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A Room with Two Views: An Insight into the 1985 and 2007 Film Adaptations of E. M. Forster’s Novel

Une chambre avec deux vues : un aperçu des adaptations cinématographiques du roman de E. M. Forster de 1985 et de 2007
Elena Raicu


Considéré parmi les meilleurs romans en langue anglaise du dernier siècle, Chambre avec vue (A Room with a View) de E. M. Forster (1908) est premièrement un roman de formation, étant centré sur la découverte faite par une jeune femme — Lucy Honeychurch — du monde, d’elle-même et de l’amour, et en second lieu un portrait critique de la société anglaise. Le roman a été adapté au cinéma deux fois: en 1985, basé sur un scénario de Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, et encore une fois en 2007, avec l’aide du scénariste Andrew Davies. La première adaptation cinématographique suit de près l’intrigue originale, mais Davies choisit de raconter la même histoire du point de vue du personnage principal, tel qu’elle se rappelle le passé quelque temps après la Première Guerre mondiale. Tandis que l’innovation est bienvenue, comme forme, elle change de façon malheureuse la vie de Lucy après les événements du roman et suit un chemin très différent de celui choisi par Forster même dans Une vue sans chambre (A View without a Room) (1958). Bien que cette nouvelle fin soit la première différence visible entre les deux adaptations, ces deux films représentent en réalité deux vues très différentes d’une même histoire. L’adaptation de 1985 présente méticuleusement la société anglaise du début du xxe siècle et rend justice à l’atmosphère italienne qui assure le contexte de la première partie de l’histoire. Ensuite, alors qu’il est bien clair que Lucy Honeychurch est son personnage principal, le film fait plus qu’une esquisse des autres personnages. Leurs actions sont justifiées par leurs pensées et tout ça est bien défini par leurs personnalités. Ce n’est pas le cas avec la seconde adaptation, qui se concentre en grande partie sur son héroïne et met en relief la conscience de sa sexualité. Les autres personnages manquent de substance et ne sont pas toujours convaincants dans leurs rôles, mais sont présents dans l’histoire dans la mesure où ils viennent en contact avec l’héroïne. Les sociétés italienne et anglaise sont aussi reléguées à l’arrière-plan. Il s’agit d’un film à personnage unique. Par conséquent, si l’on considère qu’une adaptation cinématographique présente l’histoire à travers les lentilles de la société contemporaine à la réalisation du film, on peut se demander avec raison ce que les deux adaptations du roman Chambre avec vue nous disent de la dernière partie du xxe siècle et de la première partie du xxie siècle.

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Texte intégral

To my late Professor Octavian Rusu

  • 1  Modern Library, 1998a.
  • 2  Modern Library, 1998b.

1A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster, was published in 1908 and ninety years later it was nominated among the 100 English-language best novels of the 20th century by both the Modern Library (#79)1 and Radcliffe Publishing Course (#39).2 The novel is appealing through its double meaning: firstly, it represents a Bildungsroman, the story being centred on the emancipation of a young woman from the constraints of the society she lives in; secondly, it represents a critical portrayal of Edwardian society.

2The heroine of the novel, Lucy Honeychurch, is a young woman of the upper middle class, who goes on a journey of discovery of the world, of herself and of romance. Her life can be summed up with the words of Cecil Vyse, her betrothed, who considers her education as a model one for their future children: ‘[brought] up among honest country folks for freshness, [sent] to Italy for subtlety, and then [...] to London’ (Ch. XI). She is caught between propriety and her own feelings. Her journey to Italy represents an external emancipation, which establishes her position in society, and also a first step to her interior liberation, that of her thoughts and feelings, which, for most of the novel, she hides even from herself. The titles of the chapters emphasize the important steps that Lucy goes through on her path to accepting herself: The Bertolini (Ch. I), In Santa Croce with No Baedeker (Ch. II), Possibilities of a Pleasant Outing (Ch. V), [...] Mr George Emerson, […], and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them (Ch. VI), They Return (Ch. VII), Lucy as a Work of Art (Ch. IX), In Mrs Vyse’s Well-Appointed Flat (Ch. XI), How Lucy Faced the External Situation Bravely (Ch. XIV), The Disaster Within (Ch. XV), Lying to George (Ch. XVI), Lying to Cecil (Ch. XVII), Lying to Mr Beebe, Mrs Honeychurch, Freddy, and The Servants (Ch. XVIII), Lying to Mr Emerson (Ch. XIX), The End of the Middle Ages (Ch. XX).

3A Room with a View was adapted for the screen twice, in 1985 and again in 2007. The first film is a 117-minute British production directed by James Ivory, starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy, Julian Sands as George, Maggie Smith as Charlotte, Daniel Day-Lewis as Cecil, Denholm Elliott as Mr Emerson and Judi Dench as Eleanor Lavish. The screenplay was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who brought the movie one of its three Oscars in 1986, and it follows closely the original storyline. The structure of the film is also similar to that of the novel, the story being divided into various parts by Brecht-style intertitles based on some of the chapters.

4The film was positively reviewed by critics and received many awards and nominations, including for best film, best director, best screenplay and best actor (winners Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Day-Lewis). Critic Roger Ebert wrote about it: ‘It is an intellectual film, but intellectual about emotions: It encourages us to think about how we feel, instead of simply acting on our feelings’. Vincent Canby, for The New York Times, praised it for its faithfulness to Forster’s novel and narrative style: ‘Mr Ivory and Miss Jhabvala have somehow found a voice for the film not unlike that of Forster, who tells the story of ‘A Room With a View’ with as much genuine concern as astonished amusement. That’s quite an achievement’.

5In October 2010, it was listed number 9 of Top 25 Best Romantic Films of All Time, created by critics of The Guardian (Shoard). And in August 2015, a special screening at the British Museum, in the opening of BFI summer love weekend (British Museum), marked 30 years from its release.

