Reworked from EM Forster’s classic novel, A Room With a View marked the start of the distinctive relationship between director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant whose screen adaptations of the author’s work became a film legend. Together with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who received an Academy Award for her screenplay, this is not just another run-of-the-mill period drama but an intensely engaging, moving narrative that challenges us, the audience, to explore our own feelings and experiences. It is a slow-moving affair but one in which every scene and every conversation matters.
Set amid the red rooftops and domes of Florence, A Room With a View features a sterling array of Britain’s finest theatrical talent. Helena Bonham Carter is Lucy Honeychurch, a repressed English woman who is destined to marry the objectionable Cecil Vyse (perfectly played by Daniel Day Lewis) in her native Surrey. However, on a Baedeker tour of Italy with her fastidious cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith) Lucy encounters the Emerson family whose manners and behaviour fall somewhere short of the strict Edwardian values in which she has been raised. After observing a kiss between Lucy and the younger Emerson (Julian Sands), Charlotte whisks her back to the sanctuary of England and to her apparent future with Vyse, only for the Emersons to reappear in due course.
The leisurely pace of A Room With a View makes it a succulent dessert, every spoonful of which is savoured, but it is its themes – sexual repression, religious oppression and growing up against a tidal wave of societal expectations – that engages us in Lucy’s struggle as she fights against her conservative upbringing on her journey to independent adulthood.