I first watched A Room With a View when I was nineteen years old. I was young, full of energy and hope about life, and I loved romance, or at the least the idea of it, not having had much experience with it myself. When I went to see A Room With a View in college I was expecting to ‘view’ Rear Window (I’m glad I’m not the only one who has made this mistake, or I might feel a little stupid). What I got instead was a wonderful introduction to period piece movies and a lifelong love of E.M. Forster.
So when I heard about the remake to be shown on PBS, I was skeptical. Could they really improve upon Merchant and Ivory’s 1985 movie?
In a word, no.
In fact, I felt like they messed up the one story that E.M. Forster wrote that was lighthearted and had a truly happy ending (Maurice had a somewhat happy ending because E.M. thought it was socially important to have it so, but the rest of his stories were rather bleak and unsettling). I’m not sure what the writer, Andrew Davies, was thinking (big spoiler alert), but at the end of the movie he decided to kill the hero, George. What the heck? I mean, from the flashbacks you get a sense that something is coming, but I didn’t envision him dying in a war. That was a major downer in what’s supposed to be a feel-good romance. Showing a scene of him sprawled on the battlefield, eyes wide open in agonized death, was not cool. Mr. Forster worked very hard to make this story work out well in the end. We should acknowledge and respect that, not completely ignore his struggle.
As when I watched the remake of Sense and Sensibility (see Jane Austen blog), I kept expecting certain things to happen, and they didn’t. Or I’d want a line to be delivered a certain way, and it wasn’t. I hate that. For example, when Miss Bartlett asks - after the wonderful scene when George kisses Lucy (the very best scene in Merchant & Ivory’s take) - "…if I had not arrived, what would have happened?" and Lucy says, "I can’t think." The way Helena Bonham Carter delivered the line gave it a life of its own that implied, "I can think, and oh, boy! But I’m certainly not going to tell you what my mind has conjured up!" The 2007 version’s Lucy just said the line, with no hint at anything yummy, no yearning to discover more. Just plain old, "I can’t think!" leave me alone! as though she really couldn’t imagine what might have happened. That just isn’t right. A big part of romance is savoring the pleasures of love, reliving the touch, the kiss, the look. If you don’t have that, you are left with nothing.
I believe that Mr. Davies was trying (as with the S & S, 2007 remake) to make this version more realistic. Once again, I have to voice my displeasure at this. Reality is for the news. Or for stories that are meant to be exposes on the horrors of life. While this story was somewhat of an expose on life, on social snobbery and growing up in an age where rules dictated how one should feel and when, it was a light one that was meant to fill you with hope. So why make it more realistic?
Anyway, I did go into the 2007 version trying to keep an open mind. After seeing the previews, however, I was already nervous. It looked darker; I wasn’t as thrilled with the heroine. Then, watching the movie, my worries were confirmed. This was not the same story I have come to know and love, both through the movie and from reading the book. I didn’t like George’s character in this version, either. In my opinion, he was a bit creepy. Nothing personal to the actor, it was just how they had him play George. On the one side he seemed a rather dull fellow, on the other, he was a bit stalker-like. They even put in a scene where he declares that he will follow her wherever she goes even though she has made it clear she doesn’t want that. Now that could be seen as romantic, but not the way this was played out.
Strangely, I felt that the movie was well-acted and directed. I think the problem was the way the writer chose to interpret the book. I didn’t like the darker viewpoint, the flashbacks, or the realism. Unfortunately for Mr. Davies, he had a lot to compete against. I think that once you have seen the original, there is no fair comparison. On its own, it could be a decent movie, but still, it would never have become one of my favorite movies.
So, if you don’t mind, I’d like a room with a different view, please.