Film/DVD: review

Maurice

Maurice
A Merchant/Ivory Production — directed by James Ivory, produced by Ismail Merchant
 
1987, UK/US — 140 minutes, color, aspect ratio 1.78:1 — Drama

A socially astute, beautifully-made, and moving drama about two young men who fall in love in Edwardian England, when such relationships could end in imprisonment

Review

ImageLike the landmark E.M. Forster novel on which it's based, the film Maurice (1987) is about a young man learning to accept his true nature, whatever the cost. It is both genuinely moving and romantic, a universal tale of self-discovery and love which appeals to many audiences. I know both straight and gay people who have wept openly watching, and re-watching, this beautifully-made and heartfelt picture. It is one of the finest from partners James Ivory (director) and Ismail Merchant (producer), who also made A Room With a View, Howards End (both of which are also based on novels by Forster), and The Remains of the Day. And although much more than a topical work, Maurice still offers insight into the complex nature of homophobia, which is key to understanding the same-sex issues which are so prominent today. The superb two-disc DVD edition (discussed below) features a gorgeous transfer of the film and a wealth of special features, with two documentaries, over 30 minutes of deleted scenes, including reconstructions of two extensive sequences which were completely cut from the released film, and more.

Maurice takes place amidst the smothering conformity of English society between 1910 and 1913. Upper-middle-class Maurice Hall (James Wilby – Howards End, Gosford Park) and aristocratic Clive Durham (Hugh Grant – Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) find themselves in love at Cambridge, at a time when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment. The two must keep their relationship secret, although the deeply-conflicted Clive refuses to allow them to progress beyond the stage of platonic love. After a friend "of the Oscar Wilde sort" is entrapped while trying to pick up a soldier, and sentenced to six months in prison with hard labor, Clive abandons his forbidden love, marries a naive young woman, and enters politics. Heartbroken and more tortured than ever, Maurice continues to struggle with questions of his true nature. He seeks help to "cure" himself of his homosexuality, first from the physician Dr. Barry (Denholm Elliott – Raiders of the Lost Ark, Trading Places), and then, in a desperate move, from the sympathetic hypnotist Dr. Lasker-Jones (Ben Kingsley – Gandhi, Schindler's List). But while staying with Clive and Anne, Maurice is seduced by the yearning, handsome gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves – A Room With a View, The Madness of King George). Their complicated relationship – which brings up issues of class, sexuality, and integrity – brings deep changes to Maurice's and Alec's lives.

Please note that this review contains "spoilers" about major plot points, including the ending, which are necessary in a discussion of the film.

Both the novel and film adaptation of Maurice hold a central, and beloved, place in gay culture, even as they have moved millions of people, of all sexual orientations, around the world. Although Forster wrote the book in 1913, he only allowed it to be published after his death in 1970 (he lived to the ripe age of 91). He had been justifiably concerned that the publication of an affirmative gay novel – which was unheard of in 1913 and almost-unheard-of 57 years later – would destroy his reputation, even though he was the author of such universally-admired masterpieces as Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924). When Merchant/Ivory came to film Maurice in 1987 – it had long had been planned as the centerpiece in their Forster triptych (begun in 1984 with A Room With a View and concluded in 1992 with Howards End) – homophobia was certainly still a problem, but the gay community also faced new crises. In discussing the film, James Ivory notes in a recently-filmed interview on the DVD that Maurice "was the first unapologetic homosexual film.... I think that was its appeal at that time. Also it came out when the whole AIDS crisis was getting worse and worse.... It had a wide following. It came as a kind of relief for people."

The popularity of the film extended far beyond gay audiences, then as now. I saw it twice on its initial release in New York City (at the Paris Cinema), both times playing to sold-out crowds, with as many women as men in attendance at this very male love story. Some of the most amusing cast anecdotes, from the documentaries on the DVD, include James Wilby's memory of receiving "thousands of letters from Japanese schoolgirls. And Hugh Grant says the same."

Of course, the positive portrayal of gay identity in Maurice was also enormously important to people then, and continues to be so. In the DVD documentary, actor Rupert Graves has a moving reminiscence: "People thought I was gay. I got an extraordinary number of letters... very honest letters from people who'd been through an awful lot of pain and torment." He, James Wilby and Hugh Grant all recall being moved by learning of the film's healing effect on gay viewers.