6The second adaptation, produced in 2007, is a British TV movie about 25 minutes shorter than the previous adaptation. Director Nicholas Renton teamed up with screenwriter Andrew Davies, known for writing scripts for adaptations of classic English novels. The main characters are played here by Elaine Cassidy (Lucy), Rafe Spall (George), Laurence Fox (Cecil), Timothy Spall (Mr Emerson) and Sophie Thompson (Charlotte). The original story is presented in flashbacks in a post-WWI period, as Lucy returns to Florence 10 years later. This allows Forster’s story to be completed with subsequent events and sets a new ending in the present. After the events in the novel, Lucy goes on a path that is different from the one imagined by Forster himself in the short sequel A View without a Room (1958). Also unlike the original story, which is not dated by Forster, but presumably takes place in 1908, this film clearly dates both stories: the present is the year 1922 and the past remembered by Lucy is situated ‘10 years ago’, therefore in 1912 (4 years after the novel was published). The dissent from the spirit of the story, through the major changes brought to it, and its limited visibility imposed by its format as a TV film made it impossible for this adaptation to have a similar success to the Merchant Ivory production.

7Before setting off a deeper analysis of the two adaptations, I find useful, for an easier reading, to establish the following designation: the 1985 adaptation will be referred to from now on as Old Lucy, while the 2007 adaptation as New Lucy. The two expressions are borrowed from Forster himself, who used them in relation to the first two versions of the novel (McLeod Hewitt 359). It is also necessary to specify that the main purpose of this article is not to analyze the literary faithfulness of the two adaptations to the novel they are based on—although some observations regarding this aspect will be made here and there—, but to emphasize how they managed to capture its spirit and essence.

8As shown above, the two adaptations have a different approach to Forster’s novel: Old Lucy follows a classical path of adapting literary works, focusing on the development of the story and being as faithful as possible to the original. The additional elements are there to present in greater detail some aspects only touched by Forster or to emphasize his ideas. On the other hand, New Lucy focuses mainly on the heroine, who assumes here the role of a focaliser, as the story is developed according to her recollections after 10 years.

  • 3  One worthy observation regards the amplification of Charlotte’s role in getting Lucy and George to (...)
  • 4  This idea of stock characters is confirmed towards the end of the film, by a mirroring scene of th (...)

9In Old Lucy, the development of the story coincides with the development of Lucy within English society as she emancipates herself from its constraints. In order to give more substance to the story, great care was assigned to present the other characters as complex personalities too, in a way that is fairly faithful to the novel. They are not just satellites around the heroine, but have clear paths to follow on their own.3 The Edwardian society is also well illustrated, by keeping Forster’s critical view of it, through some kind of stock characters4: the intellectual woman (Eleanor Lavish), the maiden gentlewomen (the Miss Alans), the free-thinker (Mr Emerson), the prim chaperon (Charlotte Bartlett), the snob (Cecil Vyse), etc. The Italian background, witness to Lucy and George’s crossing of a ‘spiritual boundary’ (Ch. IV) towards adulthood and romance, receives a fair treatment too.

  • 5  The quotations from the two adaptations will be marked with the assigned designation, Old Lucy or (...)

10The film is not lacking in diversions from the novel, either minor or flagrant, representing cuts, alterations or additions. But many seem to have their special place in the story and contribute to the unitary feeling of the film. There is firstly the time reason: various episodes are combined in order to condense the complex action into fewer scenes—for example, placing both the visit to Santa Croce and the murder in Piazza della Signoria in the same day. Then there are more profound reasons: other changes were made in order to stress particular character traits or to better explain subsequent happenings. For instance, it is Charlotte, and not Lucy, who goes for a walk with Eleanor Lavish and is deprived of her Baedeker (Ch. II). The episode illustrates the beginning of the confidence between the two middle-aged women and is also premonitory in regard to Lucy’s metamorphosis and her becoming the heroine of Eleanor Lavish’s novel, as ‘the young English girl, transfigured by Italy’ (20:45 - 20:48).5 There are also scenes that in the novel are only narrated and the film chooses to bring on camera: the lemonade episode (Ch. III), the violets (here cornflowers) for the Miss Alans (Ch.s III and X), the conversation between Charlotte and George on the road to Fiesole (Ch. VI); Cecil’s encounter with the Emersons in the National Gallery—in flashback (Ch. X); Freddy singing comic songs and annoying Cecil (who does leave the room; Ch. XIII) and others.

11New Lucy is rather a one-character film. Lucy dominates the camera and the story, while the other characters seem to be important only insofar as they come in contact with her. Otherwise they are not treated with the proper care and they are almost one-dimensional: Charlotte is plaintive and almost nothing more, Mr Emerson is outspoken, but lacks greatly in kindness, Cecil is just a snob wannabe, limiting himself to reading, the Miss Alans are very straightforward and less gentle, Mrs Honeychurch is rather serious and Freddy is an idler. Some of the characters of the novel were even given up (Mr Floyd, Minnie, Sir Harry—only briefly mentioned in relation to his villas), as they did not have a direct influence on Lucy, but helped only to describe social mores or the distinctive faults of other characters. The scarce attention that marks the treatment of all characters, except for Lucy, also affects the depiction of Italian and English societies, which become less important than in the novel. While Forster brings them forward, here they constitute only the background for Lucy’s story. Likewise, while some scenes are faithfully illustrated (even compared to Old Lucy—meeting Mr Beebe at dinner time, Eleanor Lavish taking Lucy to Santa Croce, playing Beethoven on a rainy day, Mr Beebe’s involvement in persuading Mrs Honeychurch to let Lucy go to Greece with the Miss Alans and others), there are many that were dropped out or narrowed down (like the entire plot around the search for the proper tenants for Cissie Villa). This simplifies the storyline very much and also breaks its unity, leaving many questions unanswered.

12If the tone of the movie was rather dull until its last part, New Lucy offers now a really dramatic beginning and ending for the Lucy-George couple: told by Mr Emerson that George went for ‘one last swim’ (1:25:36 - 1:25:37), Lucy runs to the pond, where, in an ominous pose, she finds him floating on the surface of the water. She goes to him, they embrace and kiss, then they appear in their room at the Bertolini, making love. The scenery changes again, as the camera focuses on the sky: a storm begins, the noise of the thunder mingles with the noise of cannons and, in the darkness, George’s body appears, lying on a battlefield. Then the verbal confirmation comes: he died in the war. It is difficult to understand the motivation of such a turn in what is considered to be Forster’s most optimistic novel, and even in comparison to his gloomier sequel, where, in spite of numerous difficulties, Lucy and George still love each other after 50 years (Forster, 1958). Even the fact that he fought in WWI goes against his beliefs, as indicated by Forster in the same sequel: ‘George instantly became a conscientious objector’ of the war.

