Affectionately based on E.M. Forster's tenderly astute novel of classicist hypocrisies, Merchant/Ivory's A Room With A View (1985) was a breakthrough production for producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory. Their intuitive perceptions and sumptuous production values, coupled with reoccurring critiques of the former British aristocratic decadence have since influenced Hollywood's historical film output, particularly from the mid to latter 1990s. Until 1985, however, Merchant and Ivory were largely unknown quantities outside of Britain, as was most of the cast gathered together for this film.
Working closely with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Merchant/Ivory managed to remain faithful to Forster's poignant balance between character study and slight whimsy, producing a memorable excursion that brought such talents as Daniel Day Lewis and Helena Bonham-Carter to international attention.
The story concerns one Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham-Carter); a pragmatic young Miss eschewing the social rigidity of her upper middle class British upbringing while on a tour of Florence, Italy. Her free spirit is somewhat impeded by the presence of a spinster chaperon, Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith) whose prudery remains in full flourish, particularly towards Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliot) and his son George (Julian Sands). The Emersons represent a looming liberalism that is in danger of dismantling the caste system.
Ensconced in their hotel in Florence, the Reverend Arthur Beebe (Simon Callow) encourages patience as well as prudence, though Charlotte will have none of it - although she does enjoy indulging in vapid gossip put forth by fellow traveler and novelist, Eleanor Lavish (Judi Dench).
While on a carriage ride through the country, Lucy and George share a kiss and embrace - quite enough for Charlotte to whisk Lucy back to the relative safety of merry ol' England and right into the arms of Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis); a self appointed prig who represents a stifling leap backward into that primordial abyss of bygone and stalwart decorum.
Throughout the rest of the film's running time, Lucy will have the metal of her more free-thinking convictions regularly - and often hilariously - tested. As example; in one of the film's most memorable moments, Lucy, Cecil and Cecil's mother (Maria Britneva) are inadvertently witness to a ritual bath rather rapturously played out by Mr. Beebe, George and Lucy's brother, Freddie (Rupert Graves) in a public pond.
In all, A Room With A View is sparkling fresh and vivacious entertainment - beautifully scripted, exquisitely performed and fondly revisited. The stellar British cast is superb beyond measure with Bonham-Carter and Day-Lewis distinguishing themselves. Julian Sands also enjoyed brief international fame following his North American premiere in this film while Maggie Smith's waning popularity in American movies was resurrected for a new generation of film goers outside the U.K. in a serious of character parts in major Hollywood films.
Today, especially when directly compared to Merchant/Ivory's more lavishly appointed Howards End and The Remains of the Day, A Room With A View seems more quaintly dated and less engaging. Nevertheless, the film is fanciful and poignant and quite deserving of another glimmer of appreciation on Blu-Ray.
A Room With A View's Blu-Ray premiere is head and shoulders above its standard DVD release some three years ago, although not entirely without its flaws. While the previously issued standard DVD was released in handsome packaging from Warner Home Video, the Blu-Ray disc appears to be the sole property of Goldcrest Films (the British conglomerate who initially funded the project) and BBC Home Entertainment (who eventually acquired its rights).
Color fidelity and rendering of fine details are much improved on the Blu-Ray disc. The DVD greatly suffered from a softer image and digital 'combing'. The Blu-Ray presentation is without either flaw. The image is at times razor sharp. However, it must be noted that in the scene where George climbs a tree to declare his motto, the image on this Blu-Ray quite suddenly, briefly and inexplicably suffers from a severe bout of edge enhancement that renders the image momentarily a shimmering mess.
The audio on the Blu-Ray is the same 5.1 remastering effort found previously on the Warner release. Extras are also identical to those included on the standard DVD, with informative audio commentaries, a rather haplessly put together tribute to Forster and an all too brief glimpse at Merchant and Ivory as highlights. Bottom line: this disc is most definitely worthy of a repurchase. A Room With A View is poetic bliss. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)