Posts Tagged ‘room with a view’

Susannah Harker as Mattie Storin (1991 House of Cards)

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote about 10 days ago, I have returned to my project and Austen movies book, and have determined to have a two part chapter on Andrew Davies Austen films. The first will be an interlude in Part Two, itself on the Sense and Sensibility films, “A Place of Refuge,” thus far 5 chapters. The interlude will be on Davies’s Austen films in the context of Davies’s oeuvre and it’ll be followed by the 6th and final chapter of the part: contextualizing Davies, Pivcevic and John Alexander’s 2008 JA’s S&S by the other S&S films and what I can discern of Pivcevic and Alexander’s work.

To do this I’ve been re-looking at all my notes, my blogs, re-watching some of the Davies’s films I had seen and watching a few lesser known new ones, especially those in a different genre, with a larger social vision, not romance films so much as politically and socially critical (or broadly aware) ones. I’m trying to see what really unites all these films. I find Cardwell’s division of Davies’s work into 1) films based on classic famous books and 2) films based on hardly known, semi- or popular classics obscures important qualities which the films share when you re-group them in other ways. My argument will be that Davies’s films are better seen as belonging to a genre, after that against their specific eponymous book, and only after that whether it’s a classic or non-classic book. It does matter if the book has a cult following; then he dare not alter the matter too much, but many classic books are not well remembered by the few readers who have read them anyway.

I also want to disagree with Sarah Cardwell’s book on Davies, or, to put it another way, qualify what she has to say by showing that Davies’s films are far darker and more pessimistic than she concedes, that they delve into the question of human and social evil, are sceptical, show a fascination with cruel sociopaths, and persistently present homoerotic couples and sex, as part of the subversion of the repressive unreal norms he finds so pernicious of enjoyment, happiness, fulfillment.

In my first blog on Davies this summer, I summarized what I had been watching since April and my findings on these, concentrating first on the romance visions (1983 Diana out of R. F. Delderfeld, 2007 Room with a View out of E. M. Forster. Then I had a brief excursis on Davies’s Tailor Panama where he is deliberately marginalized in the credits though it’s clear he wrote the script out of John LeCarre’s novel as it has all his trademarks, including a homoerotic couple at the center:

Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) and Andy Osnard (Pierre Brosnan) (2001 Tailor of Panama)

Finally I discerned a pattern that many of Davies’s films of social vision share with other of these Anglo- film adaptations: a young man of a lower class finds himself invited to become or forced to appear more upper class, is brought to a huge rich house where he is at first uncomfortable and then taken in, though only for a time. To Davies’s three I described there (Diana, Tailor of Panama, Line of Beauty), I want tonigh to add a few notes about on a remarkable chilling dark romance or highly erotic film, the 2009 Sleep with Me (adapted from Joanna Briscoe’s novel) and Davies’s remarkable trilogy of mini-series (4 parts each) Davies adapted from Michael Dobbs’s political thriller novels, House of Cards, To Play the King, The Final Cut.


Lelia (Jodhi May) and Sylvie (Anamaria Marinca), the transgressive homoerotic couple in Sleep with Me

Andrew Davies and his film-making team concoct a powerful chilling movie out of Joanna Briscoe’s poor novel. Brisoe equates contemporaneity with crudity in gesture; a deliberately hard demotic style is cultivated. She is in no danger of any accusation of oversensitivity in nuances — though her conception of her characters and her fable feels compelling at first: it seems a young couple are gradually infiltrated by a quietly menacing ghost who sends the husband emails about her abject life with her mother.

Davies’s Sleep with Me is another of this type he did with Elizabeth Janeway Howard’s Falling — and also his re-do of Shakespeare’s Othello.

What all these movies do is concentrate on some character who others would call evil or “sick” and dismiss them, and show them to be very dangerous, someone the healthy and vulnerable must keep away from, but someone who is ill, really emotionally ill. In the case of Sleep with Me Davies has forayed into the area of the gothic — which the book does — to come up with Sylvie (Anamaria Marinca), a scary, creeply kind of character who we are asked to believe murdered her brother when the brother was a baby out of jealousy and now lives a socially isolated life (in part) and preys on others to wreak and destroy their relationships.