13Although widely different, the two adaptations do have a few things in common with respect to the changes they made in the story. For instance, both Old Lucy and New Lucy interpret George’s kiss on the hills near Fiesole as a romantic kiss on the lips. Describing the scene, Forster relates simply that he ‘kissed her’ (Ch. VI), but he suggests on various later occasions that he kissed her on the cheek (Ch.s XI, XIII—‘that touch of lips on her cheek’—and XV). Although this detail is registered in the undated version of Jhabvala’s script for Old Lucy (Prawer Jhabvala 41), in the end the kiss on the lips was preferred.

Lucy the Heroine and Lucy the Focaliser

  • 6   There is a small detail in the film that comes as another proof of the story being told from Lucy (...)

14Both Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Old Lucy) and Andrew Davies (New Lucy) succeeded in keeping Lucy Honeychurch in the position of main character of the story. They did it however in two distinct ways. Lucy being the heroine is obvious, in Old Lucy, from the attitude of the other likewise well-developed characters. She can be regarded as the point in which they all meet. She is the one that keeps them connected. On the other hand, in New Lucy it is the time that the camera spends on her, more than on the others, that underlines her position in the hierarchy of the characters. There is also her function as a focaliser that plays a part in delineating her as the heroine, the story being clearly presented as she remembers it.6 She is the only character that appears in both stories, the one in her present and the one she recollects—that is, until the Italian driver shows up, giving the story in the present a radical turn.

15The fact that Old Lucy follows the novel closely, bringing on screen all the major events that help shaping Lucy, represents also a great advantage in creating a complex film character. This means that a portrayal of Forster’s character can be equally considered a description of Helena Bonham Carter’s Lucy. Unfortunately, a similar statement cannot be made for Elaine Cassidy’s Lucy in New Lucy. It’s not just that she misses some relevant experiences in her story (like getting involved in the quest for the perfect tenants for Sir Harry’s villa, and her subsequent fight with Cecil for spoiling her plans with the Miss Alans), which deprive her of the opportunity to show her various sides. But the way she faces each happening she goes through is somehow different from Forster’s Lucy. An example can be given right from the beginning of the story, concerning Lucy’s first trial, that is the discovery of her courtyard view. It is easily observed that the two filmic Lucys start their adventure in Florence with opposite views of things. Emphasizing her literary counterpart’s feelings, an ‘expression of keen disappointment’ (Prawer Jhabvala 1) can be seen on Lucy’s face in Old Lucy, as she opens the window shutters of her room—‘I thought we were going to see the Arno!’, she complains (2:39 - 2:42). Yet in New Lucy she is fine with the room: ‘It’s a sort of view. It’s a courtyard view’, she says smiling, while Charlotte is in distress (1:57 - 2:02).

  • 7  This time, her broken engagement already made known to Mr Emerson by Charlotte, she is truthful ab (...)

16‘Miss Bonham Carter gives a remarkably complex performance of a young woman who is simultaneously reasonable and romantic, generous and selfish, and timid right up to the point where she takes a heedless plunge into the unknown’, wrote critic Vincent Canby in 1986. Her Lucy is indeed innocent and sweetly childish (her real age at the time, 19 years old, being also of real help), translating her discontent or irritation in a pouty mouth and a frowned look. She is mindful of social conventions, yet she is light-hearted and playful; she is serious and occasionally matronly, but also adds to her behaviour just the proper amount of coquetry. She mentions no gods or heroes, but does contemplate George in the barley field as if he were one. She is generous and kind, but also peevish after playing Beethoven, or cross when things do not go her way. She is timid and sometimes acts cowardly, but she can be rebellious too. And furthermore, as Mr Emerson tells her in the novel only, she is ‘inclined to get muddled’ (Ch. II)—but she gets out of the muddle she created by being truthful.7 Summing up, this Lucy is very close to Forster’s.

  • 8  Elaine Cassidy’s Lucy does or says things that Forster’s Lucy would not, like: she reproaches Char (...)

17Elaine Cassidy, on the other hand, offers a more mature interpretation of Lucy, maybe because she herself was 27 years old when filming. Her Lucy is outspoken, sometimes tactless, even impertinent (though not maliciously), definitely rebellious, more independent and worldly-wise, practical, flirtatious and, in her relation with Charlotte, she is the dominant figure.8 She is a captive not so much of the social constraints, but of the limits she creates for herself. Although there are many piano-playing moments and Mr Beebe keeps his line ‘I put it down to too much Beethoven’ (see Ch. III), she does not seem to have the same relation with music that Forster’s Lucy has. In Florence, after her playing, she is not peevish, but rather impertinent (in telling Mr Beebe and the Miss Alans that she is going for a walk alone) or quite calm and content (walking on the streets, buying postcards). When she does look cross, it is rather because of exterior events (like the news of the Emersons moving into the village, or seeing George, naked, in the woods), not because the music is disturbing.

  • 9  There is an interesting event in New Lucy, when, at her mother’s insistence, Lucy shouts at her a (...)

