Over the past quarter ofa century. Merchant-Ivory productions have established an enviable. virtually unrivalled reputation as the purveyors ofimpeccable cinematic entertainments replete with the virtues of literate scripts. sensitive direction. scrupulous attention to period details and a roster of cherished performances from some of the world's most distinguished actors. A Room Wit/1A View. made in 1985. became one of the most successful independent films ever released. winning three ()scars and adding a belated sprinkling of commercial lucre to their previous string ofcritically lauded arthouse perenials.

The question of how to follow such a major. unforseen hit appears to have posed few problems for the retiring talents ofdirector James Ivory. With Maurice he has remained faithful to the literary legacy of E. M. Forster and. in the process. made a film that vigorously refutes the uncharitable image of his work as chocolate-box crinolines lacking substance or bite. Maurice is a film with the courage of its convictions.

Maurice was written in 191-1. just after llois'urd's (find. but did not appear in print until I97] . shortly after Forster’s death. An autobiographical story. it tells of a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality and struggling against his conventional upbringing. the pressures of the class system and the question of the law as he strives to secure a life that is true to his own nature and not merely conforming to other people's expectationsofhim.

In an age ofpersistent anti-gay action and attitudes. fuelled by the virulent homophobia ofthe tabloid press. Ivory would seem a brave man to have spent {2.5 million on a gay love story with a happy ending. Indeed. if the current proposals to prohibit local governments disbursing funds on the ‘promotion‘ of homosexuality were to become law. then state-supported venues might not even be allowed to show the film. However. aside from his enthusiasm for the cinematic qualities of Forster‘s writing. Ivory was keen to film this particular novel precisely because of its acute contemporary relevance. ‘Despite the fact that it was written 75 years ago. I found it a very up-to-date presentation ofthe state ofmind of people faced with this particular dilemma. I don‘t care what‘s happened in 75 years in terms of the laws being changed and all the kinds of lib that have come and gone. people still have to face the components oftheir personality. whatever that is. and come to some kind of decent way to live. That's what the book is all about and that‘s just as valid today as ever it was. That’s why I was interested in doing it.’

When we met last year. Ivory had yet to learn the commercial fate of Maurice but the question of whether homosexual passion would prove acceptable entertainment to mainstream cinemagoers was clearly one that occupied his thoughts. The



In the present climate. Merchant lvory‘s new film Maurice. based on Ii.M. Forster‘s novel about a gay relationship. raises a lot of questions. Allan Hunter

talked to James Ivory about his positive outlook.

relatively disappointing performance of the excellent l’riek Up Your [Ears had been attributed to its gay subject matter and. even before its release. ll/Iattriee was meeting opposition from some cinema managers in (‘entral Scotland.

‘Well. I think one of the problems with Prick Up Y()ur liars could have been that it didn‘t have a happy ending.‘ he speculated. ‘It was told in a very sophisticated and rather cynical way and it did have a violent and terrible ending whereas a film that is unabashedly romantic and affirmative as Maurice is may draw in a lot of people anyway because everyone likes a movie with a happy ending. I'm very curious to know what it's fate will be. lean imagine in the United States in the deep Soth they might try to censor it or cut the nude scenes. I can imagine the Catholic church may try to condemn it. The reaction at the

screenings in America has been so tremendous and so overwhelmingly positive from everybody that we just have to suppose it's maybe not going to be that much ofan obstacle.‘

As it transpired. Maurice proved to be one of the prize winners at the Venice Film Festival and won generous praise from critics the world over. Perhaps inevitably though it has not caught the public imagination in quite the same way as Room Wit/1 A View. It is regrettable because beneath the apparently far-away serenity of its historical surface lurks a good deal ofanger at the legal and class obstacles that prevent Maurice from being himself. ‘(‘lass is a big issue in the film. but then it was in Room Wit/1A View too. All Lucy‘s problems are really to do with class. Maurice's problems are to do with more than just class but class rears its ugly head in the resolution of his problems and he almost comes to grief because of it.‘

Part of the conviction and integrity in Maurice stem from the quality of the lead performances. James Wilby makes an astonishingly accomplished impression in the title role and is ably supported by Hugh Grant as his first platonic companion at Cambridge and Rupert Graves as Alec the rustic gamekeeper with whom he finds true love. When casting Room With A View. Ivory complained ofthe difficulties of finding the right girl to play Lucy saying that drama schools tended to efface a performer‘s individuality. He seems to have faced no similar problems in selecting his players for Maurice. ‘Rupert Graves had been in Room Wit/1A View but before he‘s been a circus clown. Hugh Grant is a stand-up comic. so neither were drama school graduates. Now. James Wilby did graduate from RADA and he has a means of expression and abilities and techniques which he‘s able to fall back on and utlilise but I don't think. in his case. it was a bad thing for him. I was so suprised at some of the things he does as a very young man in the film. It seems so youthful and it‘s just right. It was a very close collaboration right through. The only other time I‘ve worked so closely with an actor was with Christopher Reeve on The Bostonians .

Being figures in a pre—AIDS landscape. Maurice and Alec have the historical luxury ofbeing able to consummate their kinship with merely legal rather than medical anxieties. A happy-ever-after ending is a welcome palliative to the myriad of pressures more traditionally exerted on a gay relationship. But. given the social chasm that yawns between them. is Ivory being entirely realistic or indulging in romantic wish fulfilment? ‘Who knows whether or not they would have been lifelong friends or lovers? They're certainly. in some ways. an ill-matched pair but the lack of conventional topics between them needn‘t impede the course of true love. In reality what would have happened was the First World War. I think Maurice would have wanted to be a pacifist. Alec. being more straightforward. would have had some patriotic feeling and would have joined up and gone off. Not to be outdone Maurice would have joined up as a private soldier. They both would have gone off to France and I like to think that they both would have survived. That‘s my little scenario.‘

lvory‘s most immediate plans include a film version ofTama J anowitz‘s book Slaves of New York although he feels that the continuing pull of E. M. Forster will prove irresistible. ‘I think we'll do some more Forster one of these days. I was very happy doing these two films so I think I would be happy doing another one. Naturally. everyone wants to prolong happiness as long as possible and his novels just seem to work so well for the cinema.’ Maurice opens at the Canon Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow and the Cameo, Edinburgh on 5 February. See Film Listings for details.

10 The List 5 18 February 1988