Maurice's appeal remains very strong today, as seen by its number one position at a major online retailer's DVD best-sellers list in early March 2004 (as I'm writing this review). I believe that the qualities which account for the film's popularity also reflect its excellence and importance.

First, there is Forster's resonant story. (If you like, here are resources for gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender (GLBT) literature; here is more on GLBT cinema.) Although Maurice is profoundly concerned with gay experience, and is set in a very specific milieu (Edwardian England), the scope of its themes and the richness of its emotions are universal.

Holding everything together is a clear and effective dramatic structure, common to both novel and film. In the first half, we have Maurice and Clive with their idealized, yet self-torturing, platonic conception of same-sex love. The second half finds Maurice discovering not only his own sexuality but, more subtly, the deeper connections, both with another man and with himself, which come from love. Part of Maurice's effectiveness springs from its sharp focus on the title character, as well as its affection for this gay everyman who, rather than being some paragon of virtue and intellect, has what Forster affectionately called a "suburban soul." We connect with Maurice so deeply because we see every step of his growth, whether confused, painful or just plain silly. Although the film runs two hours and twenty minutes, it seems exactly the right length, in part because it takes the time to show us, step by painful but revealing step, Maurice's evolution. Merchant/Ivory consistently move the narrative forward inexorably yet gracefully, allowing us to intuit the expository moments which less imaginative filmmakers would spell out. (Below I will discuss how the precise editing also helps sustain the picture's momentum.)

ImageThis is a good time to note the uniformly superb ensemble cast assembled by Merchant/Ivory; it is no coincidence that in a rare move the best actor award at the 1987 Venice Film Festival went to both James Wilby and Hugh Grant (with James Ivory winning best director). Every performance in the film is both outstanding yet subtle. The only performance with which I had a bit of trouble, the first couple of times I saw the film, was Rupert Graves as Alec. He seemed a little too dashing for the earthiness required of an undergamekeeper; but upon reseeing the film, the genuine feral quality of his performance made it seem as inspired as any in the cast. (Speaking of Alec, some people have mistakenly accused Forster of lifting the character from D.H. Lawrence's 1928 novel, Lady Chatterly's Lover; but in fact, Lawrence read Maurice in typescript before writing his book and admitted to having borrowed Forster's character when creating his sexually-liberating gamekeeper, Mellors.) Also, a few of the characters come off as caricatures satirizing the worst, and silliest, excesses of their (upper) classes. I'm thinking of the ultra-arrogant Archie and the pear-shaped Reverend Borenius who takes a suspiciously great interest in speculating about Alec's dalliances (he believes with women). Of course, most of the other minor characters – like the dim-witted but pleasant Chapman (whom Maurice knew at Cambridge and who marries one of his sisters) – strike exactly the right note between authenticity and thematic necessity (Chapman representing the men of his class who are 'jolly good' and yet who unthinkingly allow the machinery of bigotry). Those performances can, of course, be attributed to the performers' talents, as well as James Ivory's typically skilled and inspired direction.

The cast also has an exceptional screenplay to work with, co-written by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey. As the latter points out in a DVD documentary, he came to write the screenplay with Ivory – while sitting around the cozy kitchen table in Merchant/Ivory's home in upstate New York – since their usual screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was finishing a novel. (She has written over 20 of Merchant/Ivory's films, and won many awards in the process, including Oscars for both A Room With a View and Howards End.) As Hesketh-Harvey readily admitted, "most of the dialogue we lifted right from Forster." And like the best film dialogue, it is concise, expressive yet natural. It ranges from piercing one-liners, like Dr. Lasker-Jones's (played by Ben Kingsley) unforgettable "England has always been disinclined to accept human nature," to the very different idioms of characters from the upper-most crust (Clive) to the middle class (Maurice) to the servants (Alec).

