Maurice (film)

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Maurice
Maurice Theatrical release poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Paul Bradley
Screenplay by Kit-Hesketh-Harvey
James Ivory
Based on Maurice 
by E. M. Forster
Starring James Wilby
Hugh Grant
Rupert Graves
Ben Kingsley
Denholm Elliott
Simon Callow
Billie Whitelaw
Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography Pierre Lhomme
Edited by Katherine Wenning
Production
company
Distributed by Cinecom Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 15 September 1987 (1987-09-15) (TIFF)
  • 18 September 1987 (1987-09-18) (US)
Running time 140 minutes [1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $2.6 million
Box office $2,438,304[2]

Maurice (pronounced Morris) is a 1987 British romantic drama film based on the novel of the same title by E. M. Forster. It is a tale of homosexual love in early 20th century England, following its main character Maurice Hall from his school days through university until he is united with his life partner.

Maurice was produced by Ismail Merchant via Merchant Ivory Productions and Film Four International, directed by James Ivory, and written by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, with cinematography by Pierre Lhomme. In the style of Merchant Ivory's A Room with a View, old book endpapers accompany the theme music played in minor scale at the beginning and in major scale at the end to bracket the film as a cinematographic novel.

The film stars James Wilby as Maurice, Hugh Grant as Clive and Rupert Graves as Alec. The supporting cast included Denholm Elliott as Dr Barry, Simon Callow as Mr Ducie, Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Hall, and Ben Kingsley as Lasker-Jones.

Plot[edit]

During a trip to a windswept beach, Maurice Hall, an 11-year-old schoolboy, receives instructions about the "sacred mysteries" of sex from his teacher, who wants to explain to the fatherless boy the changes he would experience in puberty.

Years later, in 1909, Maurice is attending Cambridge, where he strikes up a friendship with two fellow students: the aristocratic Lord Risley and the rich and handsome Clive Durham. Durham falls in love with his friend and surprises Maurice by confessing his feelings. At first, Maurice does not react favorably to the revelation. Soon, however, he realizes that he reciprocates his friend's feelings. The two friends embark in a love affair but, at Clive's insistence, their relationship remains platonic. To go further, in Durham's opinion, would diminish them both. Clive, a member of the upper class, has a promising future ahead of him and does not want to tarnish his future. Their close relationship continues after Maurice is expelled from Cambridge, and begins a new career as a stockbroker in London.

The two friends keep their feelings secret, but are frightened when Lord Risley is arrested and sentenced to six months hard labor after soliciting sex from a soldier. Clive, afraid of being exposed as a homosexual, breaks with Maurice. After his return from a trip to Greece, Clive, under pressure from his widowed mother, marries a naive rich girl named Anne, and settles into placid domesticity.

Heartbroken, Maurice looks for help from the family physician, Dr Barry, who dismisses Maurice's doubts as "rubbish". Maurice then turns to Lasker-Jones, who tries to cure his homosexual longings with hypnosis. During his visits to Clive's estate of Pendersleigh, Maurice attracts the attention of Alec Scudder, the under-gamekeeper who is due to emigrate with his family to Argentina. Maurice not only fails to notice Scudder's interest in him, but initially treats him with contempt. This does not discourage Scudder, who spies on Maurice at night. Simcox, the butler at Pendersleigh, suspecting the true nature of Maurice and Clive's past relationship, gave some clues to Scudder. On a rainy night, Scudder boldly climbs a ladder and enters Maurice's bedroom through an open window. Scudder kisses Maurice, who is completely taken by surprise, but does not resist his advances.

After their first night together, Maurice, after receiving a letter from Scudder proposing they meet at Pendersleigh's boathouse, believes that Scudder is blackmailing him. Maurice returns to Lasker-Jones, who warns Maurice that England is a country which "has always been disinclined to accept human nature". When Maurice fails to appear at the boathouse, Scudder travels to London to find him.

Maurice and Scudder meet at the British Museum and the blackmail misunderstanding is resolved. Maurice begins to call Scudder by his first name, Alec. They go to a hotel room. However, their prospects for a long-term relationship seem dim. Alec is leaving for Argentina. Maurice decides to give Alec a sendoff. He is taken aback when he does not find Alec at the port. Maurice goes to Pendersleigh and talks to Clive, telling him about Alec. Clive, who was hoping that Maurice would marry, is bewildered after hearing what has transpired. The two friends depart and Maurice goes to the boathouse looking for Alec, who is there waiting for him. Scudder tells him that he sent a telegram to Maurice stating that he was to come to the boathouse. Alec has left his family, and his plans to emigrate, to stay with Maurice, telling him, "Now we shan't never be parted."

