Dear Readers, this post is part of the “Sex! (Now That I Have Your Attention) Blogathon” hosted by Steve at moviemovieblogblog. This event focuses on films that ooze with sexual chemistry, while not showing a darn thing.
Everyone has that one movie, that film, one that defines what romance is to you. Whether it is John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler blasting Peter Gabriel in a boom box to Ione Skye in Say Anything, or Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth Bennet (for the second time!) in Pride and Prejudice we all have that movie. The one that will set the template of exactly what love looks like and everything else pales in comparison.
For me, that movie is Merchant Ivory’s 1985 film, A Room with a View. I am pretty certain my best friend in high school Shannon and I saw that film at least 20 times on video. Probably closer to 30. I lost count, but it’s not a good sign when you know every line.
This is usually the point where someone with a dirty mind mentions the fact there are naked men in the film and assumes that’s the reason I saw the film so often during my formative years. No, no, no. My obsession with A Room with a View has nothing to do with naked men, and everything to do with romance.
Based on the 1908 novel by E.M. Forester, A Room with a View is a decadent display of everything that is gorgeous about the Edwardian era, the English countryside and Florence, Italy.
Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter) and her cousin, the perpetual martyr, Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith) go on holiday to Florence, Italy. While in Florence, they meet extraordinary people including a lady author Eleanor Lavish (Judi Dench), Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliot) a free-thinking man with no sense of social propriety, and his son George (Julian Sands) a sensitive and thoughtful man straight from a Goethe novel.
Charlotte is up in arms, the booking specifically “stated south facing rooms with a view” of the Arno, “and instead they are given north facing rooms with no view at all.” Mr. Emerson kindly and emphatically offers to exchange rooms with Charlotte and Lucy.
While Charlotte is horrified by the impropriety of the request (these are Edwardian English ladies), they ultimately acquiesce, after consulting with their Vicar, Mr. Beebe, who is also on holiday in Florence (Simon Callow), they agree to exchange rooms.
Of course, this opens the door to an uncomfortable level of familiarity between the two parties.
Swept away with the beauty of the landscape, George kisses Lucy!
But to quote the film, “things that are indelicate, can be beautiful.”
Now I know there are plenty of Hollywood kisses that people think are pretty darn spectacular, but I believe this clip is pretty fabulous, and easily makes the top ten of best on-screen kisses of all-time.
Okay, I will pause, and let you digest that morsel of romance.
Back to the story, so Lucy and Charlotte return to England, assuming the affair will be forgotten. However Lucy discovers not only had Charlotte confided in her friend Eleanor Lavish with the juicy gossip about Lucy and George, but Miss Lavish recounted the moment in her latest novel!
Which is mortifying enough in polite society, but Lucy is already engaged to the aptly named Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis)!
And Cecil, while totally adorable in a snobby British way, is everything George isn’t.
Lucy lives in a world of expectations, and double standards, her brother Freddy is loud brash and is allowed to behave as he chooses.
Cecil is fastidious, rude, and has never even kissed Lucy.
And then when he does? Oy vey!
When Lucy takes Cecil to the lake, she takes him to a place that symbolizes freedom in her world. By asking Cecil to kiss her, she is trying to replicate the sensation she got when George kissed her, alas…
That kiss is so polite, so restrained, so unmanly, so much for that kiss driving George out of her mind.
Cecil in his snobbery decides to play a joke on a neighbor by recommending some random people he met at the National Gallery to rent a cottage in town, inappropriate people (ho-ho capital joke indeed! Ah, the humor of the super-rich), and who does he invite? Mr. Emerson! And who does Lucy’s brother Freddy instantly make friends with and invite to the house? George!
And George resumes his completely inappropriate behavior almost immediately:
And “poor” Lucy is forced to pretend she’s not enjoying any of it, because it is against the social norms to kiss a random man, and even more so when one is engaged to a wealthy member of the peerage.
LUCY. In fact, he behaved abominably.
MR. EMERSON. Not abominably. He only tried when he should not have tried.
George sees how completely unsuitable of a partner Cecil is for Lucy:
GEORGE. But he’s the sort who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman. He doesn’t know what a woman is. He wants you for a possession, to look at like a painting or an ivory box. Something to own and to display. He doesn’t want you to be real, to think and to live. He doesn’t love you. But I love you. I want you to have your own thoughts and ideas, even when I hold you in my arms.
And Lucy is ultimately forced to decide whether she will follow the path of expectations or choose her fate.
Now you wonder why are we discussing a film about politely restrained romantic British Edwardian emotions in a sex-themed blogathon?
Because A Room with a View is about knowledge, humanity, and passion.
Passion and Repression
This theme repeats throughout the film: had Lucy and Charlotte not accepted the exchange of hotel rooms, they would have never known the Emersons; Eleanor Lavish demands Charlotte throw away her Baedeker (tour guide) to have an authentic Italian experience. Later in the film, when Lucy abandons her piano practice to wander through Florence, she witnesses a stabbing, and notices that George is kind; George kisses Lucy when she wanders off the path. It is only when the characters move against expectations that adventures occur. Not everything off the path is pleasant, but everything is exciting and an experience. When Lucy returns to her quiet family life, things seem much smaller, everyone in Florence she remembers as extraordinary. The people she met were all “adventurers”.
What is interesting is that all the kissing scenes in this film take place out of doors, or near windows, as if a room cannot contain natural human behavior. The outdoors represent freedom and the double standard between men and women:
MR. EMERSON. Women like looking at a view! Men don’t! My view is within, here is where the birds sing, here is where the sky is blue!
Men are free by nature; women are kept indoors, repressed. But Lucy’s true nature is something other than what society requires. She has wild and often unmanageable hair, and she plays Beethoven with reckless abandon, her friend Mr. Beebe comments:
MR. BEEBE. If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live, as she plays it will be very exciting, both for us and for her.
While the remark is rather impertinent for a vicar from an Edwardian perspective it is apt; Lucy is a girl living against her true nature.
The film is ultimately about the transition to adulthood, Lucy journeys from girl to wife.
A Room with a View is currently streaming on Netflix. I highly recommend it.
This post is a belated entry for the “Sex! (Now That I Have Your Attention) Blogathon.”Read the other juicy entries here.
Ciao for now, Dearies!