In a post-Call Me By Your Name world where the LGBT community has seen a film boom according to Vulture, cinematic representations of varying sexualities or genders are currently embraced by critics, audiences and the box office alike.
Working as a template to which Luca Guadagnino would adopt in adapting André Aciman’s novel, James Ivory’s Maurice has gained a new 4k rerelease thanks to the British Film Institute. Proving timely in reminding audiences of the film’s role as a forefather to the ‘success’ currently occurring in the genre, one cannot look past its significance in a new context.
Adapted from E.M. Forster’s novel – a template key to Merchant Ivory Productions – Maurice is tainted with biographical elements from the author. Marking a similar tone to even a novel such as A Passage to India, Forster’s emotive writing naturally translates well to the screen. Still, under the direction of Ivory, the flow of the narrative over numerous years does not become mangled across time. Imbued with historical scope over its period setting in the early 20th century, Maurice Hall and Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) meet as university students in Cambridge. Slowly forming a romantic connection in the idyllic setting, their love for one another consequently leads to ramifications for both.
In amongst the luscious Edwardian production design, crafted by Brian Ackland-Snow, the cinematography of Pierre Lhomme is composed in the interiors of the university dorms, exquisite English houses and even in external space. The focus of Lhomme and Ivory’s efforts to create an internal space that is filled with private intimate moments crafts a unique space of love between Maurice and Clive – away from the praying heteronormative eyes of society at the time. Strangely, the opening & closing titles cards allude towards to luscious work of Martin Scorsese’s collaboration with Saul Bass in The Age of Innocence. Nevertheless, they work to interpolate the viewer into this extremely austere world of veneers and hiding one’s own true self from the world.
Behind the visuals rests an absorbing performance from James Wilby as the titular character. Marking a significant step in his career, Wilby expresses the initial joy of finding love to the darkness that follows when that feeling leaves one’s life. Varying further in the manners to which he holds himself as he matures in life, his performance is quietly astounding for such a relative newcomer into the industry at this point in his career. Extending this, the vulnerability that is exuded from the actor’s eyes in later sequence emits all the melancholy love can yield. Comparable in youth at the film’s time of release, Hugh Grant’s initial school boy charm diminishes as he has to come to terms with his sexuality and his place amongst the English bourgeoise. An ode to the fading presence time possesses over love or desire, the profound nature of Forster’s personal and professional life is brought to fruition by the deaf acting.
If released today, the acclaim that Maurice may have received could have significantly differed than at the time of its initial release. Still, running throughout the creative team and film itself, it’s impeccably arranged and executed as though it is a poised piece of fine ceramic china. A mirror of the delicate nature of such an item, a fitting 4k restoration and rerelease draw out the heartbreaking beauty of this relic from an alien cultural landscape.