Although literary opinion varies considerably on Forster's novel (I think it's first-rate – tautly-written with an intriguing counterpoint between the clarity of the action and a somewhat cryptic narrator – as good as, say, A Room With a View, and only a couple of notches below the astonishing achievements of Howards End and A Passage to India), almost everyone – including Forster himself – sees the gaping plot hole in the middle. We must ask, why does Clive suddenly renounce his love for Maurice? Obviously, they live in a world suffused with homophobia. But in a fictional work that is not sufficient to explain Clive's profound, and all-too-rapid, transformation. In one respect, the screenwriters of Maurice have improved on the original (much as, from a dramatic standpoint, Forster "improved" on Melville when he wrote the libretto for Benjamin Britten's superb opera of Billy Budd... but I digress).

Hesketh-Harvey and Ivory greatly expand Forster's minor character of Viscount Risley, Clive and Maurice's friend at Cambridge. Risley now takes on not only emotional and thematic weight but dramatizes – for viewers not up on gay history – the persecution to which men "of his type" could be subjected: disgrace, prison, and total ostracism. With his epigrams and impeccable style, Risley is an homage to the great gay martyr of the age, and one of literature's titans, Oscar Wilde, whose imprisonment for "sodomy" sent a chill among gay Britons for decades.

Through Mark Tandy's brilliantly-shaded performance, Risley emerges not just as an acid-tongued fop but as a complex, fascinating man, who tries to live his (subversive to some) ideals – until he is entrapped and hauled off to jail. Merchant/Ivory convey volumes about the ingrained nature, and consequences, of homophobia in the brief scene where the judge announces that he will be "lenient" in his sentence, since he points out that Risley has lost his future in politics as well as his social standing. "For the attempted corruption of his social inferior" – although Risley was clearly caught in a sting operation – the judge sentences Risley to "six months in prison with hard labor." (One of the highlights on the DVD is the extensive sequence, which was entirely cut from the film, showing Risley's fate after his conviction; personally I think Merchant/Ivory made exactly the right choice with how they ended Risley's story in the released film – but you'll want to see the other form it might have taken.)

ImageDramatically, Clive's horror over Risley's fall is exactly what the story needed to clarify his motivation, moving from Clive's polite (and understandably craven) refusal to appear in Risley's defense, to his trying to hide behind an upraised hat at the trial, to his fainting at a dinner party followed by a swift departure to, of all places, Greece (ancient home of the idealization of homosexual love).

Through Clive's desperate retrenchment, Maurice is forced into isolation, which it turns out is both frustrating, as his unrequited passions continue unabated ("What's to become of me?," he weeps to Clive), and very gradually self-empowering.

Maurice's moustache is a wonderfully droll metaphor, taken from Forster, of his painful progress from conformity (moustache grown for his role as a proper young stockbroker) to increasing independence (when he begins questioning society's dictates, it vanishes). Although Clive's fall into a proscribed life is the opposite of Maurice's, his moustache serves as a similarly witty index of his emotional state.

ImageIn fact, throughout the film there is a rich vein of humor, which grows naturally out of character and the situations at hand, from sight gags like Maurice rolling Clive up in a rug at Cambridge to Maurice's creepily funny vision, under hypnosis, of his life married to a woman as they drift in a coffin-like boat under the superimposed figure of Dr. Lasker-Jones. And for Merchant/Ivory fans (you know who you are), there is a delightful cameo with Helena Bonham-Carter (star of A Room With a View) ogling Alec at The Big Cricket Match ("I see what you mean," she tells her woman friend. "With a haircut...").

Another of Maurice's strengths is that it shows how increased self-understanding can lead to an increasing understanding of what makes society tick, including its nastiest contradictions (women are supposedly prized yet men who act at all like them are beaten and thrown in prison). This is one of the few films I know which succeeds at making such an analytical process work dramatically. It does so because the political is explored through one character – Maurice – who is resolutely depicted as a flesh and blood man. No plaster (gay) saint, we see – and can relate to – his realness because it encompases such a broad range, from smug and insufferable to honorable and caring. At Cambridge, we see Maurice slowly begin to question the tenets of his religion, moving from shock at Risley's remark, at a dean's tea, about "superstitious clouds of Christian self-righteousness," to an admission before Clive and Risley that although he can't prove doctrine it still "means a lot to millions of people," to his later pronouncement to his mother and sisters, with all of the pomposity befitting The Man Of The House (his father is dead and he is the only male Hall), that he no longer believes in Christianity.

