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UK 1987
Directed by
James Ivory
140 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


It would be interesting to see a close comparison between this film and Merchant-Ivory’s previous production, Room with a View. The ingredients are similar - an E.M Forster story set amongst the tradition-bound upper class world of Edwardian England realized with top drawer production values. But whereas the former was a delight Maurice is an awkward, stilted affair. Did the problem start with Forster’s original text, which is generally regarded as one of his lesser works. Was it in the screen adaptation by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey replacing Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (who is also associated with their best films). Was it is it in poor casting/bad acting? Or Ivory’s heavy-handed direction?  No doubt all of these elements contributed.

James Wilby plays the title character, a young man of well-to-do upper middle class background who in 1909 enters Cambridge where he becomes friends with wealthy aristocrat Clive Durham (Hugh Grant). The two embark on an intense platonic affair but once graduated Clive fears for his reputation and marries. Maurice however continues to pursue Clive, eventually switching his affections to one of Clive’s servants(Rupert Graves).

Whereas Room With A View had fun with the repressed preciosity of Edwardian England, Maurice is so self-conscioulsy earnest in its depiction of “the love that cannot speak it name” that it approaches the comedic parody of Withnail and I which was released the previous year. Whether Wilby or Grant are homosexual I cannot say (I think not in the latter’s case) neither of them seem comfortable with each other’s body (the physical dimension is limited to hugging and kissing on the lips) and what’s worse, whilst Grant in his first feature film (and before he had developed his Four Weddings and A Funeral persona) is surprisingly good, Wilby who has never had such a prominent role despite a long screen career, is simply awful. Much the same goes for the rest of the cast including Ben Kingsley who sports a terrible American accent as a society psychologist, Rupert Graves as a Lawrentian yokel and Simon Callow as a preparatory school teacher .Overall, the film’s forced tone turns everyone into marionettes.

The source of the film’s failure seems to be in its thematic self-consciousness, turning it into a laboured tract about homosexuality and social repression in post-Wildean England (Forster’s semi-autobiographical novel was written in 1914 and was suppressed until after his death) rather than making of it a romance in which the characters happen to be the same sex.




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