18One notable ‘fault’ of New Lucy is that it does not show the extent of Lucy’s lies9 and does not present her deceit to everyone as the cause for all her troubles. The revelatory discussion she has with Mr Emerson goes here on a different path and moves the problem from her having deceived everybody to George being ‘not quite the right social class’ for her. In the novel, Mr Emerson tells her that her mother and friends may well despise her after all her lies, ‘and rightly, if it is ever right to despise’ (Ch. XIX). Later, Forster confirms the effect of her lies: ‘the Honeychurches had not forgiven them; they were disgusted at her past hypocrisy’ (Ch. XX). Yet here there is no word of broken trust, but rather of ‘wrong’ choice—‘no doubt your family and friends will make a great fuss about it’, this is how old Emerson continues his speech (1:24:48 - 1:24:54). When Lucy finally admits to have ‘made such a muddle of things’ and fears that ‘everyone will be furious’ with her, he tells her that ‘it doesn’t matter, it’s your life, not theirs’ (1:25:08 - 1:25:18). His message is similar to the one in the novel, but it has a different meaning. That Mr Emerson encouraged her to fight ‘for more than Love or Pleasure’, for Truth (Ch. XIX). This Mr Emerson is again referring to a certain disapproval, coming from the others, of George. Even his son brought earlier in his speech the idea that choosing him might frighten her because it was not what she planned or because her mother might not approve, hoping to convince her with the same ‘it’s your life, not theirs’ (1:06:54 - 1:06:55). His line ‘I know you think I’m the wrong class’ (1:06:22 - 1:06:23) also suggests that her refusal comes from seeing him as socially inferior. This contradicts, however, Forster’s statement that Lucy believed in the idea of equality (Ch. X) and that she first refused George ‘not because she disliked him, but because she did not know what had happened [by the river], and suspected that he did know. And this frightened her’ (Ch. VI). Then, when he writes that her emotions are of the kind that ‘the conventions and the world disapprove [of]’, he does not mean that her feelings are wrong in the eyes of society because they are for someone who is of an inferior class. He actually stresses further that what she feels is the purest and most passionate love, which does not find its place in a conventional and withered society: ‘Love felt and returned, love which our bodies exact and our hearts have transfigured, love which is the most real thing that we shall ever meet, reappeared now as the world’s enemy’ (Ch. XVI). Moreover, when she finds out in Surrey that he is a clerk, she does not seem disturbed; on the contrary, she shares the information with Charlotte, adding reprovingly that he is not a porter, as she and Eleanor believed back in Florence (see Ch. XIV).

19More than emancipation from social constraints, New Lucy focuses on the sexual awakening of its heroine. The close-ups of details of the statues in Piazza della Signoria and Loggia dei Lanzi, mainly of their nudity and sexuality (The Rape of Polyxena, The Rape of the Sabine Women, David) and less of violent gestures (Perseus with the Head of Medusa), combined with close-ups of Lucy’s face, indicate her first encounter with nudity, her bewilderment at discovering the human body. As a counterexample, in Old Lucy, the focus is on violence (the head of Medusa, Perseus’ sword, Hercules’ club, Nessus’ head, Pyrrhus’ sword, the Sabine man, the head of the dog at the base of Hercules and Cacus), as if ominous of the crime that will soon take place in the Piazza.

  • 10  ‘When he is naked, he stands on the bank of the pool in a Michelangelesque pose, weight on one foo (...)

20Next, when she buys her postcards, she feels the desire to buy one with David: she takes it, contemplates it, then hurriedly puts it back, as if frightened by what she felt or thought. Intentional or not, this is an allusion to Forster’s presentation of George as ‘Michelangelesque’, on the bank of the pond. Jhabvala, in her script for Old Lucy, details the description, transforming him into the exact image of David.10 Yet neither of the two Georges poses like the Michelangelesque sculpture in the mentioned scene.

21Then there is her reaction to George’s kiss up in the hills. Other than being puzzled, Lucy declares dreamily to have ‘enjoyed’ the kiss, which she does not see as an insult: ‘Insult me? It’s that what he did? Actually, I rather enjoyed it!’ (37:00 - 37:09). There is also the added scene between Lucy and George at the pension, after the drive in the hills, in which she bumps into him coming out of the common bathroom, almost naked, with only a towel wrapped around his hips. She looks a little embarrassed, yet she does not act like a girl who has been indoctrinated with etiquette rules. She stays and talks to him, and almost consents to another kiss, when Charlotte appears and she runs into the bathroom, as if caught red-handed. She also has moments when she is openly flirtatious—at the pond, she coquettishly tells Cecil: ‘We used to swim here with nothing on. What do you think of that?’ (48:11 - 48:15).

22Finally, there are the close-ups with her lips waiting for Cecil to kiss her and with their faces while they kiss, and then the explicit and extended love scenes, beginning in the pond in Surrey and continuing in their bedroom (with a view) in Florence.

23The radical turn in the story from 1922, which I mentioned earlier, is the insinuation, at the very end of the film, of a blooming romantic relationship between Lucy and the cab-driver. Although surprising, it is not however totally unpredictable. In the story from the past, Lucy already bonds with him—she tells him that she is sorry about his sister, he picks some cornflowers for her while showing her the way to George (like in the novel, except for the flowers, which were violets there), and she preserves one in her Baedeker, finding it again 10 years later. In the present, she has an encounter with the driver on the streets of Florence. Without recognizing her, he invites her to take a tour in the carriage, but she refuses. Then, as he goes away, she turns and asks him about his sister, proving that she recognized him. Again in the present, as her story with George has ended, she hears the driver calling her from the road: ‘Signorina, fare un giro!’ (1:29:26 - 1:29:29). This may actually be inspired from the novel, where Forster introduces in the last chapter an insistent cab-driver inviting Lucy and George to a tour, writing that he ‘might be that very Phaethon who had set this happiness in motion twelve months ago’ (Ch. XX). She accepts his invitation and they return together in the hills, where they talk about the events of 10 years before. The film ends with them smilingly gazing at each other and holding hands.

A Room with a View as the Story of George

24There is no error in saying that A Room with a View is George’s story almost as much as it is Lucy’s. One reason for singling him out as a co-protagonist of the novel is the fact that the two characters become lovers. Yet George is not just a lover. He is ‘the source of passion in a society that is otherwise tightly bound in convention, timidity and dryness’, the one who will save Lucy from her existence lived within the limits of decorum, offering her ‘a view out of the room of her own life’ (Ebert). Another reason is that, although Forster does not come back to George as often as he does for Lucy, he is the only other character that is subject to an evolution throughout the story. From an ‘anxious boy’ (Ch. IV), an introvert and a laconic speaker, always brooding on the things of the universe, he grows into a man aware of his feelings, of the path he wants to take—‘He wanted to live now, to win at tennis, to stand for all he was worth in the sun’ (Ch. XV),—able to speak out his thoughts and fight for his chance to happiness. The turning point is represented by the murder in Piazza della Signoria, to which he is an eyewitness, just like Lucy. But it is not the murder itself that makes him ‘want to live’ (Ch. IV), for it alone can make him at most wonder about life. That tremendous something he talks about happened because and thanks to this particular event, and that is falling in love with Lucy as he caught her in his arms when she fainted. The end of the novel reveals a George that is absolutely content, ‘a boy after all’ in his innocent happiness, full of gratitude towards those who helped in making it all happen. He is the confirmation that ‘Truth counts, Truth does count’ (Ch. XIX)—‘I acted the truth—the only thing I did do—and you came back to me’ (Ch. XX).