Maurice learns a different lesson from literature, when after falling in love with Clive he begins to see the hypocrisy in an elite curriculum based on ancient Greek classics but which silences the same-sex love which formed their basis (Dean Cornwallis tells a student translating Plato, "You may omit the reference to the unspeakable vice of the Greeks."). This is also the beginning of Maurice's increasingly nuanced, although never articulated as eloquently as say an E.M. Forster, understanding of the complex nature of homophobia.

Later, Maurice is made forcefully aware of the rigidity of gender roles in his society. When he wants nothing more than to lovingly tend to the fainted Clive (after Risley's trial), the pompous doctor sneers, "We'll have you wheeling the baby next." Maurice backs off, sheepishly agreeing with the newly-heterosexualized Clive that a female nurse would be "more amusing."

Maurice's deepest revelations about not only his own sexual nature but the extent of social hypocrisy comes through his love for the man society would brand as his "inferior," the gamekeeper Alec. In arguably the most powerful, and subtle, scenes in the film, we see Maurice come to experience not only his deepest connection with another human being but achieve a visceral understanding of how society oppresses him not only through his sexual orientation but through the arbitrary bestowing of social status. Maurice, and we, see just how personal the political can be. In the best dramatic, and human, fashion, all of his revelations – both expressed and intuited – come together in his final scene with Alec. I will never forget the audible sobbing from a majority of the audiences at the two screenings I attended in New York in 1987.

ImageI think another source of Maurice's power – and why it continues to resonate so deeply with so many people – comes from the story's mythic underpinnings, which would have been almost second-nature to a classicist like Forster. Maurice's journey follows the outlines of the most fundamental Western myth, as Joseph Campbell describes it in his classic study, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. (After George Lucas admitted that he structured Star Wars on Campbell's template, the book has remained a bestseller among Hollywood filmmakers, among many others). We meet our hero in his ordinary world, where he receives "the call to adventure" (in Maurice's case, his true sexual nature). He is reluctant at first, but eventually crosses the threshold (coming out to himself, and then to Clive). At the climax of his adventure, he "at last reaches the innermost cave" (Maurice's intensely painful isolation after Clive deserts him), and then must confront "the supreme ordeal" (for Maurice, that is accepting – and reveling in – his own, and Alec's, sexual nature). He then is "pursued by terrible forces on the road back home" (namely, a society which can take his job, his status, even his freedom – not to mention his lover Alec). But from this darkest point, he is "resurrected and transformed by this experience" (not only of being gay, but of accepting and being proud of who he is, and of being able to love another man fully). Forster would add, albeit only after his death, that Maurice and Maurice could also "return home with a ... boon ... to benefit the world," namely, a celebration of honesty through same-sex love, and a call to freedom – which still resonates today: imagine how blissful Forster would be at the movement for same-sex marriages. (Before leaving this mythic strand, let me note that the oldest surviving work of literature, written over four thousand years ago, is the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which a king risks his life to bring his dead male lover back from the underworld. Perhaps some viewers were briefly reminded of this by the ancient Assyrian bas-reliefs – including the five-legged bull – which Maurice and Alec see in the funny and moving British Museum scene with Maurice's old headmaster, Mr. Ducie (played by Simon Callow) – so maybe this parenthetical isn't a total digression.)

Whether or not you choose to consider Maurice in mythic terms (I realize that that might seem a stretch for some people), it is a very effectively-structured romantic drama. Of course, it's no coincidence that mythic form and dramatic construction (exposition, rising action, plots twists, climax, and resolution) have so much in common, whether its Theseus, Maurice, or Luke – or Annakin – Skywalker. (For more information on this topic, see the section on dramatic structure in my A Basic Guide to Film.)

ImageMaurice is an exceptional film for many reasons beyond its dramatic construction. Visually, Merchant/Ivory bring this distant – yet recognizable – world fully to life through precise set and costume design. There are countless beautiful, even sensual, details of the period, always reflecting the social stratum in which we find ourselves, from the halls of Cambridge (this was the first film ever given permission to shoot there) to the Halls' suburban home to the splendors of the Durhams's Pendersleigh Park (called Penge in the novel) to the Greek ruins where Clive wanders in his "muddle" to the huge sailing ship which Alec is supposed to take to South America. To the great credit of Ismail Merchant, who produced this lavish film on a modest budget, it almost always feels like we are in a real, lived-in world rather than a manufactured movie.

