Director: James Ivory
15 | 2h 20min | Drama, Romance | 18 September 1987 (USA)
Merchant Ivory’s award-winning adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel, will open at BFI Southbank and selected cinemas UK-wide from 27 July 2018.
This handsome-looking Merchant Ivory British drama is getting a 4K digital re-release this August courtesy of the BFI, and its a timely reissue given the recent success of the James Ivory-scripted gay drama Call Me By Your Name. Maurice, also a gay-cented movie, bears many similarities to last year’s indie hit, but whereas Call Me was about the sweet pain of letting it all out, Maurice is about the pain of keeping it tightly wound in.
Adapted from the E.M Forster novel by Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James Ivory himself, Maurice is set in an early 20th century Edwardian Britain still reeling from the Oscar Wilde trial. We start off in the refined atmosphere of Cambridge University, populated exclusively by upper crust males, where the repressed, unworldly bourgeois Maurice Hall (James Wilby, in a performance that opens out superbly over time), ends up surprised by his own passions for the sophisticated but cautious fellow student Clive Clive Durham (Hugh Grant: clipped and dashing, but always suggesting the pain of fighting a losing battle against conformity). Both men end up caught up in the push and pull between their own desires, fears, and each other’s different judgements of the two, a battle which can never really be either resolved or fought out in the open, this being an era not only when homosexuality was illegal but when social expectations of the upper class were as suffocating as any law. The tension of discovery is never far away, especially when one of their less cautious and effete classmates is exposed by a cruel police sting and given much the same treatment Wilde was. The scene where Grant’s character essentially jettisons their friendship over the telephone to keep his freedom (and privilege) is a painful reminder of what fear did to gay men. Still, wealth and status give Maurice and Clive a layer of protection (there are clues Maurice’s sarcastic butler knows the score) not afforded to the poorer class, which just showcases the hypocrisy of English homophobia even more.
Yet Ivory’s lavishly decorated film is interesting too in how it explores the tragic irony of this situation: Maurice and Clive, and all their fellow students, are literally drowning in privilege. They are also being educated in what you might call an almost ludicrously male environment; where ceremonies, language and lessons all reinforce the superiority of the English male. They even are schooled in very saucy Greek homosexual literature in their philosophy and literature seminars; explicit texts which, hilariously, cause one lecturer to blushingly keep requesting that they ‘skip over the vice of the Greeks’ at key points in recitals. Yet for all this privilege, all this maleness, these two men can’t express their love; they are suffocating. Ultimately though, thanks to Maurice’s growing resentment at what the strictures of society mean for his future (which puts him on an interesting reverse path to Clive), and an encounter with a gay groundkeeper in his later years, a positive and enriching portrait of a loving relationship does eventually emerge. Worth seeing, especially if you enjoyed Call Me By Your Name.