Film Appreciation: Maurice

Film Appreciation: Maurice

James Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice is a lovely, understated film about a gay man struggling to accept his sexuality while the world around him works equally hard to deny it. The story, an adaptation of the novel by E. M. Forster, is set in England just prior to World War I. As a character in the film puts it, “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”

Maurice (James Wilby) is a student at Cambridge, where he meets imposing Lord Risley (Mark Tandy) and handsome Clive Durham (Hugh Grant). Clive stuns Maurice by professing to love him. Soon Maurice decides the feelings are mutual, and the two begin a nonsexual affair. This comes to an abrupt end when Risley is imprisoned for soliciting sex.

Clive, who wants a career in politics, stops seeing Maurice. On the advice of his mother, he finds and marries a “suitable” (and rich) woman named Anne (Phoebe Nicholls).

Maurice is distraught-and desperate. He seeks the help of a “hypnotherapist” (Ben Kingsley) to change his sexual orientation. Then Maurice pays a visit to Clive’s home and becomes involved with Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), one of Clive’s servants. Maurice has to make a difficult decision between a promising new love and the safe but dull existence he has spent years cultivating.

Ivory also co-wrote the script with Kit Hesketh-Harvey. Their restrained approach to the material works well to emphasize Maurice’s feelings of futility. One scene where Maurice tries to discuss his situation with a doctor is particularly on point. The doctor tells Maurice to drop his pants, takes a look at his anatomy, and suggests that he find a pretty woman.

This being a Merchant Ivory production, the production values are first-rate. The period is reproduced down to the smallest details and lovingly photographed by Pierre Lhomme.

Wilby and Grant both give finely modulated performances. Graves has less screen time and a much tougher role to put across, but acquits himself well.

Theme: Forbidden Passion

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