ImageThe film is beautifully photographed by Pierre Lhomme (whose extensive credits include Jean Eustache's La Maman et la putain and three other Merchant/Ivory films, Quartet, Jefferson in Paris, and 2003's Le Divorce). To complement the drama, he uses a dark, earthy palette and a richly-saturated look, together with evocative compositions and camera movements. In scene after scene, Maurice strikes an effective balance between naturalism and symbolic shadings. For instance, Cambridge is shown as simultaneously solid, imposing yet beautiful and at the same time dark, shadowy, and oppressive. Those same qualities are emphasized in other locations associated with the ruling class, from the courtroom to the concert hall to almost all of the intimate settings, dining rooms to bedrooms. By contrast, the outdoor scenes show a world of vivid colors, from the luminous green of lawns to the dazzling array of flowers to the ripe beauty of autumn foliage. We see the extent of nature's reach in a witty moment: even in the Durhams's prissily elegant drawing room, the ceiling leaks.

The film's rich images, and emotions, are made even more powerful by Richard Robbins's shimmering score, which has long been one of my favorites for any film. Robbins, who composed the music for many Merchant/Ivory pictures, here uses a large orchestra, emphasizing woodwinds and percussion – and on special occasions a booming cathedral organ. At times he very effectively contrasts the orchestra with synthesizer-based cues. To take just one example, the music under the opening credits (with Maurice as a young boy in his school outing at the shore, under the watchful eye of Mr. Ducie) perfectly sets up not only the emotional tone of the film but even Maurice's psychological nature. Robbins's music here is passionate yet swirling round in circles, trapped but yearning – and genuinely mysterious. He also knows when to let other musical voices speak, including Tchaikovsky's (his Sixth Symphony tinkling out of a pianola at Cambridge) and, to enormous effect, Allegri's Miserere (its text, in Anglican use, drawn from the sin-haunted Psalm 51: "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity").

The use of sound is at times poetic and inspired, such as the tense effect of contrasting Maurice and Clive's budding love, alone in their college room, with the sound of a shrilly creaking wicker chair. My favorite use of sound is the aural "match cut" made by the crackling of Alec's "blackmail" note Dr. Lasker-Jones's fireplace to the strangely identical sound made by the coins which Alec puts down on the counter of the train station where he will buy a ticket to see Maurice. (In yet another small but dead-on stroke of characterization, we see Alec honestly paying for the ticket – but hoping that he can save the money by not having to hand it over to the conductor.) The more you see the film, the more wonderful small yet inspired moments like this you will find.

In addition to music and sound, Merchant/Ivory use editorial rhythms to vivid but subtle effect. In fact, their editing provides a clear refutation to the ill-informed claim that "Oh, they just make Masterpiece Theatre-type movies." No, they don't; they are exceptional filmmakers (and Howards End and The Remains of the Day are two of the greatest films of the last 25 years) who know how to use to expressive effect the full range of cinema. Notice the momentum, achieved through precise – yet surprising – editing, which gives the film its rhythmic edge. Merchant/Ivory purposefully, and brilliantly, cut just a moment before the meaning of a shot gels, allowing us intuitively to grasp the point of that scene even as the next one is beginning. I find those ever-so-slight overlaps very involving, and they help keep the film fresh each time I see it.

ImageAs someone who has studied both literature (undergraduate) and filmmaking (graduate), I am especially interested in the connections between fiction and film – the qualities which the two media share as well as what's peculiar to each one. The example I often use comes from a brief scene in this film (DVD Chapter 9), when Clive first shows Maurice the Blue Room at his family estate ("We're up this staircase by ourselves. It's as much like college as I could manage."), and a housemaid appears carrying a jug of water. Here are the three relevant sentences in Forster, from near the beginning of Chapter 16:

"There was a knock on the passage door. Maurice started, but Clive though still sitting on his shoulder said, "Come in!" indifferently. A housemaid entered with hot water."

Forster never bothers to mention the obvious fact that the maid has to leave; although Merchant/Ivory include this exchange. The maid asks shyly, "Would there be anything else, sir?" Clive says, "No, thank you, Minnie. That will be all." (Merchant/Ivory give her a name but do not list the actress, of this small role, in the credits.) Some of the other dialogue from the novel is rearranged in the film, but the two moments are essentially the same. For me, this scene represents the essence of why comparing fiction and film can be such a rich experience. Here's why.