25Old Lucy does even more than Forster to show that this is also George’s story: it brings on screen episodes that in the novel are just stories told by other characters, it gives George more time on the camera, it emphasizes his free spirit, his affection for his father, and even his love for Lucy and the effect that it has on him. It does pretty much what Pride and Prejudice will do in 1995 for its main male character, Mr Darcy. Interestingly enough, it is Andrew Davies who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of another English classic.

26Julian Sands’s solid interpretation of George Emerson reveals a profound character, just like Forster created him: complex and yet simple, sombre and impassive, and yet innocent like a boy in his anxiety and happiness, laconic and yet capable of delivering impressive speeches on love ‘in his own simple, straightforward language’ (Prawer Jhabvala 100). His restless nature is shown from the beginning: serious, brooding, perplexed, trying to solve some kind of mystery as he carefully arranges the food on his plate in a note of interrogation, similar to the one he scrawled on the back of a painting in his room with a view, this one in its turn reminiscent of the one in the novel (see Ch. I). And although many of his literary counterpart’s philosophical remarks are not to be found in his lines here, his predisposition to philosophy is well illustrated, indeed not with words, but by using images, like the ones in Santa Croce, where he looks completely absorbed in his internal monologue. The events in Piazza della Signoria make him exclaim: ‘Something tremendous has happened!’ (27:13 - 27:14). But this time he is aware that both him and Lucy experienced this yet enigmatic transformation: ‘Something’s happened to me. And to you!’ (27:31 - 27:34). He will later reveal to her the meaning of this ‘something’, during what Ebert calls ‘an astonishing speech’. They have been blessed to find ‘what’s right for them’ and ‘it means that nothing must hinder [them] ever again’ (1:26:02 - 1:26:20). As Ebert writes further on, ‘he explains that Love exists between them. (Not love, but Love—you can hear the capital letter in his voice)’.

27George is an introvert, and yet an outdoor type, as it is clearly emphasized in Old Lucy, where most of his appearances are outside and many in nature—like the memorable climbing in an olive tree, from where he shouts his creed: ‘Beauty! Espoir! Liberty! Trust! Joy! Beauty! Joy! Love!’ (31:58 - 32:41). This portrayal brings forward the fact that George lives out of the limits imposed by society, from where he will finally rescue Lucy. It also shows in contrasting images how he has ‘gone under’ after Lucy’s refusal (Ch. XIX): from ‘a conquering hero’ (Prawer Jhabvala 120), riding his bicycle radiantly like the sun above him, on his way to see his father in Summer Street, he leaves the village as ‘a hero in defeat’ (Prawer Jhabvala 119), painfully pedalling in the heavy rain. And it underlines another difference between George and Cecil, who is a representative of the purest indoor type.

  • 11  Just to give some examples, he openly tells Lucy, after she bumps into him in front of the bathroo (...)

28The dreamy, silent George is more alive and daring in the interpretation of Rafe Spall for New Lucy,11 yet he lacks much of his predecessor’s charm. He is neither perplexed, nor sombre, nor is he trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. Actually he seems quite light-hearted, he often smiles, yet not ‘across something’ like Forster’s George (see Ch. I), and he talks with greater easiness, still outspokenly and without much concern for decorum, like his literary counterpart, but this time looking at people. He does however keep a certain stammer in his speech, like a vestige of his introvert nature, which makes it difficult for him to clearly express himself at times.

  • 12  Such an early mention of his profession labels him as a commoner, which explains somehow the stres (...)

29The spectator does not get to know much about Spall’s George, except for his feelings for Lucy. His father tells her, in Santa Croce, that he is a clerk at the railway.12 But Mr Beebe does not discover his interest in books, philosophy, or reading German. His problem is not that ‘things won’t fit’ (Ch. II). It is just that ‘sometimes his feelings get the better of him’ (13:13 - 13:15). He is not too rational, like Forster’s George; on the contrary, his emotions get control of his judgement, which makes him ‘[keep] seeing problems’ (13:51 - 13:52). He actually gives the impression of being simple-minded, not having the depth of thought that Forster writes about. But he is neither offered the chance to prove himself, as the conversations in which his reason is challenged do not take place here. He is not even sure if he is an atheist and a socialist—he just supposes he is one because his father is.

  • 13  The distinction dead-alive is emphasized also in Old Lucy, but not with words. It is how the peopl (...)

30Mr Emerson lets Lucy know, while in Santa Croce, that George likes her. Such an immediate feeling—they only met the night before—diminishes the greatness of his awareness in front of death and love. His reaction to the murder is expressed in a dull tone: ‘Such a tremendous thing. He’s dead and we’re alive. [...] We’re alive’ (23:17 - 24:05).13 There is no transformation in his nature, but an awakening. He becomes aware of being alive, not of a happening that makes him want to live. There is next the kissing scene on the hills outside Florence, totally lacking in astonishment from his part. He looks as if he were expecting her to come and this gives the bitter impression of a planned scheme between him and the driver. His dull tone dominates also his speech on love. He is not ardently passionate in his attempt to convince Lucy of his feelings and his words are silly—‘You may be engaged to him, but you don’t love him. […] No one could. Not in that way. Maybe his mother does, I don’t know’ (1:05:20 - 1:05:34). He does not try to open her eyes to Cecil’s real character, but, strangely enough, he encourages her not to be mindful of the class difference between them. This is a whole new argument, unlikely to be used by Forster’s George, both him and his father being the sort of people who would not pay attention to this matter.

