A Room with a View is the latest film from the trio ofdirector James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and scriptwriter Ruth Prawer J habvala. Adapted from the EM. Forster novel it tells of a young woman who escapes the repressive confines of Edwardian England by following the dictates of her heart rather than
succumbing to the counsel of her
§ elders. The film is graced by all the
refined qualities one has come to expect from the durable and prolific
union; a handsomely mounted
‘ production, beautiful locations. : literate dialogue and impeccable ’ acting from a quality cast.
In person James Ivory is a polite. reserved Californian. still diffident about what is undoubtedly one ofthe most consistently successful partnerships in cinema history. Born
~ in Berkeley in 1928 Ivory became a
filmstruck youngster with a love of mainstream Hollywood productions like San Francisco and The Wizard of 02. When he was still a teenager he decided on a career as a set designer. At University he studied architecture before switching to a general Fine Arts course and. later still, joining a graduate programme in film at the University of Southern
' California. Somewhere along the
way the notion of being just a set designer receded and the intention ofdirecting gained supremacy.
Ivory‘s early films were documentaries concerning his art interests. and it was a fascination with Indian miniature paintings that led to a commission taking him to India and ultimately resulting in fateful meetings with both Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Ivory recalls nothing momentous about his first encounter with Merchant; they were just two people who struck a responsive chord and established a fairly immediate rapport. Asked to describe the qualities he values most in his colleague Ivory replies: ‘I think probably his total dedication above all else. The most important thing for Ismail is getting the film made. I also like the fact that he‘ll leave me to get on with things.’
Since The Householderin 1963 the Merchant-Ivory team have made
such films as Shakespeare Wallah (1965) . Bombay Talkie (I970), Roseland (1977), The Europeans (1979). Heat and Dust ( 1982) and The Bostonians (1984). However. it is only recently that critical acclaim has been partnered by box-office recognition. ‘I think our films have been on an upward curve since approximately Hullabaloo Over Bonnie and Georgie ’5 Pictures in 1978. I think that trend has a great deal to do with our reception in Britain.‘ Ivory explains. ‘We made some films in the States in the early 1970‘s that did not do that well and we sort of regrouped in Britain and built up again. Word of mouth has been important with people telling their friends that our films are somewhat offbeat and worth
GThe LTstIB April- 1 May '
Q Crushed by ‘cultural crassness’? Then A Room with
a View could be the answer. Allan Hunter talks to James Ivory, the director of this latest elegant
I searching out. We‘ve still had our
The American market is still the most crucial area in the determination of any project‘s commercial viability. Given the taste
of a mass Stateside audience for
Rambos. Porkys. Rockys and their
3 ilk. a Merchant-Ivory production
must sometimes seem like a civilised oasrs in a desert ofcultural crassness.
Ivory has a more benevolent view of
his home market, a view vindicated
'= by some spectacular returns for A
Room with a View. ‘America is a big ; country with a huge audience that
' can be measured in millions but
, there are different tastes and
different types ofviewer within that
' mass figure. For instance. there are
vast audiences in America for good television, almost all ofit British. Jewel in the Crown on public television received some of the largest viewing figures ever. That kind of evidence convinces you that there is an audience for literate forms ofentertainment. After all. we‘re not likely to make a $300 million grosser but there are enough people out there to allow us a return
adaptation, now ope
n in Scotland.
.5, 4 :.
on our investment and do quite nicely.‘
A Room with a View was a project first considered by Ivory in 1980. Set aside in favour of The Bostonians he returned to the Forster novel because of its lightness of tone. In a sense it is a life-affirming antidote to A Passage to India as the young woman is emboldened to escape convention through the awakening
‘ of passion rather than being crushed
by its repercussions. Given Ivory‘s
: own affinity with India. A Room with a View seems a less obvious choice
from the Forster oeuvre. ‘It‘s almost like a fairytale with the plot depending on little twists and
7 coincidences that real life only
sometimes provides. I found it so lively and high-spirited and also I
' very much wanted to work in Italy.’
says Ivory. justifying his choice. ‘Any film usually starts with me; there‘s a book I like or an idea I want to develop. Ruth and I discuss the pros and cons of it. searching out the possible pitfalls. strengths and weaknesses. We have a general discussion and then she goes off and writes the script. Quite often I can be in another country when that‘s going on. Then Ismail and I read the script and make any revisions that are
necessary. I work on it a bit and the script is then typed and published and we begin the process ofcasting and seeking finance.‘
Although respectful ofthe original material. Ivory felt no compulsion for slavish fidelity towards Forster‘s novel. ‘It is an adaptation of something people know and love but I feel you can take whatever liberties you want as long as you are true to the author‘s intentions. Ifyou think you can tell their story better then you should do it. After all. the film is not just Forster‘s Room with a View. it is also mine.‘
At the scriptwriting stage Ruth PrawerJhabvala provides a different set of sensibilities and concerns that often exert as much inﬂuence as Ivory‘s own. ‘On Room with a View she felt there was a certain deadly upper middle-class suburban dullness that the film could fall into. Being American I didn‘t really see that pitfall but Ruth saw that as something we should avoid because it was basically what Forster was writing against and what the character of Lucy is trying to escape from.‘
Ivory also credits Jhabvala with balancing their films towards the provision ofstrong leading roles for women. Their previous collaborations have resulted in impeccable performances from Lee Remick. Julie Christie. Vanessa Redgrave and Greta Scacchi. One of the pleasures ofA Room with a View is the calibre of the acting from a cast that includes Maggie Smith. Judi Dench. Daniel Day-Lewis and assured newcomer Helena Bonham Carter. Ivory readily admits that casting is a key part of a director‘s job.‘ I very much believe in what Stephen Frears said. which is that you hire the very best actors possible and then just get out oftheir way.
Actors can go deeply into a character
in a way that you can‘t even dream of. Basically you‘re just there to help
judge on scale or pace. It‘s like being
an orchestra conductor in charge of a marvellous group ofsoloists. As soon as I saw Helena she was immediately in the running for the part because she seemed just the way Forster described Lucy in the book; smart and definitely an individual. I had seen a lot of girls who all seemed to lack that quality ofindividuality.‘ After a recent bias towards period pieces and literary adaptations Ivory feels that their next project marks a return to the tragi-comic freewheeling style ofa film like Shakespeare Walla/z. ‘The next film is called Three Continents. It‘s about an American brother and sister who inherit a lot ofmoney from some dubious people and begin travelling around the world. It‘s all about the adventures they have on their travels.‘ As the Merchant-Ivory team approaches a silver anniversary, their remarkable energy and output-continue undiminished. A Room with a View is nowshowing at the A BC, Glasgow and Opens at the
Dominion, Edinburgh on 18th.