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.