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Merchant Ivory Productions presents
Maurice (1987)

"England has always been disinclined to accept human nature."
- Lasker-Jones (Ben Kingsley)

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: March 02, 2004

Stars: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow
Other Stars: Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Judy Parfitt, Phoebe Nicholls, Ben Kingsley
Director: James Ivory

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexual situations, occasional language)
Run Time: 02h:19m:53s
Release Date: February 24, 2004
UPC: 037429179024
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B+B+ A

DVD Review

The setting is Edwardian England, where homosexuality is a crime, punishable by jail terms (think Oscar Wilde). But the legal repercussions are minimal compared with the social and economic consequences, the resultant scandal easily proving ruinous to one's career and place in society. So it's little wonder that Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), scion of an upper-class family, and with a career in politics to look forward to, is hesitant to even acknowledge his love for Maurice Hall (James Wilby), let alone consummate their relationship

Middle-class Maurice first meets Clive at public (i.e. private) school at Cambridge, through Clive's flatmate Lord Risley (Mark Tandy), and is quickly captivated by his charm and free-wheeling, unorthodox views and quick wit. Maurice's feeling are reciprocated, and the two become inseparable and fall in love over the course of their remaining school terms. But the dean (Barry Foster) is incensed at Maurice's refusal to write an apology for skipping his lectures and going punting with Clive, and refuses to recommend him for his next term. Soon, Maurice is dividing his time between his family at Afriston Gardens and his stockbroker's practice in the City (London's financial district), while Clive studies for law and spends time at the family home, Pendersleigh Park. But this separation neither hinders nor helps their love—instead, it is only the background against which play out Clive's increasing worries that the exposure of his feelings for Maurice will result in his ruin.

In this second part of a triptych of films based on the novels of E.M. Forster, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory paint an effective portrait of class relations and the difficulties of being gay in 1910s England. Both Clive and Maurice struggle with their feelings, Clive taking the route of denying them, "elevating" the relationship to a platonic level and eventually marrying a woman, and Maurice trying hypnotherapy, which he later abandons. Although the two men are of similar social status, it's ironically in the hands of a servant, the under gameskeeper Scudder (Rupert Graves), that Maurice eventually finds not only sex but true love, and the resultant mix of classes may prove even more scandalous than their homosexuality.

Maurice is filmed beautifully, with ravishing scenes set at King's College and Trinity College in Cambridge, and south of London. Careful attention is paid to framing and camera movement, both in the lush exterior and exquisite interior scenes, the beauty of the visuals contrasting with the fear, almost paranoia of the main characters. In a sense, the film is little too pretty, and too concerned with its own visual lavishness—Ivory used almost exactly the same strategy in the other two films in the triptych, A Room with a View and Howard's End, which were sunnier in tone and theme. But it's a small enough complaint about a film that otherwise extremely well done, faithful to its source novel, with good performances from its cast, and for its time, one of the few films to offer the possibility of happiness in a gay relationship.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer is mostly very good, with bright (although somewhat unrealistic) colors and reasonable skin tones. There's very little grain, except in one or two brief night sequences. There are occasionally some mild compression artifacts and minimal edge enhancement, but not enough to be distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel Dolby Surround soundtrack is clear and full, and allows the power of Richard Robbins' orchestral score to shine. There's quite a bit of directionality, and the echoing music during a chapel choir performance is especially striking. The only negative to the transfer is a slight bit of hiss, but it's only evident when playing the DVD at high volumne.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
12 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Eight-page printed insert with notes, credits, and chapter listing
Extras Review: The extras a presented on a separate, single-layer disc. The thirteen-minute Conversation with the Filmmakers contains interviews with director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and composer Richard Robbins, in which they discuss Forster's novel and how it had to be modified for the screen, the score, and the devious means that they used to film several of the scenes. The interview segments, which are anamorphic and look stunning, are interspersed with clips from the film.

The primary bonus here is The Story of Maurice, which consists of interviews with screenwriter Kit Hesketh-Harvey and actors Hugh Grant, James Wilby, and Rupert Graves. Over the course of its 30m:27s, they discuss the production history of the film and its structure, Ivory's method of working with actors, elements of the novel that needed to be reinforced so as to make them comprehensible to a 1980s audience, and acting methods. Especially interesting are the actors' comments on playing gay characters. Once again, the image looks great.

Twelve deleted scenes are presented, the majority only a minute or two in length, and 10 of them have brief commentaries by Ivory. Most wouldn't have added much to the film, although a few (Maurice's first meeting of the hypnotist, Scudder frolicking with some servant girls) would have undoubtedly added some richness to the characters. The longest scene, at over 16 minutes, is a reconstruction of the opening of the film from its original three-hour edit. As it stands, this story of Lord Risley's suicide, and Maurice's attraction for a teenage boy is fairly choppy and a bit difficult to understand, but Ivory fills in the narrative gaps in his commentary. The deleted scenes are preceded by a text screen disclaimer/apology, explaining that some of them were of necessity taken from a VHS workprint, and even those that weren't are often in fairly rough shape, with scratches and other source flaws.

The theatrical trailer's color is somewhat faded and the image is slightly grainy. The four pages of printed notes, by Robert Emmet Long, author of The Films of Merchant Ivory cover much of the material found in the other supplements, but occasionally go beyond them, and are interesting in their own right.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Merchant Ivory's Maurice is a visually lavish portrayal of class relations and homosexuality in Edwardian England. The transfer is very good, and the excellent extras contribute considerably to one's understanding of the film.

 


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