Portraying Edwardian Society

31In A Room with a View, Forster also realizes a critical portrayal of English society, sometimes openly, other times using fine ironies. He usually directs his critical eye on three faults: a stiffness in respecting social standings and decorum, ‘the narrowness and superficiality of the Anglo-Saxon tourist’ (Ch. VI), and a disdainful pity for the strangers. The two adaptations illustrate them in various degrees of fidelity, and at times in striking reinterpretations of Forster’s ideas. This is another confirmation of the difference of vision between Old Lucy and New Lucy, the first offering a unitary story, the second focusing more on its heroine.

32One of the most surprising changes is New Lucy’s decision to make the Emersons give the speech on social standings. The fact that they grasp the social differences between them and the others, including the Honeychurches, puts them even lower in the social hierarchy than Forster had intended in his novel. There is however a perceptible dissimilarity between George and his father. From what the son tells Lucy—‘I know you think I’m the wrong class’ (1:06:22 - 1:06:23)—, it can be understood that he realizes there is a social difference between them, which she cares about; yet he does not actually see himself as her inferior, because his feelings tell him different: ‘I’ve held you in my arms and I know that felt right to you’ (1:06:29 - 1:06:33). But old Emerson stresses exactly George’s class inferiority: ‘I know he’s not quite the right social class for you and no doubt your family and friends will make a great fuss about it’ (1:24:48 - 1:24:54).

33The two adaptations also treat differently the matter of decorum, to which Charlotte seems to pay the most attention in the novel. Therefore, the most visible distinction between them is given by the almost opposite personalities of the two Charlottes. In the absence of a dominant Charlotte, the Miss Alans assume in New Lucy the role of guardian of decorum, but without much success with Lucy. Old Lucy’s vision, on the other hand, encourages Charlotte to remain stiff in respecting social conventions, so much that Mr Emerson replies, grasping the failing of the rigid etiquette: ‘It’s ridiculous, these niceties. They go against common sense. Every kind of sense’ (6:11 -6:16).

34Then there are the clothes and the hairstyle of the characters: smart, elegant, proper in Old Lucy, indicating the importance of decorum and also stressing the differences of class (see Cecil and the Emersons in the National Gallery) and those between official and high society moments (the engagement party or the dinner party at the Vyses) and leisure activities (playing tennis), which require comfortable clothes, and between day activities and dinner time. In New Lucy, on the other hand, all characters wear simple and comfortable clothes, with the exception of Mrs Vyse, whose presence and role are unfortunately much reduced. This treatment of the clothing suggests a blur of the social differences between the characters and a relaxation of rules and etiquette, already obvious in their behaviour.

35New Lucy pays attention to Forster ridiculing the use of Baedeker, because he does it by stressing Lucy’s feelings of loss, after Eleanor took her guide: ‘Tears of indignation came to Lucy’s eyes [...] How could she find her way about in Santa Croce? [...] she entered the church depressed and humiliated, not even able to remember whether it was built by the Franciscans or the Dominicans’ (Ch. II). Lucy is here left alone and without her Baedeker, and in these circumstances she is not sure ‘what remarks to make about [Santa Croce]’, therefore concluding that: ‘I’m not much for this [church]’ (12:32 - 12:36).

36Forster also saves an important spot, in his novel, for the Italian background. He inserts images of Italian society amidst the main events of the novel (see Ch. II) and leads the reader, at the same time with his characters, through the ‘true Italy’: on ‘dear dirty back [ways]’, in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata with della Robbia babies, in Santa Croce with the Giotto frescoes in the Peruzzi and Bardi Chapels, in the ‘stony’ Piazza della Signoria and Loggia dei Lanzi with their ‘statues that [...] suggest, not the innocence of childhood, nor the glorious bewilderment of youth, but the conscious achievements of maturity’ (Ch. VI), on the Lungarno, in the hills between Florence and Fiesole.

37The two adaptations created their own Italian itinerary, more or less faithful to the original one imagined by Forster, but definitely remaining true to their vision of the story: Old Lucy with its focus on the storyline and on the atmosphere that surrounds the characters in creating a unitary image, New Lucy with its heroine presenting her own story. Old Lucy walks fairly on Forster’s steps in Florence, but also lingers in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata and, in Santa Croce, stops firstly in the Bardi Chapel. It offers aerial views of the Arno and the buildings on the Lungarno, and of a sunny Piazza della Signoria; next it shows Florence in the distance, as seen from the hills, with Brunelleschi’s Dome as the central figure. Here and there, it offers close-ups of Ponte Vecchio, the equestrian monument of the Grand Duke Ferdinando I, the funerary monument of Dante Alighieri, the fresco with the Death of Saint Francis in the Bardi Chapel, the statuary in Piazza della Signoria, the Fountain of Neptune. Or it uses as backgrounds the Basilica Santissima Annunziata and the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the major altarpiece with the Virgin in the centre and the frescoes on the left wall of the central Chapel in Santa Croce, the Piazzale degli Uffizi and the Tower of Palazzo Vecchio. There is also the country road to Fiesole, the hills with olive trees, and barley fields with poppies. The lively colourful images are backed by Richard Robbins’s original music and, more important in creating a true Italian atmosphere, by the Tuscan Puccini’s music from Gianni Schicchi (the aria O mio babbino caro)—during the opening credits—and from La Rondine, the aria Chi il bel sogno di Doretta revealing itself as the perfect choice to accompany George and Lucy’s kiss in the barley field.

38New Lucy switches between the 1922 and the 1912 Florence, seen most of the times through Lucy’s eyes. The facade of Santa Croce is shown as if discovered by her, next the camera moves in the sombre interior, focusing not on particular architectural elements, but on Lucy. Then Piazza della Signoria is revealed through close-ups of the statues that draw her attention, while Piazza della Santissima Annunziata is reduced to being the scene of the quarrel between the two Italians. There is also another thing that differentiates New Lucy from the novel and Old Lucy: only mentioned in these two, Rome is given here a spotlight treatment. Differently from Florence, the Italian capital is presented through images that have no direct connection with the story, which unfolds only in public gardens, with one very important exception—the Buco della Serratura at the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta on the Aventine Hill, where Cecil took Lucy to show her the keyhole view of San Pietro’s Dome, as he proposed to her. Rome is revealed through close-ups of the Pantheon, the Fontana dei Dioscuri in Piazza del Quirinale, the Trevi Fountain, the Arch of Septimius Severus, with Santa Maria della Consolazione far in the background, and a marble statue of the Capitoline Wolf; and through views of San Pietro’s Dome, the angels on Ponte Sant’Angelo and the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Conclusions or the Art of Bringing Literature into the Present

  • 14  As Andrew Davies confessed, the difference between the two adaptations was deliberately looked for (...)