Sylvie and Richard (Adrian Lester)

It’s the ghostly and vampiric character of Sylvie that endows the film with its gothic mood and perspective.

One review rightly says that the film (and book too) delves into sexuality. Davies makes clear the most uncomfortable kinds of sexual experience people rarely admit to in front of themselves, much less talk about or enact even on stage.

For my part I found myself wondering (I’ll sound Victorian here) if this movie is not more unhealthy, far more than say The Piano Teacher. I wrote that that one was not pornographic and all that happened was justified as good insight into human character. I think I absolved that film of pornography because by the end I felt I had been given genuine ethical compass and help by the end of the film. At the end of Sleep with Me there was a justification of the cruelty and demand that we sympathize with the cruel person and respect the kind of sex she led others into (the type that can form dependency) that made me feel if this isn’t pornographic (it wasn’t, it was inhibited in the presentation), Sleep with Me did justify the basis of pornography, infliction of violence and cruelty by saying it’s just the result of someone’s emotional illness and so therefore somehow okay plus nothing we can do anything about. That may be true. If so, the world’s a dangerous place — gothic in fact.

Jodhi May had decided for this one (apparently), as Lelia, a young woman living with a black partner, Richard (Adrian Lester), she needed to appear young, and she had lost a lot of weight for this one. I almost didn’t recognize her at moments … well, only almost.


Roger O’Neill (Miles Anderson) visits Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson)

I was startled at House of Cards: it’s a fantasy, really over the top theatrics; the victim at the end is the reporter, Mattie, played wonderfully well by Susannah Harker. What was superb about this film was Davies’ connection with the Iago/Richard III/Macbeth Francis Urquhart played inimitably, unforgettably by Ian Richardson — and also with the victims: either the pathos of the alcoholic blackmailed weakling O’Neill, the man who can’t cope with the world (every family has one says the prime minister) and Davies’s insight that it’s because the man is a genuinely good and feelingful person he can’t make it, and Mattie Storin the girl who is led by the allurement and glamor of power to her destruction.

For me it’s particularly telling to see Davies insist that Mattie related to FU as her “Daddy”

Mattie offering herself to Urquhart (later as Daddy)

for this queasy incestuous motif is one Davies’s insists on, builds up in his 1996 BBC Emma

In the case of the first book, Dobbs had killed off the villain-hero, Richard III-Macbeth type (in Davies) Francis Urquhart and let Mattie live triumphant (so good wins out). Davies reversed that and so left room for more sequels. Upon the success of the first mini-series, Dobbs wrote two more novels, doubtless with Davies’s in mind (the way Helen Fielding went on to write another Bridget Jones Diary book after the success of the Davies’ film).

All three (To Play the King and The Final Cut too) are right in Trollope’s vein of high politics exposed. They are yet braver because Trollope eschews all particular comment and refuses to present a clear case for liberal or reformist measures; indeed his rhetorical statements by the narrator are often pro-landlord, adamently pro-capitalist. Not Davies. He exposes the hypocrisy and nonsense of berating people for not doing hard work: there are no jobs to do hard work for. The series anticipates his South Riding in this way; the social engagement of South Riding resembles that of his Anglo-Saxon Attitudes. All these movies come together in themes, perspective, character types.

To Play the King is very pessimistic and yet we have an ideal king in the center. We see how easy it is to sneer and decry people who are “lazy” instead of showing that there the way to make useful work is spend money through taxes on social services, communities, and agencies to build an make better lives for those without power.

The king (Michael Kitchen) addressing the nation on TV

A feature in the second DVD for To Play the King shows the ludicrous response at the time by some pro-Royalist people: they were indignant that Davies dared to allude to Charles and Diana, and imbecillically leaped on a single line in the three mini-series to argue indignantly Davies had implied Charles regularly had prostitutes in his quarters. It shows their bad sordid dreams for it’s a real stretch of that line.

Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson)

The third mini-series, Final Cut, is an astonishingly brave film. Like Trollope’s political books in the Pallisers, each one of the three books brings out another level or area of critique of the savagely unjust violent war we live in. Each novel and set of films seems to open another area of misery and corruption inflicted on people — so here in the last series, Final Cut, what’s exposed is the murderous personal ambition that fires all the lies and violence in colonialized areas. The realities behind the Falklands war is exposed absolutely.

