EM Forster and Cinema

film adaptations of E.M. Forster's novels

The novels of E.M. Forster have proved a very fruitful source for writers and directors adapting his work for the cinema. All his major works have been turned into very successful films which capture the spirit and the atmosphere of Edwardian England in which they are set. They have also profited from first rate actors, some of whom (such as Helena Bonham Carter) have made their names via performances in these films.


Where Angels Fear to Tread (novel 1902 – film 1991)

This film version is not a Merchant-Ivory production, although it’s done very much in their style. But it is accurate and entirely sympathetic to the spirit of the novel, possibly even stronger in satirical edge, well acted, and superbly beautiful to watch. Much is made of the visual contrast between the beautiful Italian setting and the straight-laced English capital from which the prudery and imperialist spirit emerges. The lovely Helena Bonham-Carter establishes herself as the perfect English Rose in this production, and she carried it through to several more. Helen Mirren is wonderful as the spirited Lilia who defies English prudery and narrow-mindedness and marries for love – with results which manage to upset everyone.

1991 Charles Sturridge film adaptation

Director: Charles Sturridge. Screenplay: Tim Sullivan. Starring – Rupert Graves (Philip Herriton), Helen Mirren (Lilia Herriton), Barbara Jefford (Mrs Herriton), Judy Davis (Harriet Herriton), Helena Bonham Carter (Caroline Abbott), Giovanni Guidelli (Gino Carella). Filmed in London and San Gimignano and Montepulciano, Italy.

EM Forster and Cinema Where Angels Fear to Tread – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Reviews of the film – at the Internet Movie Database

EM Forster and Cinema Where Angels Fear to Tread – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Where Angels Fear to Tread – Penguin Classics – Amazon US

 


Howards End (novel 1910- film 1992)

The novel is arguably Forster’s greatest work, and this film adaptation by Merchant-Ivory lives up to it as an achievement. It is well acted, with very good performances from Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter as the Schlegel sisters, and Anthony Hopkins as the bully Wilcox. Veteran luvvie and Trotskyist Vanessa Redgrave plays the mystic Mrs Willcox. The locations and details are accurate, and it gives an accurate rendition of the critical, poignant scenes in the original – particularly the conflict between the upper middle-class Wilcoxes and the working-class aspirant Leonard Bast. This is an adaptation I have watched several times over, and always been impressed.

1992 Merchant-Ivory production

Director: James Ivory. Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Starring – Anthony Hopkins (Henry Wilcox), Vanessa Redgrave (Ruth Wilcox), James Wilby (Charles Wilcox), Helena Bonham Carter (Helen Schlegel), Emma Thompson (Margaret Schlegel), Prunella Scales (Aunt Juley), Samuel West (Leonard Bast). Filmed in Henley-on-Thames and central London

EM Forster and Cinema Howards End – Merchant-Ivory film on DVD – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Reviews of the film – at the Internet Movie Database

EM Forster and Cinema Howards End – a tutorial and study guide

EM Forster and Cinema Howards End – Penguin Classics -Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Howards End – Penguin Classics -Amazon US

 


A Room with a View (novel 1905 – film 1985)

This is a production which takes one or two minor liberties with the original novel. But it’s beautifully acted, with the deliciously pouting Helena Bonham Carter as the heroine Lucy, plus Denholm Eliot as Mr Emerson, Daniel Day-Lewis as a wonderfully pompous Cecil Vyse, and Maggie Smith as the poisonous hanger-on Charlotte. The settings are delightfully poised between Florentine Italy and the home counties stockbroker belt. I’ve watched it several times, and it never ceases to be visually elegant and emotionally well observed. This film was nominated for eight Academy awards when it appeared, and put the Merchant-Ivory team on the cultural map.

Merchant-Ivory 1985 film adaptation

Director: James Ivory. Screenplay: Ruth Prawver Jhabvala. Starring – Maggie Smith (Charlotte Bartlett), Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy Honeychurch), Denholm Elliott (Mr Emerson), Julian Sands (George Emerson), Judi Dench ((Eleanor Lavish), Daniel Day-Lewis (Cecil Vyse) Rupert Graves (Freddy Honeychurch), Simon Callow (Reverend Beeb). Filmed in Florence and Fiesole, Italy, East Sussex, and London.

EM Forster and Cinema A Room with a View – Merchant-Ivory film on DVD – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Reviews of the film – at the Internet Movie Database

EM Forster and Cinema A Room with a View – a tutorial and study guide

EM Forster and Cinema A Room with a View – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema A Room with a View – Penguin Classics – Amazon US

 


A Passage to India (novel 1924 – film 1984)

This was David Lean’s last film, and possibly his most successful. It received eleven nominations at the Academy Awards. At seventy-seven years of age, Peggy Ashcroft became the oldest actress to win Best Supporting Actress award, and Maurice Jarre won his third Academy award for the original music score.

After more than a quarter of a century, one aspect of the film will strike contemporary viewers as controversial if not politically incorrect. That is the casting of Alec Guinness as Godbole, the Indian mystic. This sort of racial insensitivity was fairly common at that time. The film also lacks some of the anti-Imperialist bite that is present in Forster’s original text, though Lean compensates with spectacular pro-India visuals.

1984 David Lean film adaptation

Director: David Lean. Screenplay: Santha Rama Rau and David Lean. Starring – Judy Davis (Adela Quested), Victor Banerjee (Dr Aziz), Peggy Ashcroft (Mrs Moore), James Fox (Fielding), Alec Guinness (Godbole), Nigel Havers (Ronny), Richard Wilson (Turton). Filmed in Kashmir and Bangalore, India, and Shepperton and Pinewood studios, England.

EM Forster and Cinema A Passage to India – David Lean film on DVD – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Reviews of the film – at the Internet Movie Database

EM Forster and Cinema A Room with a View – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema A Room with a View – Penguin Classics – Amazon US

 


Maurice (novel 1913 – film 1987)

This is the coming out as gay novel that E.M. Forster wrote in 1913-1914 but that remained unpublished during his own lifetime. He had reservations about its literary merits, feelings shared by Kings College Cambridge, who owned the rights to the novel. The College was eventually persuaded to give permission for the film adaptation by the powerful advocacy of its producer, Ismail Merchant.

1987 Merchant-Ivory film adaptation

Director: James Ivory. Screenplay: Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey. Starring – James Wilby (Maurice Hall), Hugh Grant (Clive Durham), Rupert Graves (Alec Scudder), Denholm Elliott (Doctor Barry), Simon Callow (Mr Ducie), Billie Whitelaw (Mrs Hall), Barry Foster (Dean Cornwallis), Ben Kingsley (Lasker-Jones). Filmed at Kings College Cambridge and various locations in London.

EM Forster and Cinema Maurice – film on DVD – Amazon UK

EM Forster and Cinema Maurice – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

E.M.Forster and Cinema Maurice – Penguin Classics – Amazon US

 

© Roy Johnson 2016


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