A Room with a View (1986)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
It's no small wonder why Ms. Helena Bonham-Carter is deemed the queen of
costume productions. Since her arrival with Lady Jane in the early
eighties, she has progressed through a number of novel dramatizations from
Howards End to Hamlet, Frankenstein
and Wings of the Dove. A Room With a View is yet another period
film, this one set somewhere in the early nineteen hundreds, and Helena
plays the heroine with a shy but secure authority, deeming her place in the
film halls of fame with both elegance and favor.
Unfortunately, the film wanders through a field of wheat in search of a hidden
treasure that never is found. The story opens with Helena and her aunt
Charlotte (played well enough by Maggie Smith to win an Oscar nomination), a
nervous, fidgety, mousy older woman who is ever-apologizing and altogether
irritating and yet somehow likable. The pair of them are holiday abroad in
Italy; Charlotte as chaperone. They have been promised "rooms with a view"
but instead placed at the back of the hotel with "no view at all." Lucy
isn't terribly perturbed, but Charlotte is up in arms. Over dinner, upon
hearing that they have no view of the city, fellow travelers Mr. Emerson and
his son George offer to switch compartments with them. Urged by Lucy to
accept, Charlotte agrees and the women settle well in with the company.
Among the group of tourists are two eccentric older women, one vivacious and
often insane authoress, two precocious pastors, and George Emerson
himself... who seems a bit "bubble off plumb." He forms a question mark with
his mashed potatoes and flashes it at Lucy; the same mark is on the back of
a painting in his room.
He behaves peculiarly toward Lucy, and she
unknowingly walks directly into trouble by coming
across him alone one afternoon. George suddenly
forgoes all common sense and sweeps her into his
arms to give her a passionate kiss in the coming
twilight. Lucy wouldn't have minded so very much had
not Charlotte happened by. Believing her niece's
honor to be compromised, she demands that they
return home immediately and forget all about the
Emersons. Fate has a way of turning the tables, and
George is set to reappear... when Lucy's engagement
to the laid-back, bookish Cecil Vyce is at last
announced. She cannot forget that one passionate
exchange between them, nor fault it merely to
chance. But what she must do is brave the scorn and
shock of her relatives and find out the truth of
whether or not she truly loves the man she is
destined to marry. In the role, Helena is
perfection, just the right blend if innocence and
worldly knowledge combined. Daniel Day-Lewis is
hilariously serious, and Simon Callow portrays the
town clergy with good humor and vice --
quite a change from his later role as the sinister
Count Fosco in yet another "bodice-ripper,"
The Woman in White.
With the beautiful costuming, one almost forgets what the film truly is --
a wandering child in the wood. It knows not where it wants to be; it
attempts to be a frivolous and humorous film much like An Ideal Husband,
but where the latter succeeded and the former does not remains in the
dialogue itself and the fact that Ideal was headed toward a climax.
There is no true climax to A Room With a View; indeed, it almost
comes across as being silly in its own absurdity for details. It's
completely worthless; there is no lesson learned, no change in the
characters, and the romance is almost nonexistent, as if George just woke up
one morning and realized he was passionately in love with Lucy. The single
person in the cast who gives almost nonstop laughs is Maggie Smith herself,
whether she be wailing over a forbidden kiss or pleading with her sister to
"allow her" to hand over the scissors. The mystery itself lies in the film's
ratings, for the PG is undeserved. A PG13 or R would have been far more
appropriate -- and if the film had been made in the nineties, I
fully believe it would have received one.
While there is no sexuality nor any excessively language (no language at all,
come to think of it), there is an uncomfortable amount of male nudity, both
in art and real life. There are some nasty close-ups of Italian statues in
the nude; the opening credits play against an ornate painted backdrop where
upper female nudity is seen. One scene meant to be played as humorous but is
in reality extremely offensive is when Lucy's brother George and the local
reverend go skinny dipping. They all three strip and cavort, leaving nothing
to the imagination. (Luckily I had been forewarned of the scene and stuffed
a pillow over the lower three-quarters of the screen so as not to be
unpleasantly given an eyeful. However, I could see enough upper body to know
that the film is explicit.) The scene is also not momentary; it lingers for
an uncomfortably long time and by ordinary standards would have easily
earned Room with an R-rating, which is truly too bad. Otherwise the
film is largely without problems... if you can overlook the ending scene,
which is of George and Lucy kissing passionately; his lips and hands wander
to her breast.
Thus said, I cannot and wouldn't encourage anyone to dash out and rent it. The
price is far too high to pay for two hours of only partially-humorous wit
and dazzling costuming. Perhaps if the edited version ever shows on your
local station or you can bum one off a friend, it's worth a whirl. But left
as it is, A Room With a View is a seriously misleading production.
Don't let the low rating fool you.