We see many things Orwellian: how the rule of law is invoked when what is happening is brutal violence repressing the poor so that the natural resources of the place (Cyprus) may be milked by the rich in the UK and lucky in Cyprus. Among many small exposes, we see that the freedom of information act offers information as long as it does not give away what individuals did the horrors. So it keeps powerful individuals in the army and powerful gov’ts protected.

Davies beats out LeCarre for the clarity with which the political perspective is worked out and made insistent upon us.

Wonderfully witty and funny is Thatcher’s funeral. Davies was attacked for staging her funeral. It seems she was not dead yet. This is a satirist’s drive: Swift would imagine people dead who had not died and it made them nervous. As with To Play the King what was attacked openly showed idiots who didn’t get the point at all, not those who understood what was being exposed. How dare Davies not be respectful in the depiction of the funeral. It’s funny the stupidity of what people seize upon. Apparently the Thatcher funeral was not in the original book by Dobbs and he insisted on having his name taken off the credits if the film-makers went through with this. They did.

The technique of all three mini-series is to startle you. So Francis throws Mattie Storin off the roof, picks her up and hurls and with a loud thud she splatters all over a car. The body guard thug, Cordor (alluding to Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth), probable lover and sidekick of Elizabeth Urquhart (Diane Fletcher), Francis’s wife, blows up those who are going to inform the public that Francis killed Mattie — sudden firebomb cars. The Final Cut opens with Francis shooting his dog dead. It’s chilling. Of course the theme is he’s going to be killed or destroyed from old age. The series ended on a Hamlet note. Elizabeth, now emerging as a cool Lady Macbeth with a hired killer-thug, sees that Urquhart is a liability; has killed too, so instead of murdering those who know he murdered peasants in Cyprus ruthlessly and without cause, are not done away with. Urquhart is. And what happens? Makepeace (Paul Freeman) who had tried to act morally is put in charge, but we feel no longer will. He has the thugs working for him now.

A parallel is an incident the mini-series opens up with: thugs hitting the prime minster’s car. They are simply gunned down. When a cabinet minister asks for clarification in the report, he’s told more details can be had but the interpretation, that criminals in road rage were responsible and understandably kill, will remain the same.

So letting formation out does not help because power structuring remains the same.

Flaws: it’s all so individualized and we are made to believe only a few of these mafia type thugs kill We see British officers not wanting to murder children, wanting to do the right thing. So one could say see it’st he bad eggs that do this, not the nature of the nest and what happens to all the eggs in it.

Also again a woman is put at the center for a semi-sexual interest. It begins to be a cliche by the third time. Sex though is depicted so naturalistically I had to avert my eyes. Especially between older people. On the other hand by continually bringing back Mattie Storner’s story and death Davies makes us fear FU. We also have Nikolas Grace as a variant on the dependent aide — he’s a quiet gay type — the vulnerable male type from Nicholas Farrell as the King’s aide to Charles Collingride, the kind man:

Matty and Collingridge, a sense of their humanity strong here.

For the woman viewer and feminist reader it’s telling that all three films must have a scapegoat at the center who is either a woman the villain seduces & murders (or has murdered) or a gay (vulnerable male as a substitute.

I did find myself getting anxious for some of the characters in each program: Mattie and John (William Chubb), Makepeace, the Greek girl who is seeking to know who killed her brothers and where they are buried, lest FU (what a joke) kill them too. After all he has gotten away with much before. The power of fiction comes from our caring about the characters and I do in Davies’s films.

To conclude: My days are adventures in following Andrew Davies. I was startled at the trilogy House of Cards/ToPlay the King/Final Cut. Great dark satire relevant to today because inbetween these he did the utopian Middlemarch. I can’t think of more different text-films. Today I’m reading another hard satire on wide ranges of society, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (Wilson) and am about to watch the movie for a second time.

Gerald Middleton (Richard Johnson) remembering: the film makes a social vision an introspective journey of a hurt mind (Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Part 1)

My next Davies’ film blog will be on briefly on a few films again, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Wilson’s novel as well as Davies’s film. And then I’ll move onto Sarah Water’s Tipping the Velvet and Affinity, Victorian lesbian novels – and Davies’s films once again (perhaps with his 2006 The Chatterley Affair).