39As Forster (1958) himself writes about A Room With a View, this ‘may fairly be called the nicest’ of his novels. With an optimistic message (‘trust to love’), a splendid view of Florence and its surroundings, and of Kent standing in for Surrey (cf. Pym), and also an interior view of its characters, colourful and luminous, the first adaptation can easily be considered truthful to Forster’s view. Determined to offer a new interpretation of the story,14 New Lucy is, on the other hand, rather dominated by the melancholy shades of remembrance, in image, music and storyline.

40Old Lucy proved to be George’s story almost as much as it is Lucy’s. It is balanced and unitary, considerate to details. It captures the essence of the written love story, at the same time giving the proper importance to the context in which the events unfold. On the contrary, New Lucy has an egotistical perspective on the story, presenting it from one point of view and focusing on one character, its heroine. Everything else—characters, social context, settings—is there to back Lucy’s journey from the beginning of the film and until the end. A perfect parallel to the difference of vision between the two films is offered by Forster himself, who writes, in regard to Lucy’s engagement to Cecil, about a difference in views between the generations: the old one ‘[rejoiced] in the engagement [...] because it promised the continuance of life on earth’, while the two betrothed, representing the young generation, saw in their engagement ‘something quite different—personal love’ (Ch. IX).

  • 15  Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd.

41The two adaptations themselves are each the reflection of their contemporary society. As Andrew Pulver writes for The Guardian, Old Lucy became ‘a landmark in the rise of the British costume movie’,15 which flourished especially in the revival of Jane Austen adaptations in the 1990s. On the other hand, New Lucy belongs to a more recent category of film adaptations, which tend to focus on sexuality much more than it is done in the original stories. One example is Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice, which has a further connection with New Lucy, namely the sexual awakening of the heroine as she looks at nude statues (at Pemberley, ending with Darcy’s bust—in Piazza della Signoria, ending with the postcard with David). There is another analogy that can be made, this time with another version of Pride and Prejudice—the 1995 TV Series, whose script was written by the same Andrew Davies. In both films, Davies went further in terms of eroticism, staying true to his belief that sex is ‘centrally important’ to a good story (Gabriel). Thus, in Jane Austen’s classic, he added a kiss between the newlyweds Elizabeth and Darcy, something that would never have happened in public in the Regency era, and he transformed Forster’s implicit love scene between Lucy and George into explicit sex scenes. Paraphrasing what Jhabvala wrote in the 1985 script (135), he made the two characters break out from the 20th–century into the 21st–century. Yet eroticism does not always need to be thoroughly explicit in order to stir up the spectator, as it is again proved by Old Lucy in its ending scene, with George and Lucy kissing passionately in the window frame.

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British Museum. BFI summer love weekend: A Room With A View. 2015. <> [Accessed on 27 December 2015].

Barton, Laura. ‘Why I’d liked to be... Julian Sands in A Room With a View’. The Guardian 10 July 2014. <> [Accessed on 03 January 2016].

Canby, Vincent. A Room With A View (1986). THE SCREEN: ‘ROOM WITH A VIEW. The New York Times, 07 March 1986. <> [Accessed on 17 December 2015].

Conlan, Tara. ‘A Sexy, Poignant Room with a View’. The Guardian. 04 October 2007. <> [Accessed on 23 January 2016].

Criterion Collection. ‘A Room with a View: Helena Bonham Carter Kisses and Tells’. 2015. <> [Accessed on 03 January 2016].

Ebert, Roger. A ROOM WITH A VIEW. Review. 1986.<> [Accessed on 02 January 2016].

Forster, Edward Morgan. A View Without a Room. The Observer, 27 July 1958: <> [Accessed on 03 December 2015].

Forster, Edward Morgan. A Room with a View. [e-book] 2008. <> [Accessed on 25 November 2015].

Gabriel, Clare, 2006. Sex central for TV writer Davies. BBC News, [online] (Last updated 13.38 on 26th May 2006). <> [Accessed on 23 January 2016].

Gallivant, 2007. ITV’s A Room with A View lacks sparkle. Screen Stories, [blog] 05 November. <> [Accessed on 17 January 2016].

McLeod Hewitt, Karen, 1978. Reviews: E. M. Forster: The Lucy Novels. Early Sketches for A Room with a View. E. M. Forster: A Room with a View. RES - The Review of English Studies [online] XXIX (115): 35960. The Review of English Studies <> [Accessed on 06 December 2015].

Modern Library, 1998a. 100 Best Novels. <> [Accessed on 15 December 2015].

Modern Library, 1998b. Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels List. < [Accessed on 15 December 2015].

Prawer Jhabvala, Ruth, n.d.. A ROOM WITH A VIEW. The Daily Script <>. [Accessed on 12 December 2015].

Pulver, Andrew. ‘A View to a Killing. James Ivory’s A Room with a View (1985). The Guardian, 30 July 2005. <> [Accessed on 04 January 2016].

Pym, John. ‘A Room with a View: English Hearts and Italian Sunshine’. Criterion Collection, 29 September 2015. <> [Accessed on 27 December 2015].

Shoard, Catherine. ‘A Room With a View: No 9 best romantic film of all time’. The Guardian, 16 October 2010. <> [Accessed on 05 January 2016].

IMDb: <>.

A Room with a View. 1985. [Film] Dir. James Ivory. UK: Merchant Ivory Productions.

A Room With A View. 2007 [TV Film] Dir. Nicholas Renton. UK: Ingenious Broadcasting.

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1  Modern Library, 1998a.

2  Modern Library, 1998b.

3  One worthy observation regards the amplification of Charlotte’s role in getting Lucy and George together and Mr Beebe’s absence in two episodes: convincing Mrs Honeychurch of the necessity of Lucy’s trip to Greece and Lucy’s conversation with Mr Emerson at the Rectory.

