The other night on Masterpiece Theater on PBS they showed a new film based on E.M. Forster’s novel A Room With A View. I was more than a little surprised that someone would try and best the 1985 Merchant-Ivory dramatization of the same novel. Having seen it at least 25 times I think the Merchant-Ivory film is one of the most perfect films ever made. Fantastic casting, stunning videography, beautiful soundtrack, perfect pacing, and a wonderful love story to boot. Why would anyone mess with such a work of art?
But, being a sucker for a good English costume drama, I wasn’t about to miss the new version no matter my reservations. I even tried to get over the fact that this new version was presented as a flashback. The movie starts in 1922 with a now single Lucy back in Florence having, one learns later, lost her husband George in the Great War. If that uneeded plot device had actually added something to the story it might have been forgiveable, but it added nothing. Maybe this was meant to be a treat for all those who couldn’t stand not knowing what happened to Lucy and George after they got married. Then, once the filmmakers show that George was killed in the war, they feel the need to tie everything up with a nice happy ending. Apparently destroying the happy ending that Forster created in the novel, they felt they had to come up with their own absolutely atrocious happy ending. Honestly, the new ending is so poorly written it makes movies on the Lifetime Channel look like works of art.
Perhaps even more ridiculous is the fact that PBS fuzzed out the bare butts in the pond scene. I guess they were worried that legions of 11-year olds would sit through an hour of PBS drama just to see a little flesh. I remember seeing the Merchant-Ivory version about a decade ago when it was shown on PBS and they showed all of the nudity, front and back, without fuzzing anything out. I am surprised the new version had a scene where they showed a postcard of Michaelangelo’s David without fuzzing out his junk.
I must admit I did enjoy seeing some of the characters played from different angles than the Merchant-Ivory version. But overall none of these new interpretations were compelling enough to save this clunker of a movie. But what actor would benefit being compared the the orginal cast that included Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Simon Callow…you get the picture.
Oddly enough the shoe will probably be on the other foot with the new film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. The PBS mini-series is the absolute zenith of made-for-television drama, it is hard to understand why somone would tinker with it. I love Emma Thompson who will be playing Lady Marchmain…maybe she can save a bad idea and make it worth the effort.