Classic texts endure in part, I suspect, because their adaptations to stage, screen and film provide a training ground for young actors, and they’re also easier to finance and sell (i.e., a known commodity) than some original script by an author who may or may not be heard of. So it’s a cycle of production and re-exhibition, all of which in turn reinforces the original book or play’s elevated status. All of this and more came to mind while watching this very so-so 2007 Masterpiece Theater version of E.M. Forster’s classic love story A Room with a View, directed by Nicholas Renton.
Opening in Florence, Italy in 1912, A Room with a View centers around Lucy Honeychurch (Elaine Cassidy), a young woman who is eager for adventure but finds herself stuck in a safe haven of English tourists, spinsters and clergymen. After she makes the acquaintance of socialist Mr. Emerson (Timothy Spall, most recently of Enchanted) and his son George (Hot Fuzz‘s Rafe Spall, Timothy’s real-life son), she finds herself intrigued. Sparks fly between Lucy and George, but Lucy does her best to ignore them. After an astute observer purposefully mistranslates her request for “the good men” (clergymen) and sends her into the arms of “a good man,” Lucy receives a passionate kiss from George in the middle of a field of poppies. Both profoundly shocked and excited, Lucy is whisked away to Rome by her concerned chaperone before much else can come of this situation.
It’s there that Lucy meets the most suitable Cecil Vyse (Inspector Lewis‘ Laurence Fox), a staid and proper chap whom Lucy’s brother Freddy (Tag Stewart) derides as a straight arrow, and not someone with whom he can “muck in or muck about.” Cecil courts Lucy with high-falutin’ language and labyrinthine compliments, calling her not straightforward beautiful, but possessing of a beauty that is “the embodiment of eternal female mystery.” Meanwhile, back in England, George reappears just as Lucy is on the brink of marriage to Cecil; determined to sop the marriage, he declares his love for her. How will Lucy choose between them? Or is she destined for a life of spinsterhood?
Cassidy makes for a fairly appealing Lucy — she seems tremulous and excited at the same time, which is at the core of Lucy’s being. The rest of the acting is fairly solid too, though the movie is howlingly over-scored, with dubious compositions drowning out the dialogue in many a scene — dialogue that is frequently poorly dubbed, it must be said. It’s also a bit silly that the bare buttocks of men (George and Freddy go swimming in a creek in one scene) are blurred out in a couple wide shots; either shoot around it or not, but don’t stoop to this ridiculous level of editorial censorship. Overall, though, while the story certainly carries its own weight, director Renton does little to shape the material in a favorable light. He just points, shoots and relies on curious insert shots to save him on various edits. Thumbs down on the construction and arrangement, then.
Housed in a regular Amray case, this production of A Room with a View is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen, and divided into eight chapters. As with most other WGBH releases there are no on-disc special features, which is a shame since the closing credits indicate the existence, on the PBS web site, of an interview with Emmy-winning classic adaptation specialist Andrew Davies, who wrote the screenplay here. To order A Room with a View or any release from WGBH, phone (800) 949-8670 or visit their web by clicking here. C+ (Movie) D+ (Disc)