After a sell-out London premiere screening which was introduced by its stars Hugh Grant and James Wilby at BFI Flare: London LGBTQ Film Festival earlier this year, the new 4K restoration of Maurice, Merchant Ivory’s award-winning adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel, will open at the BFI and across the country this month, giving fans the chance to savour this gem of a film on the big screen once more.
Making its debut at the 1987 Venice Film Festival to rapturous applause and critical acclaim across the board, Maurice went on to become one of the most repeatedly viewed and eternally cherished films of its genre by those who amongst us fell madly in love with its dream-like romance qualities. It shares this reaction with that of a whole new generation who have done the same with Luca Guadagnino’s award winning 2017 film Call Me By Your Name for which director James Ivory wrote the screenplay.
The year is 1909 and Maurice (James Wilby), a shy upper class young man fresh out of a Victorian public school, is a new student at Cambridge where he hopes to follow in his late father’s footsteps by graduating with honours and taking a job in the city. After a chance meeting at the dean’s office, Maurice reluctantly accepts an invite to have tea with the aristocratic and “dangerous to know” Lord Risley (Mark Tandy), an overly talkative Oscar Wilde figure with whom he finds a strange affinity. On his arrival at Risley’s student digs, Maurice stumbles upon the amiable and handsome Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), an enthusiastic would-be politician whom Maurice takes an instant interest in.
Becoming inseparable overnight, it’s only a matter of time before Maurice and Clive have to admit to themselves and each other that their bond goes much further than just any friendship. This soon leads Clive to declare his undying love for his friend, a declaration which is first met with panic and rejection by Maurice, but which eventually brings the two of them even closer than before. After years of frustration brought on by Clive’s unwillingness to give up his status or take their love further, Maurice is left heartbroken after a showdown ends in their separation and in his best friend’s subsequent marriage. However, an invite to Clive’s grand country house some years later brings with it a new promise of love and adventure, only this time, Maurice must seize his chance or live to regret it.
James Ivory offers a mixture of ethereal romance and fierce realism in a film which has done nothing but improve with age. While Forster’s book was published posthumously in 1971 for fear of bringing shame on his family and status, Ivory should be commended for offering a film which is unabashedly pro-gay rights, even if its depiction of the upper classes couldn’t have sat well with the “New Queer Cinema” directive of social themed production of the time. Despite taking place within the rigidity of the English upper class system, Maurice isn’t afraid of approaching themes relating to snobbery, inequality and even manages to introduce an element of rebellion by introducing the character of Scudder, a handsome, gruff and unashamedly proud working class under-gameskeeper played by Rupert Graves.
Hugh Grant puts and excellent and what was to become a career defining turn in this pre-Four Weddings role. For his part, James Wilby is hugely convincing in the role of a stunted traditional Englishman attempting to break away from his social and class constraints to finally embrace love and life before it’s too late. Elsewhere, Simon Callow gives a solid performance as Maurice’s old school master, the suitably patrician yet hugely amiable teacher Mr. Ducie, while Ben Kingsley struggles to fully convince as psychologist Dr. Lasker-Jones in a performance which is slightly let down by a dodgy American accent.
Those looking for similarities between Maurice and Call Me By Your Name won’t have to look too hard to find parallels between these two extraordinary and much-loved productions. From the use of natural light and free-flowing narrative, to the beautifully crafted dialogue, Maurice offers a great reminder that regardless of the advances made by the film industry over the last 30 years, it is always worth revisiting old favourites to learn more from them and fall in love with them all over again.
Check out the BFI website which lists all the venues showing the film: https://www.bfi.org.uk/whats-on/bfi-film-releases/maurice