A Room with a View (1985), with Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis: Movie Review

by Mira

Daniel Day-Lewis’s first great film. Also Helena Bonham Carter’s, who was 19 at the time. Great cast, and superb writing and performances. Some spoilers included.

I have watched A Room with a View three times now, the last time with the commentary track on. I saw new things every single time. What impressed me the most the second and third times was Helena Bonham Carter’s nuanced acting, with its various degrees of intensity and spot-on reactions, and the quality of the writing. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote the screenplay. It’s based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same title. In 1987, she won an Oscar for Best Writing for an adapted screenplay for her work in A Room with a View. She also adapted other novels by E.M. Forster, and won another Oscar in 1993 for Howards End (1992). She won many other awards for her writing as well.

So Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is certainly a star in this production.

I should also mention that this is an Merchant Ivory production, with James Ivory as Director and Ismail Merchant as producer. They have done great films together and it’s to their credit that they assembled the great cast of A Room with a View. Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis had each done only one other film prior to being selected for this one. And what a great job they did!

A Room with a View won 3 Oscars in 1987:
-- Best Art Direction & Set Decoration
-- Best Costume Design
-- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

After three viewings, this film has become one of my favorites ever.

A Room with a View (On-Demand Video)

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So What Is This Movie About?

First and foremost, it’s a comedy of manners set in the Edwardian era (1908). It presents the middle class of this period brilliantly, with its values, mores, and attitudes. It also offers a glimpse at middle-class and aristocratic holdovers from the Victorian era.

Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham Carter) is a well-bred upper-middle-class girl who takes a trip to Italy to round up her education. Her chaperone is an older cousin of hers, Miss Charlotte Bartlett (played by Maggie Smith, who is wonderful, as always). In Italy the two women meet the Emersons, a father and son who are much less bothered with social convention than young Lucy and her spinster chaperone.

The dialogues and situations are magnificent in rendering the class difference. Both the Honeychurches and the Emersons are middle-class, but the women are upper middle-class, Lucy’s father having been a solicitor, while Mr. Emerson the father (played by Denholm Elliott) is a retired journalist. George Emerson, the son (Julian Sands), is a freethinker, with no regard for proper, conventional social behavior. His father says about him that he can’t “stop him from brooding.” Despite this characterization, which may come from the nature of E.M. Forster himself, George Emerson embraces life with a passion. In Italy, he spends some time alone with Lucy, and in one of their encounters he kisses her – without asking for her permission.

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Back in England, Lucy gets engaged to Cecil Vyse (played by Daniel Day-Lewis). Cecil is a pompous prig, "the sort who can't know anyone intimately, least of all a woman”, as George tells Lucy. I haven’t read the book but through Daniel Day Lewis’s acting and the dialogues and situations in the script, he doesn’t come off as a repulsive type. More like someone who is lost in a world that is changing very fast. He represents a man who allows himself to be constrained and defined by Victorian aristocratic ideals and ideas to the point of failing to ever get to develop meaningful relationships with other people. In the end, however, E.M. Forster's and Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal of the character lead us to sympathize with Cecil's plight.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), with Daniel Day-Lewis

Per Catana's and Jo's Recommendations (See Comments)

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Lucy, on the other hand, grows as a person. Watch Helena Bonham Carter’s acting closely and you’ll see the seeds of her rebelliousness early on, in Italy, when she reacts to Miss Bartlett’s treatment of the Emersons, who at one point tried to be kind but presented their offer which Miss Bartlett considered to be socially acceptable; you will also see the rebel in Lucy when you hear her play Beethoven (and yes, Helena actually learned to play the piano -- and a Beethoven sonata and Schubert piece, no less -- prior to shooting the movie, and, as I learned from the audio commentary on the Region 2 DVD I watched, music critics appreciated her talent); and you will also her playful spirit when she passes by George, her brother Freddie (Rupert Graves), and Mr. Beebe the vicar (Simon Callow) having a naked romp in and around the Sacred Lake.

I will let you discover the details of A Room with a View on your own. They are many, and they’re all meaningful in the context of the social commentary the film presents.

If you want to read E.M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View, do note that you can do so online for free at Project Gutenberg. Here it is.

