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This Month, We Watched ‘A Room with a View’ with Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson

Room With A View
Curzon Film Distributors
By  · Published on August 27th, 2015

I am a film critic, but almost all of the movies I watch are new releases. That is going to change. With Jeff Bayer’s Remedial Film School a notable film critic or personality will assign me (and you) one film per month. Joanna Robinson from Vanity Fair is our guest, and she chose A Room with a View (currently available on Netflix Instant). Each section begins with a quote from the film.

“Come and have a bathe.” (Robinson explains): The first time I saw A Room with a View it was the night before I left to study abroad in Florence. I watched the tape (yes tape!) that I had rented over and over as I stayed up to pack. I was 18, just about the age of the main character Lucy Honeychurch. Not being a moneyed British girl of good family, my room, once I got there, had nothing resembling her view. But if I stood on a chair and leaned out perilously far I could see the Duomo and that, alone, forever connected me with this movie.

Every time I show it again to someone there is, of course, the particular pleasure in seeing so many now-familiar faces when they were young and playing against type. Daniel Day-Lewis as the uptight popinjay, Helena Bonham Carter as the innocent ingénue, Judi Dench as the flamboyant romance novelist, and, of course, Maggie Smith as poor, humorless cousin Charlotte. Incidentally, this film came out the same day as Day-Lewis’s other 1985 breakout role in My Beautiful Laundrette. The stark contrast between his Cecil Vyse and punkish Johnny was enough to make Day-Lewis an overnight sensation.

But beyond that is the undeniable fact that with this film Merchant Ivory not only cemented a brand that would last them well over a decade, but set the standard for countless costume dramas to come.

“He’s the sort who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman.” (Bayer watches): You’re killing me with that Florence story. That’s so good. It’s hard to imagine anyone having a better first experience with this film than you. Where to begin? Let’s start with Day-Lewis walking with a cane. No, what about Maggie Smith and Judi Dench sharing screen time together in an odd alternative prequel version of Downton Abbey? But then that doesn’t cover the penis horseplay. Sigh. I’m a fool for not seeing this film sooner. With that said, the proper place to begin any discussion with A Room with a View is with Bonham Carter. Her character Lucy Honeychurch, Miss Bartlett’s cousin and charge is amazing, and not just because that’s her character’s full name in the credits. Seeing her as a teenager, with a soft side is shocking. There is no darkness in her soul yet (which she has used quite well at times, most notably for me, Fight Club). But here, she’s precious, proud and delicate.

I knew nothing but the movie poster when I hit play. So the music and artistry of the opening credits let me know this was serious, but then the character names and settings let me know we’d have some fun. It’s genius. I also didn’t know Day-Lewis was even in the film. Denholm Elliott ups his craziness from his Indiana Jones days to a wonderful affect. Sands isn’t someone I recognize. This immediately made me feel like he must be a one and done, but I grew to love the oddities of his performance. Together his father/son duo almost comes off as mentally challenged at times, and I think the film is better for it. After all, trusting your passions in that society was looked at as pure lunacy.

Everything in this movie is a big, proper deal. The most obvious example: changing rooms so you can have a view. Plus, the first kiss matters. Isn’t that the number one priority of a romance? It’s amazing how many times this fails. In fact, I have done no recapping or research, but I’m sticking this kiss on my All-Time Top 5.

I would say the only tragedy of the film is that there isn’t a tragedy, which now that I think of it, makes it a win. Other films of this ilk would have had Mr. Emerson die, and somehow that would have propelled George and Lucy together. Or Cecil would have attempted to kill someone at some point in a snap of rage. This film feels like it’s Shakespeare-light, in a very good way.

Now I have some questions for you.

Is the Reverend Mr. Beebe (Simon Callow) hitting on Lucy? Everyone? No one? How many times do you think you’ve watching this film? Is this a movie you make others watch when they announce they haven’t seen it? Or is there another? Mine is Kicking and Screaming (1995). Perhaps most importantly, you’ve got to let me know what your 18-year-old self thought about the penis party.

