Friday, September 11, 2015

Movie Review - Maurice

Based on the book by E.M. Forster
Starring: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Judy Parfitt, Phoebe Nicholls, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Godfrey, Mark Tandy, Kitty Aldridge, Helena Michell, Catherine Rabett, and Peter Eyre
Release Date: September 15th, 1987
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Despite a kindly teacher telling Maurice the facts of life before he ventured out into the "real world" he doesn't really believe that he will be like other men with a wife and a home. This thought of his prepubescent self seems to be prophetic as when he's at college at Cambridge he falls in love with his fellow student Clive Durham. They begin an affair of the heart, not of the body. They leave college and continue to be the center of each others lives. This happy situation can not last. A mutual friend, Risley, who has their predilections is caught in a sting operation and arrested and sentenced to six months hard labor for gross indecency. This incident shakes Clive's life to pieces. He and Maurice have been deluding themselves, and from now on they are to be nothing more than friends. Maurice doesn't want to accept this, but quite quickly he sees that Clive is moving on with his life. Clive is soon married and he and his wife Anne are settling into their country estate, Pendersleigh, and having friends round for the weekend and campaigning, living the life of a country squire. They finally convince Maurice to visit, and it will be a fateful one for Maurice. It is during this visit that he meets Alec Scudder, the under-gamekeeper of Pendersleigh. Despite Maurice trying to "cure" himself via hypnosis, Scudder, and his feelings for him, show Maurice that perhaps he doesn't want to change. Perhaps he has found what he had thought he had with Clive? Only this time is it real?

In college my friends and I used to all pile onto one couch in my parent's house and watch movies. They usually would be OK watching whatever film I had planned on viewing, and seeing as this was during the time when I tried to watch an entire actor's oeuvre, they'd sometimes be stuck watching Richard E. Grant for a summer, as we worked our way from Henry and June to Spice World. Ironically, of the two, I would recommend Spice World as the better film, I think Henry and June actually ended up in an impromptu trip to the liquor store in order to finish it. For some arcane and forgotten reason Maurice was watched on one of these nights. I really can not understand what possessed me to suggest it, this was at the height of my James Wilby hatred, seriously, until the Bertie and Elizabeth TV movie I really thought he was a dick cause he could only play them, plus I was also starting a period of hating Rupert Graves which was never fully broken till Sherlock. There are three conceivable reasons as to why we picked Maurice up at Video Station on that summer night, it was either because of Merchant and Ivory, or Hugh Grant, or because I was trying to find a period film that my friend Matt might be willing to watch. I should note that he did not watch it with us. All I remember of the film is that I was shocked we all remained awake through the whole film. Even the most exciting of films, which this is not, often resulted in nap time... hmm, maybe I should have connected letting me choose the film and nap time prior to now.... Needless to say, the film left almost no impression on me, yet I would gladly go back to that night we all watched it just to have one more night with us all piled on that couch never really thinking it would one day end.

If the movie had spent half as much time finding a properly fitting cast as it did fitting every single square inch of frame with Victorian and Edwardian tat then it would have been a flawless film. Instead it suffers from three bad casting decisions, James Wilby as Maurice, Rupert Graves as the laughable lower class Scudder, he can not pull off that accent in the least, and Ben Kingsley as, well, I'm not quite sure what he's supposed to be, maybe Texan? James Wilby is all wrong because he hadn't developed enough as an actor at this point and has no inherent charm like Hugh Grant. Instead we are left with a hero who is basically a cardboard cut out. At times he was so two-dimensional that I actually think having a cardboard cut out deliver the lines would have been more successful. To have the entire film rest on his shoulders is laughable. A strong force is needed for a title role, and by casting Wilby the movie failed before it started. But this was a failure that was forced on them because Julian Sands pulled out at the last minute. Could Julian Sands have made the film work? I can't tell you that... I can say that Wilby has made films I enjoy while Sands hasn't. As for Scudder... well, there it was just the fault of trying to force an accent one someone who was incapable of doing one. I have come to admire Rupert Graves over the years, but he is distinctly working middle class. The lower class accent combined with the bad grammar and language skills didn't work coming out of his mouth. In fact, they were laughable. But nothing will beat the fact that when Ben Kingsley showed up as the hypnotherapist and launched into his indescribable accent, the film, which was at a tipping point from art to farce until that moment, went straight to farce.

