(This is the preferred version to see or buy)
This adaptation of E.M. Forster’s pre-WW1 novel by the Merchant-Ivory-Prawer-Jhabvala team still stands up after all these years. This was my AA evening viewing this year; A Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Sleuth (1972) were the runners-up choices.
Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter’s best/fullest role-performance) is a young English woman who lies to everyone and herself about her love for passionate George Emerson (Julian Sands) whom she meets while in Italy on her tour with an uptight, priggish and prudish chaperone (expertly played by Maggie Smith). The main conflict is between the superficial, phony English prudes exemplified by the chaperone, a pompous English cleric-tour guide, and an English fop Cecil (played by Daniel Day-Lewis in a scene-stealing role the audience laughs at and later sympathizes with) and, in contrast, George, his wise, blunt, effusive father (played engagingly by Denholm Elliott whose character represents Forster’s feelings and message), the novelist (Judy Dench), and the lively English chaplain (humorously acted by Simon Callow).
What a beautiful-looking film with Italian locales and English country houses and villages! The movie, incidentally, won AAs, deservedly for Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, and Costume Design. The music by Richard Robbins is totally and accurately atmospheric. And there are many memorable scenes including those between Lucy and her immature brother (humorously played by Rupert Graves), the male nude swimming-hole scene, the Italian street-murder scene (reminiscent of Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet), all of Mr. Emerson’s scenes, and many more.
This is, overall, a warm, rich deceptively simple film that flows extremely smoothly like a good glass of wine (even with its conflicts and misunderstandings) to its predictable wish-fulfillment resolution. Unlike most movies these daze, this one hearkens back to a golden age of tasteful (British) film-making and is one of the top comedy of manners on film of all time.