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Background[edit]

E. M. Forster wrote Maurice from 1913 onwards. Written as a traditional bildungsroman, or novel of education, the plot follows the title character dealing with the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in the restrictive society of the edwardian era. Forster, who had based his characters in real life people, was keen that his novel should have a happy ending. The author did not intend to publish the novel while his mother was alive, but showed the manuscript to selected friends, such as Christopher Isherwood. Forster resisted publication during his lifetime because of public and legal attitudes to homosexuality. He was also ambivalent about the literary merits of his novel. A note found on the manuscript read: "Publishable, but worth it?" The novel was only published in 1971 after Forster's death. It is considered to be a minor work, in comparison with his novels Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924).

James Ivory was interested in making a screen adaptation after the critical and box office success achieved with another of Forster's novels, A Room with a View. While involved in this earlier project Ivory had read all of Forster's books, and eventually came to Maurice.[3] "I thought," Ivory said, "that it was interesting material and would be enjoyable to make – and also something we could make in that it wouldn't require too much organization and wouldn't cost all that much."[3] The situation it explores seemed to him to be still relevant: "People's turmoil and having to decide for themselves how they want to live and what their true feelings are and whether they're going to live honestly with them or deny them. That's no different. Nothing's any easier, for young people. I felt it was quite relevant."[3]

Following Forster's death, the self-governing board of fellows of King's College at Cambridge inherited the rights to his books.[4] They were initially reluctant to give permission to film Maurice.[5] Not because of the subject matter of the novel but because it was held to be an inferior work.[5] A film that called great attention to it would not do any good to his reputation.[5] Ismail Merchant, the producer of the film, conferred with them and he was very persuasive. They were favourably impressed with Merchant Ivory Productions adaptation of A Room with a View and relented in the end.[4][6]

Writing[edit]

After purchasing the rights to the novel, the next step was a screenplay. Ivory's usual writing partner, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was unavailable because she was busy writing her novel Three Continents. Ivory wrote the screenplay with Kit Hesketh-Harvey, who had become connected with Merchant Ivory productions since his sister, journalist and author Sarah Sands (born Sarah Harvey), was the then wife of Julian Sands, the leading man in A Room with a View. Hesketh-Harvey had previously written documentaries for the BBC.[4] He had gone to Tonbridge School and to Cambridge University, where Forster was educated, and knew the background. Jhabvala was shown the script, however, and made suggestions for changes.[7] On her advice, Clive Durhams's unconvincing conversion to heterosexuality during a trip to Greece was justified by creating an episode in which Clive's university friend Risley is arrested and imprisoned after a homosexual entrapment – enough to frighten Clive ultimately into marrying.[7]

Casting[edit]

Julian Sands, who had played the male lead in Merchant's Ivory previous film, A Room with a View, was originally cast for the title role.[7] He had separated from his wife leaving her and their son back in England to move to New York. Sands backed out at the last minute. John Malkovich was due to take the role of Lasker-Jones. He had become a friend of Julian Sands while making together The Killing Fields. After Sands left the project Malkovich lost interest in the film and was replaced by Ben Kingsley.[8]

James Wilby had auditioned for the role of Clive Durham's brother-in-law. When Sands left the project, Ivory considered two unknown actors for the role of Maurice: James Wilby and Julian Wadham.[8] Since he had already cast the dark-haired Hugh Grant as Clive, Ivory decided on the blond James Wilby over the dark-haired Julian Wadham, who was given the role as one of Maurice's stockbroker friends.[8]

Hugh Grant, who later found international stardom with Four Weddings and a Funeral, had appeared only in one previous film, Privileged. He was doing review comedy at the time and had lost interest in professional acting when Celestia Fox, the casting director, sent Grant to Ivory who immediately gave him the role of Clive.[9] It helped that Grant and Wilby had worked together in Grant's only previous film, made at Oxford. Rupert Graves was cast as Alec Scudder, Maurice's working-class lover. He had appeared as Lucy Honeychurch's young brother in A Room with a View, a performance with which he was unsatisfied, and so he appreciated the opportunity to deliver a better performance.

The supporting cast included: veterans Denholm Elliott as Dr Barry and Simon Callow as the pedagogue Mr Ducie, both from A Room with a View; Ben Kingsley as Lasker-Jones; Patrick Godfrey as the butler Simcox; and Billie Whitelaw as Maurice's mother.

