home video, and even if the extras lack a certain quality, it's an impressive DVD offering.


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