The worst part of the entire movie is the confluence of these three in a dream sequence that was obviously ripped off of Vertigo and threw out every bit of style and structure the film had thus far established. Previously the film is unique in that it lacked a score, any music in the film is classical pieces that usually were practical, a pianola, a gramophone, you get the idea. Yet the dream sequence is scored? That's an odd choice. And floridly scored like an untalented Edwardian Bernard Herrmann dropped by. Then the laying of images over each other with color flashes. This is getting more and more like Vertigo by the second. When Ben Kingsley's head started floating in the center of the screen, I was laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face. I just can't rectify this clash, to have a period film that is so distinctly staid and proper to have this stylistic French new wave interpretive dream makes NO SENSE! Much like in Vertigo, the dream is the crisis point of the movie, it's time for the lead to move forward with their life or forfeit it. But just because we have two characters in the grip of a life altering decision as focused through a fever dream doesn't mean that they should be so similar. Fifty years separate these stories, and that is a gulf that can not be breached. Even if Maurice had tried to incorporate the subconscious trying to tell the conscious self it's true desire, even if there had been some psychoanalysis going on, this was with out a doubt the number one way it should not have been handled.

But the film did handle some issues well, and the changes made aided the film and brought more clarity to the story than the book. The biggest change was how Clive's "conversion" was handled. In the book he just realizes as he's nursed back to health that he is no longer attracted to men. This is very flimsy reasoning. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory's usual writing partner, had the inspired idea to actually give justification to this conversion through the underused character of Risley. In the book Risley is important for awakening Maurice's interests and inadvertently introducing him to Clive, and later for recommending the hypnotherapist. Instead we are shown a plausible and slightly hinted at story about what really happened to Risley when he was off stage. Risley is caught in a sting operation to entrap homosexuals, and despite being a Viscount, is sentenced to six months hard labor and may never hold a government position due to his proclivities and his arrest. This terrifies Clive into having cold sweats. Clive is also a well respected member of the aristocracy, he hopes to hold a position in government, and he has been living a double life for years. He has a crisis at a dinner at Maurice's house. Not brought on by his recent illness and the fear of telling Maurice they are through, but because he fears exposure and must give up the one thing that matters to him if he isn't to face the same fate as Risley. This, not only makes more sense, but gives Clive more depth. It shows that his sexual orientation isn't just a phase he was going through, but something that would always be a part of him that he pushed aside in order to survive. The last scene of the movie, with Clive and his wife, after Maurice has confronted Clive about being in love with Scudder, it shows a wistfulness, a longing that what Maurice and Scudder have, that is what he wants but is too scared to embrace.

In fact, much of the film is a refocusing of the narrative on Clive. While this honing in does the story the disservice of sidelining Maurice's family, the truth is their hatred of Maurice doesn't serve the narrative if you are actually trying to make him likable. But the fact is if this film had sidelined Maurice just like it did his family, it could have been a better film. By adding more depth to Clive, seeing the whole story through his eyes becomes far more fascinating then just following around the unsympathetic and flat Maurice. One thing I found interesting though is the film really focused in on Clive as being asexual. He loves men, but never physically. He NEVER acts on his impulses. As we see later with his wife, they too have a very chaste relationship, almost like siblings. The book doesn't go to great lengths to stress the fact that Clive and Maurice's love is unconsummated, and in fact, if it wasn't for Forster's insistence that their love had no physical side in the afterward, I would argue that they did have a physical relationship. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Forster added that afterward to try to make the book more palatable by insisting that it was only Scudder and Maurice getting it on, and that Clive was above reproach, aside from that "phase" he went through prior to Greece, but he never acted on his impulses. Again, I think that this gives Clive more depth. You see him not as someone who had two loves in his life and is now content. Instead he is a man always thwarted by his desires he is trying to repress. It makes him a tragic figure. In the book Clive is just the awakening and Scudder is the prize. Clive being perfectly content in his post Maurice life. This little tweak changes that all. It adds more to the story and with Hugh Grant's portrayal of Clive we are given the one and only redeeming facet of the film.


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