Filming[edit]

The film was made on a budget of $2.6 million that included investment by Cinecom and England's Channel 4. Maurice proved more complicated to make than Ivory had anticipated. Its fifty-four day shooting schedule, which involved working six day weeks, proved long and grueling. There was no rehearsal period, only a read-through before shooting began.

Maurice was shot on location largely in the halls and quadrangles of King's College, Cambridge including interiors in the college's chapel, where Forster was educated and later returned as a Fellow. The other interiors were primarily shot at Wilbury Park, a Palladian house in Wiltshire. Its owner, Maria St. Just, an actress and trustee of the estate of Tennessee Williams, was a friend of Merchant and Ivory. In 1979 they had been weekend guests at Wilbury Park, which made an impression on James Ivory, who, when Maurice was being prepared, chose it to be Pendersleigh in the film, the country house where Maurice visits his friend Clive.

Differences in the film[edit]

Maurice is 11 at the beginning of the film, rather than 14. The film omits almost all of the novel's philosophical dialogue, and also many subplots, such as Maurice's desire for the schoolboy Dickie (the scenes dealing with this subplot were deleted from the final cut). It expands the Wildean character of Lord Risley and his 6-month imprisonment with hard labour for homosexual conduct (he is not imprisoned in the novel), in order to dramatise the dangers of Edwardian homosexuality, and provide a plot device explaining why Clive feels he must reject Maurice. In one deleted scene released in the 2002 edition, Risley commits suicide, but this was not shown in the film.

In the novel, the Durham family seat is Penge, on the border of Wiltshire and Somerset. In the film the country house is set in Pendersley Park.

While undergoing hypnosis by Dr. Lasker-Jones in an attempt to "cure" himself, Maurice reveals to him that he has slept with Alec Scudder. Lasker-Jones warns Maurice that at one time homosexuals were executed in Britain. In spite of this warning, Lasker-Jones, especially in the film, seems to be the most affirming character. He suggests that Maurice relocate to a country where homosexuality is more tolerated, like France or Italy.

Release[edit]

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1987, where Ivory was awarded a Silver Lion as Best Director, sharing the prize with Ermanno Olmi.[10] James Wilby and Hugh Grant were jointly awarded Best Actor, and Richard Robbins received the prize for his music.[11] The film received favourable reviews when it opened in New York City. Maurice received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Costume Design category.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received universal acclaim from film critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% of critics gave the film a positive review.[12] Ken Hanke from Mountain Xpress said it was probably Merchant-Ivory's best film.

In the New York Times Janet Maslin observed "The novel's focus is predominantly on the inner life of the title character, but the film, while faithful, is broader. Moving slowly, with a fine eye for detail, it presents the forces that shape Maurice as skillfully as it brings the character to life. " [13]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film three stars out of a possible four, commenting: " Merchant and Ivory tell this story in a film so handsome to look at and so intelligently acted that it is worth seeing just to regard the production. Scene after scene is perfectly created: a languorous afternoon floating on the river behind the Cambridge colleges; a desultory cricket game between masters and servants; the daily routine of college life; visits to country estates and town homes; the settings of the rooms... Although some people might find Wilby unfocused in the title role, I thought he was making the right choices, portraying a man whose real thoughts were almost always elsewhere".[14]

Dale Winogoura in Frontiers called the film "Passionate yet civilized candid yet dignified, Maurice is among the few genuinely romantic gay films ever made and a landmark of the genre".

Commenting Maurice’s character in Entertainment This Week, Bonnie Rtockwell reflected :" This time out you discover yourself, your loving and sexual nature, and you find out how unfair Society is. You almost make the mistake of marriage for appearance’s sake – as your friend Clive does. Clive, who is no friend to you, to your kind, to society, or to himself or his poor, duped wife".

Home media[edit]

In 2002, a special edition DVD of the film was released with a new documentary and deleted scenes with director's commentary.

Awards[edit]

Venice Film Festival

Academy Awards

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "MAURICE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1987-08-21. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  2. ^ Maurice at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b c Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 147
  4. ^ a b c Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 211
  5. ^ a b c Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 150
  6. ^ Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 151
  7. ^ a b c Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 212
  8. ^ a b c Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 213
  9. ^ Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 214
  10. ^ Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 153
  11. ^ Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 154
  12. ^ Maurice - Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 18, 1987). "Maurice". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 9, 1987). "Maurice". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 

References[edit]

  • Long, Robert Emmet. The Films of Merchant Ivory. Citadel Press. 1993, ISBN 0-8065-1470-1
  • Long, Robert Emmet. James Ivory in Conversation. University of California Press, 2005, ISBN 0-520-23415-4.

External links[edit]