Look at the resonance which Merchant/Ivory bring to the original text. Those two sentences in Forster are now seen through a triple or quadruple perspective: the two men's, Minnie's, and ours. We understand the scene from Maurice's point of view: he's afraid that he and Clive have been found out. Clive is so dismissive of his family servant that his class-perspective renders her invisible; he even tells Maurice that "We're by ourselves" when Minnie is right there. The scene also encompasses Minnie's unique, and complex, view: she turns her eyes away from the men, nervously privy to their privacy, but we know that she knows what is going on. Visually, there is yet another layer of complexity, and beauty, in that, a la Vermeer, Minnie is posed with a jug (as in one of the Flemish master's best-known works) and suffused with gorgeous Vermeer-like lighting streaming in through the window. She is also the dynamic focus of the scene, as the camera pans with her to the window, then back. By contrast, the two men – in the dingy room – are covered in shadows, huddled on the bed. Merchant/Ivory are exposing layers of social reality with this little scene, since it reminds us that servants were both the underclass and yet, in a way, held the possibility of "mastering" their masters if they decided to "squeal" on impropriety and bring down a family (ignore their power at your peril).

Minnie also reminds us of one of the film's most important motifs: the many servant figures who appear throughout the film, always surreptitiously watching the actions of their "betters." This motif begins early on, with the elderly male servant at Cambridge scrubbing the staircase (Clive passes him after his aborted embrace with Maurice, cut short when roommates entered from a cricket victory) – but we know that he knows what was going on in Maurice's room. The most prominent servant is, of course, the Durhams's head butler, Simcox. In the scene where Simcox, dressing Clive, asks his young master if he didn't know (the now-disgraced) Risley at Cambridge, you can see the terror he strikes in Clive, who orders him to never mention that subject again. In such a rigid, stratified – and brittle – society, it does not take much to topple the house of cards. With this motif, and many others, we can see how Merchant/Ivory have made so much – visually, dramatically, thematically, emotionally – from so (seemingly) little as a glance, a slight turn of the head, a cocked ear.

In closing, I'd like to look at one more reason why I believe Maurice has such wide and deep appeal: its special romanticism.

Although proudly a gay work, who could not be moved by Maurice's heartfelt question to Alec – which bridges class, education, and on a human level even sexual orientation – "Did you ever dream you could have a friend, someone to last your whole life?"

When Maurice and Alec finally come together, after all their tribulations (caused by both society and themselves), we feel as an audience that they have truly earned the right to love. Their connection is even more moving because of the enormous forces stacked against them, in the form of social oppression so severe that not only does it not want them to join together, it wants to keep each of them "in the closet" – unaware of their own intrinsic nature. When Maurice and Alec triumph over such pervasive adversity, we have seen and felt all that they were up against: class differences, the law, religion, and a society too frightened and cynical to confront its own prejudices.

ImageThe ending of Maurice also works because we see the stark contrast to Maurice and Alec's happiness in the perfunctory marriage of Clive and Anne. Clive's is the road Maurice almost forced himself to take (through hypnosis, no less), with his fears of social reprisal. We know that Clive may well go on to financial and even political success; and Anne seems like a nice woman, even if she is a bit chirpy and unreflective. But Maurice and Alec have at last achieved something special together.

And there is now a wonderful, almost telepathic – and profoundly romantic – connnection between the two men. Maurice intuitively knew where to meet Alec (the boat house) even though he never got Alec's note: just imagine how differently things might have turned out for, say, Romeo and Juliet if those "star-cross'd lovers" had been as attuned to each other as these two men.

This resolution is also so powerful because they each make a supreme sacrifice, take major leaps of (romantic) faith: Maurice actually does "chuck it all" for love, and so does Alec, forgoing a fresh start in Argentina to be with the man he loves. And the narrative is also left open in a satisfying yet provocative way. (Happily, Forster discarded his original epilogue, described in his Terminal Note to the manuscript as "Kitty encountering two woodcutters some years later;" he then goes on to say that this scene "gave universal dissatisfaction. Epilogues are for Tolstoy.")