Some Quotes from the Movie A Room with a View

(There Are Many More Great Ones)

Lucy Honeychurch: Mother doesn't like me playing Beethoven. She says I'm always peevish afterwards.
Reverend Beebe: Naturally one would be . . . stirred up.

Reverend Beebe: If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting -- both for us and for her.

George Emerson: My father says there is only one perfect view, and that's the view of the sky over our heads.
Cecil Vyse: I expect your father has been reading Dante.

Charlotte Bartlett: I shall never forgive myself.
Lucy Honeychurch: You always say that, Charlotte, but you always do forgive yourself.

The Reverend Mr. Eager: Remember the facts about this church of Santa Croce; how it was built by faith in the full fervour of medievalism.
Mr. Emerson: Built by faith indeed! That simply means the workers weren't paid properly.

Cecil Vyse: I have no profession. My attitude – quite an indefensible one – is that as long as I am no trouble to anyone, I have the right to do as I like. It is, I dare say, an example of my decadence.

Cecil Vyse: Do you know, mother, I shall have our children educated just like Lucy. Bring them up among honest country folks for freshness, send them to Italy for subtlety, and then – not till then – let them come to London.

A Few Words About E.M. Forster

Many writers I’ve read about say that E.M. Forster is one of their favorite authors. After watching this film, which apparently lifts many dialogues directly from the book, I am beginning to see why E.M. Forster is appreciated so much.

While he was much-loved during his lifetime, here’s what George Steiner had to say about him at his death in 1970 when an interviewer asked him about E.M. Forster’s reputation abroad (in the extras of the DVD I watched, which is only available as a Region 2 DVD):

“That’s a very difficult question. Very great in India and Ceylon, I understand, but if you were to ask me, is he in a class with those whose books are in everybody’s pocket today – Camus, Hermann Hesse, D.H. Lawrence – no, much smaller than that.”

Here’s what E.M. Forster, modestly, said about himself at 80 (he lived to be 91):

“I have enjoyed writing. I’ve never found it a trial or an ordeal of suffering as some writers do.” “I’d better add that I am quite sure I’m not a great novelist. Because I’ve only got down to paper, really, three types of people: the person I think I am, the people who irritate me, and the people I’d like to be.”

Updated: 12/30/2020, Mira
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Your Thoughts on A Room with a View, the Movie and/or the Book

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Mira on 11/30/2016

I can't wait to see him in his next movie :)

DerdriuMarriner on 11/29/2016

Mira, Very thoughtful review! Daniel Day-Lewis is in a category of his own, and if UNESCO had a living World Heritage category, he'd be my selection.

Mira on 11/19/2013

Thank you, Emma! I agree, Merchant, Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala were a great team. I should read a few books by her as well. She wrote quite a lot.

Mira on 05/15/2013

I was surprised by that lake scene, too, even though we're in 2013. But it made a lot of sense in the movie. And yes, it's wonderful. Thank you for your comment, Peggy!

PeggyHazelwood on 05/15/2013

A Room with a View is a great movie. I watched it ages ago and would enjoy seeing it again! I remember this movie showing full frontal on men, which was fairly daring then.

Mira on 02/25/2013

Wow, that's quite a cast there, too. Merchant and Ivory were such a wonderful team. I see they have the DVD at the British Council library, so I will look for it. Thanks again!!

Mira on 02/25/2013

:) Daniel Day-Lewis is so good at portraying this Cecil character. You'll love him. And Helena Bonham-Carter is a force of nature, even at 19. Thanks for visiting! Hope you will enjoy the movie!

katiem2 on 02/25/2013

I've never seen this movie. I'll have to give Room With a View a go and find out what you're talking about with this Daniel Day-Lewis character. Thanks for the new addition to my list of much watch movies. :)K

Mira on 02/25/2013

Daniel Day-Lewis is the man of the day :) And for just reason. I love his performances. And yes, third Oscar -- that's quite an accomplishment!

EliasZanetti on 02/25/2013

Haven't watched it yet but since i simply love Daniel Day-Lewis I think I will watch it eventually! Nice presentation and congratulations to the man for his third Oscar of course!

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