4  This idea of stock characters is confirmed towards the end of the film, by a mirroring scene of the beginning: dinner at the Pensione Bertolini with ‘another set of Miss Alans, Miss Lavish and Mr Beebe, and indeed Charlotte and Lucy’, the two latter arguing about not having rooms with a view.

5  The quotations from the two adaptations will be marked with the assigned designation, Old Lucy or New Lucy, every time when necessary. If it can be deduced from the context, the mention will be skipped in order to avoid loading the text with superfluous information.

6   There is a small detail in the film that comes as another proof of the story being told from Lucy’s point of view, and that is the screen going black as she faints at the sight of blood (20:56 - 21:00).

7  This time, her broken engagement already made known to Mr Emerson by Charlotte, she is truthful about her feelings for George. She does not try to deny them, as it happens in the novel: ‘“How dare you! [...] Oh, how like a man!—I mean, to suppose that a woman is always thinking about a man” […] She summoned physical disgust’ (Ch. XIX). Here, she honestly confesses her love: ‘But of course I do [love him]. What did you all think? (1:59:09 - 1:50:13)’; and in a more direct manner than done by Forster’s Lucy: ‘“Give George my love—once only”’ (Ch. XIX).

8  Elaine Cassidy’s Lucy does or says things that Forster’s Lucy would not, like: she reproaches Charlotte for not accepting Mr Emerson’s offer in front of Mr Beebe; she bluntly accepts Mr Beebe’s proposition to reopen negotiations with the Emersons on their behalf; she expresses her bewilderment at George’s confession that his father is an atheist and a socialist; ‘I do think you’re very odd’, she tells Mr Emerson in Santa Croce (14:10 - 14:13); ‘Do you live life to the full?’, she asks Mr Beebe, after he compliments her for the way she plays Beethoven (16:41 - 16:44); when Cecil expresses his pleasure to see her in Rome, because he felt he was going mad, she asks him: ‘It is Rome that drives you mad or your mother?’ (42:22 - 42:25).

9  There is an interesting event in New Lucy, when, at her mother’s insistence, Lucy shouts at her a partial truth regarding her troubles—the reason for wanting to go to Greece is George Emerson’s conduct towards her. The interesting part comes from the fact that Forster’s Lucy actually thought of telling her mother that ‘George Emerson has been bothering me, and if he hears I’ve given up Cecil may begin again” —it was easy to say that and ‘it had the incidental advantage of being true’. But in the end she reconsidered it, as she decided long ago not to make confidences again (see Ch. XIX).

10  ‘When he is naked, he stands on the bank of the pool in a Michelangelesque pose, weight on one foot, hand carelessly on hip, chin down’ (Prawer Jhabvala 76).

11  Just to give some examples, he openly tells Lucy, after she bumps into him in front of the bathroom: ‘We’re in love, aren’t we? (39:04 - 39:05)’; later, he enthusiastically joins Freddy in convincing Mr Beebe to have a bathe in the pond: ‘Shall I, George?’ — ‘Absolutely, you won’t regret it!’ (54:32 - 54:35).

12  Such an early mention of his profession labels him as a commoner, which explains somehow the stress on the class difference between him and Lucy and his and his father’s speech on social standings.

13  The distinction dead-alive is emphasized also in Old Lucy, but not with words. It is how the people in Piazza della Signoria divide themselves into two groups: one carrying the wounded Italian to the Fountain of Neptune—representing Death—and the other with George carrying Lucy in his arms to the Loggia dei Lanzi—representing Life.

14  As Andrew Davies confessed, the difference between the two adaptations was deliberately looked for, because he wanted to avoid plagiarisms (Conlan). Yet in many respects, his script distances itself too much from Forster’s novel. Its main alteration is shifting the focus from a difference of personality between Lucy (caught in a world full of rules and constraints) and George (a free spirit, whose mind outstrips the limits imposed by the society and reach the universe) to a difference of class.

15  Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd.

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Elena Raicu, « A Room with Two Views: An Insight into the 1985 and 2007 Film Adaptations of E. M. Forster’s Novel »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 82 Automne | 2015, mis en ligne le 18 mai 2016, consulté le 02 août 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Elena Raicu

Elena Raicu has a Bachelor’s degree in Art History, with studies at the University of Bucharest – Faculty of History and University of Roma Tre (a semester in the Erasmus Programme), obtained in 2010. She continued her studies with a Master’s degree in Sociology – Intercultural Communication at the UNESCO Department for Intercultural and Inter-religious Exchanges from the University of Bucharest. She obtained her degree in June 2013 with a thesis on the intercultural elements of the movie The Artist (2011). She is interested in film studies and literature analysis, especially with philosophical and psychological approaches. Her most recent academic activity is a participation in the conference ‘Relational Forms III. Imagining Europe: Wars, Territories, Identities. Representations in Literature and the Arts’ (Faculty of Arts and Humanities – University of Porto, Portugal, 19-20 Nov. 2015), with a paper entitled ‘The Last Night of Love, the First Night of War. Personal Dramas Illustrating the Horrors of Wars’. Mail:
Elena Raicu a une licence en Histoire de l’Art, après des études à l’Université de Bucarest — Faculté d’Histoire et à l’Université Roma Tre (un semestre dans le Programme Erasmus), qu’elle a obtenu en 2010. Elle a poursuivi ses études avec un master en sociologie — Communication interculturelle au Département pour les Échanges Interculturels et Inter-religieux UNESCO de l’Université de Bucarest. Elle a obtenu son diplôme en juin 2013 avec un mémoire sur les éléments interculturels du film The Artist (2011). Elle a un intérêt particulier pour les études cinématographiques et l’analyse littéraire, notamment avec une approche philosophique et psychologique. Son activité universitaire la plus récente est une participation à la conférence « Formes relationnelles III. Imaginer l’Europe: Guerres, Territoires, Identités. Représentations dans la littérature et les arts » (Faculté des Arts et Science Humaines — Université de Porto, Portugal, 19—20 novembre 2015), avec une intervention intitulée « La dernière nuit d’amour, la première nuit de la guerre. Les drames personnels illustrant les horreurs des guerres ». Courriel :

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