ImageOn the one hand, the ending shows us the fulfillment of Maurice's painful yet essential journey of growth towards self-understanding, self-acceptance, and the sharing of love and passion with another. The spirit, the flesh, and even the mind, have at last come together. But Maurice's final moments are also wonderfully, vitally open: Maurice and Alec take their first steps together into a larger world (although unlike Forster, writing in 1913, we know that World War I looms just one year away). Another of Maurice's pleasures is that it that allows, almost demands, that each of us imagine our own "sequel." For the romantically-disinclined, several reasons can be whipped up for the dissolution of their bond. But for those of us with faith in Maurice and Alec's union, we can speculate, Did they fight in the War? Were they together, or separated – perhaps by reasons of class? Was their love found out; and if so how did they escape from the inevitable stockade? And if we believe that they both survived the War, where did they go afterwards? Did they remain in England, or try the Continent; or did they emigrate to a distant land to begin a new, more open life, say in the Australian outback or the U.S.'s "wild west" or somewhere remote South America? What do you think happened to them? The questions are as tantalizing as they are provocative; each person who comes to Maurice will, of course, imagine their own continuation.

What's in a name? As we see at various points, how you address someone in this stratified society matters enormously: Scudder is how you call a servant, Mr. Scudder is a respectable fellow, and Alec is what you whisper to the man who love. But watching the film (and re-reading the novel) this time I also began thinking about Maurice's surname – Hall – and how perfectly it fits his character. A hall can be many different things: a narrow passageway, or an expansive room, even a magnificent home. With Maurice, we saw this extraordinarily ordinary young man progressively embody each of those three meanings, as he lead himself from the straight and narrow, into a place of openness and possibility, together with the man he loves and with whom, we hope, he creates a lasting home.

It is no wonder that such a heartfelt, resonant tale continues to appeal to people, who can be moved by this universal celebration of self-discovery, integrity and love.

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Crew

  • Directed by James Ivory
  • Produced by Ismail Merchant
  • Written by Kit Hesketh-Harvey ans James Ivory
  • Cinematography by Pierre Lhomme
  • Edited by Katherine Wenning
  • Production Design by Brian Ackland-Snow
  • Art Direction by Peter James & Brian Savegar
  • Costume Design by Jenny Beavan & John Bright
  • Original Music by Richard Robbins
  • Non-original Music:
    • Gregorio Allegri – from Miserere (Psalm 51)
    • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – from Symphony No. 6

Cast

  • James Wilby as Maurice Hall
  • Hugh Grant as Clive Durham
  • Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder
  • Denholm Elliott as Dr. Barry
  • Simon Callow as Mr. Ducie
  • Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Hall
  • Barry Foster as Dean Cornwallis
  • Judy Parfitt as Mrs. Durham
  • Phoebe Nicholls as Anne Durham
  • Patrick Godfrey as Simcox
  • Mark Tandy as Risley
  • Ben Kingsley as Dr. Lasker-Jones
  • Kitty Aldridge as Kitty Hall
  • Helena Michell as Ada Hall
  • Catherine Rabett as Pippa Durham
  • Peter Eyre as Rev. Borenius
  • Michael Jenn as Archie
  • Mark Payton as Chapman
  • Orlando Wells as Young Maurice
  • Philip Fox as Dr. Jowitt
  • Olwen Griffiths as Mrs. Scudder
  • Chris Hunter as Fred Scudder
  • Alan Whybrow as Mr. Scudder
  • Breffni McKenna as the Guardsman
    and
  • Helena Bonham Carter (uncredited) as the Lady at the Cricket Match

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DVD

The special two-DVD set of Maurice from Merchant Ivory Productions, Home Vision Entertainment and the Criterion Collection is superb in every way, from the pristine transfer to the wealth of supplements included on the second disc, which are described below. If I had to single out one special feature as a favorite, it would be the reconstruction of the extensive sequence of Maurice falling in love with Dr. Barry's nephew Dickie, which played a small but crucial part in Forster's novel. This sequence was cut in its entirety for reasons of length. But as James Ivory remarks in his commentary on the DVD, he was so impressed with the actor Adrian Ross Magenty who played Dickie that, five years later, he cast him in Howards End as Tibby Schlegel.

DVD Details

Reviewed March 6, 2004

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