OK, I’m now going to see how many Oscars this film won. I’ll be right back … What? Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, and Costume Design. Bonham Carter and Day-Lewis weren’t nominated. Just wait right here, I need to do some more research … Damn. OK, this was a tough year. Sigourney Weaver (Aliens), Kathleen Turner (Peggy Sue Got Married), Sissy Spacek (Crimes of the Heart), Jane Fonda (The Morning After), and the winner Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God). I can’t comment on most of these since I’ve done a terrible job of going back and watching female-driven dramas from when I was 11 years old. But, Turner you’re retroactively out, and Bonham Carter is in.

Movie Score: 9/10

“I don’t care what I see outside. My vision is within! Here is where the birds sing! Here is where the sky is blue!” (Robinson responds): Well, to answer your pressing Reverend Mr. Beebe question, I think of him as an irrepressible satyr in a priestly collar. This is partly influenced by Simon Callow’s great work in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and partly influenced by that crazy homoerotic romp in the pond with George and Freddy. What did I think of it as an impressionable 18-year-old? I think I was too young to get the gay overtones and I think my innocence was more in line with what’s intended there. Here are some liberated thinkers nakedly enjoying nature. What could be more pure?!

I have seen this movie probably about 20 times. As you mentioned, the kiss between Bonham Carter and Sands in the barley is a scorcher so forget 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, this is my go-to steamy story of choice. I mean, Merchant Ivory classed it up with plenty of Puccini, but A Room with a View is all about releasing pent-up passion. You’re right that Julian Sands never matched this film, but my love of George Emerson meant that I watched a lot of bad Sands films trying to recapture the magic. Don’t ever watch Tale of a Vampire, I beg you.

One more bit of Daniel Day-Lewis trivia for you before we call it a day. Rumor has it Day-Lewis wasn’t interested in campaigning for an Oscar so Merchant Ivory made Denholm Elliott their Supporting Actor candidate for the film. This worked out for the best, I think. Obviously, Day-Lewis eventually got his due in the awards department, and Elliott forever gets “Oscar-nominated actor” as a footnote on his too-short career. Well earned, in my opinion. Mr. Emerson is the beating heart of A Room with a View and the key to unlocking the happy ending.

“Don’t you agree that, on one’s first visit to Florence, one must have a room with a view?” (Bayer concludes): I didn’t even realize Callow was from Four Weddings. How did I miss that? And thank you for the rumors. It’s weird that I now find a greater affection for Day-Lewis since he “gave” his Oscar nomination to Elliott.

What will definitely stick with me is Bonham Carter’s performance. Not only is it very weird to see this role now after all of her others, but the way her character is written and performed feels refreshing. It’s even refreshing in today’s cinema. One scene in particular nails it, and that’s when Lucy ends her engagement with Cecil. She’s clearly an intelligent young woman, who is expressing herself fully to her fiancé (as best she can, barely understanding that she’s fully in love with another), and he responds with understanding, even though he’s hurt (as hurt as Day-Lewis’ character is actually capable of). That’s it.

With you watching Sands’ films looking for more magic, it gave me a flash of Topher Grace. It’s definitely not the same, but since I recently saw American Ultra, he’s on my mind. When he first showed up in the film, I had a moment a joy, like he was a pleasant surprise. That was followed very quickly by the thought, “Wait, do I even like him anymore? When was the last time he truly held my attention?” It’s amazing the power one (or a few) good performances can have over a person. Now, let’s all go watch Tale of a Vampire since Robinson is clearly trying to keep that potentially brilliant film all to herself.

Your Next Assignment: Guest critic Nathan Rabin (author and formerly of The Dissolve) selected The Dead Zone starring Christopher Walken. It is available on Netflix Instant and to rent on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes. Your due date is September 24.