The novel ‘A Room with a View’ was one of three adaptations of E. M. Forster’s novels to emerge from the creative team of Director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screen writer Ruth Prawar Jhabuala. The film crosses the boundaries of comedy, drama and romance. The screenwriter creates a film that is a romance with comic elements, rather than a romantic comedy. Whilst still capturing the wit of E. M. Forster she manages to poke gentle fun at the English abroad and their preoccupation with class, social etiquette and Edwardian convection.
Merchant and Ivory’s films are not only visually stunning, but they evoke an emotional response in the viewer. ‘A Room with a View’ is one of very few films which adheres to what has been originally written and published in 1908. The film delights in paying tribute to the literary heritage, even choosing to keep the chapter headings as scene break titles, or as it is technically known, inter-titles. Through an exploration of character dynamics, the film examines the culture clash between the generations.
The restrictive attitudes of the older generation that is still inhibited by Victorian morality are contrasted with the freer values of Edwardian youth that represent change and the coming of the modern age. The resulting friction created between Lucy and George is encapsulated in Lucy’s choice between security from Cecil and passion from George. Thought and passion are usually on opposite sides in the movie world: this time it is entertaining to see them on the same side. George’s character is there purely as the source of passion in a society that is tightly bound in convention and timidity, his function is to free Lucy’s spirit.
The story moves at a deliberate pace and is set in contrast to the ‘post card’ image of a prim and proper England when in Florence, which appears lush, fertile and untamed. Her experiences in Italy trigger her sexual awakening, allowing her passionate nature and self-awareness to emerge. It offers Lucy a taste of life outside her sheltered existence in England. During the opening sequence, the famous Italian opera music by Puccini is played in the background and this sets the mood for romance for the audience.
The use of opera music stirs a feeling of passion with the audience, and evokes an image of ‘hot-blooded Italian culture’ – a country stepped in romance. The opening sequence is a series of shots of visual art, running along side shots of Florentine places and interiors. They appear as formalized ‘murals’ with intricate detail, each one different. For example, as Lucy and Charlotte enter the dinning room at the Pensione Bertolini, we are immediately surrounded with heavy and ornate interiors typical of Italian furnishings at that time.
The characters are in a full shot so the audience can appreciate their period costumes. The first time that Lucy and George make eye contact is over that first evening dinner. The camera cleverly focuses a half shot showing the characters from the waist up. George turns his plate to Lucy and a close up shot shows his food strategically made into a question mark. The camera then holds it position on a close up of Lucy. As Charlotte and Lucy leave the dinning room, the camera focuses on George as his eyes follow Lucy and a smile emerges on his face. This is the first indication of any connection between the two characters.
There are several other camera shots where the camera focuses on either of these two characters and the camera lingers long enough so the audience can catch the moment between George and Lucy. Whilst Lucy is visiting the church of Santa Croce there are further camera shots that encapsulate the setting with wide panoramic shots to show intensity of the surroundings of Italian culture and of the beautiful architecture. It is the following scene in the square when again the camera shows the power of feelings from George to Lucy. The camerawork closes in on statues and fountains creating a mise-en scene of ornate splendour.
Again it gives the audience a romantic perspective of Italy. When Lucy faints after the fatal stabbing of a stranger, there is a wide shot of George picking her up and carrying her to the steps. The camera follows them, using a clever tracking technique. After Lucy has come round, and is trying to ‘escape’ from George there is a shot of George and Lucy against the backdrop of the River Arno and a quintessential image of Florence. The camera is looking up at the two of them; it is during this scene that George utters the words, ‘something tremendous has happened’, against an affecting musical accompaniment.
The next reference to romance is embodied in the Italian carriage driver and his lover as they take Lucy, George and their companions on a picnic. Lucy has never before witnessed spontaneous passion like this; she takes some binoculars and the camera focuses on the pair of them kissing passionately. The shot is elliptical recreating the effect of viewing through binoculars. The Victorian element becomes apparent the Reverent Eager stops the horse and cart and demands that the girl descend.
The camera then focuses on the girl, watching her lover drive away into the distance. The focal high point for romance is the ‘kiss’ scene during this picnic. Lucy has started to become acquainted with the opposite sex without her chaperone’s intervention: she finds the Italian horse driver who takes her to George not Mr Beebe, who she asked for. Lucy is holding a poppy and the camera focuses on Lucy as a full shot of her in a panoramic shot of the country side around them and the camera the swings to George who is further down the hill, standing in the long grass.
As Lucy walks down towards George, he runs into the wide camera shot and embraces her. This happens to the crescendo of the same Puccini opera music as heard at the beginning of the film. The scene is set romantically with long flowing grasses and a backdrop of unspoilt nature. Their kiss comes to an abrupt end, when Charlotte cries out. George holds Lucy’s gaze as she leaves in the carriage and as George prefers to run back to the Pensione, the camera runs with him, so we can see his emotion and exhilaration.
Back at the Pensione there is another fleeting scene, when George returns as Lucy opens the door to her room, the camera is wide, so they are both in the shot. Both characters are smiling; George walks towards Lucy only for Charlotte to shield Lucy from view in the doorway. The camera holds the audience in a state of romance, they are made fully aware of the growing attraction between George and Lucy and the camera shots are held long enough so we can witness the intensity of feeling, instead of the timidity that is ‘normal’ for this period.