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Nick Guest (Dan Steevens), opening shot of hopeful young man dazzled by wealth, power (Line of Beauty, 2006)

Nan Astley (Rachel Stirling) and Florence Banner (Jodhi May), closing moments, seasoned real friendship, bravely going to introduce themselves to family (Tipping the Velvet, 2002)

Dear friends and readers,

I decided to group the remaining Andrew Davies films I meant to cover differently when I realized after watching his recent Fanny Hill (2007),

Fanny (Rebecca Knight) amid the ladies

that an important undercurrent in Davies’s films is a strong support for unconventional sexual life, which comes out in not only his openly GLBT films but those whose source books have a predominantly heterosexual bias. In his Moll Flanders (2010), the slyly comic-poignant point is made in an invented scene where Moll feels guilty that not she not help her good loving friend, Annie (Catherine Trowbridge) to escape the police (her usual “what could she do?” comes out less aggressively), and it’s her fault her friend cannot plead her belly: her friend is not pregnant too, for they pleased themselves, stayed lovers:

Alex Kingston missing her friend (see the indent in the empty pillow)

Will the injustices against non-heterosexual people never cease?

This blog covers more concisely (and with less stills than usual), Tipping the Velvet, The Line of Beauty, Fanny Hill, and Davies’s marvelous Room with A View (2007)

Mark Williams as Mr Beebe waiting for his friends to jump in too

Davies’s Moll Flanders I’ve discussed already with his He Knew He Was Right

To begin with, Tipping the Velvet, adapted from a neo-Victorian lesbian novel. I’ve not read any of Sarah Walters’ books, and can see this one plays off a love of Victorian literature, only here the characters do things they never do in your average Mudie’s Library book. It was interesting to me how much freer the costume part of the film adaptation felt — as if the mise-en-scene itself was made to feel at another remove from the usual historical costume scene.

Some of the scenes did make me uncomfortable, or I wanted to look away. It wasn’t the lesbian sex (of which there was a lot and frank physical scenes), but rather some of the cruelty and rejection the women subjected one another to based on class and the heterosexual world inflicted on the gay women — partly out of a sheer disbelief.

Since I’ve been reading about how if we slightly redefine slavery as not permanent chattel status, we discover it’s alive and well in the 20th century (an important book with an argument that it’s fatuous and false to say slavery would have died in the US without a war as slavery is ever profitable), it was interesting to me to see the theme of women and the vulnerable and powerless turned into forms of slaves through prostitution, debt, having no one to turn to (there was no state help whatsoever).

Nevertheless, on the whole, Davies’s film was a sort of positive bildingsroman – the same conditions obtain in Bleak House and there there is no lightness about it whatsoever. No one dies bitterly; people just disappear or go their half-merry or desperate way. At the conclusion our heroine finds herself and ends up with the good kind loyal lover (Jodhi May, who seems to play this type), rather than the inconstant untrustworthy one (Keeley Hawes) who also had star billing:

A poignant tender moment on stage

or the downright bully and spirit-breaker, Anna Chancellor, as sapphic socialiite (she plays hard types typically; hard Miss Bingley from the 1995 P&P that was):

The rich, powerful and therefore lethal, Diana Letherby

Some of my favorite actresses were in it: Sally Hawkins was a desperate thieving maid, Zena Blake:

Lonely, she offers her body, but the next morning Nan finds she has been fleeced

I’ve noticed another pattern in Davies: repeatedly he has female producers and often female directors and producers. Also he likes the use of the sea (and how much melancholy and energy he got out of that in his 2008 Sense and Sensibility), the beach, and to show us when he can working class scenes.

A characteristic Davies’s moment from the end of the film

A subplot concerned a socialist brother (played wonderfully by Hugh Bonneville) of one of our heroines giving speeches; a baby adopted when it has no one else; and finally older people wanting sex with the young (here a woman is the older powerful one).

It was the ending I liked. The scene of our heroines together now (Nan and Florence), holding hands on the beach and turning to visit our Nan’s childhood home. Seasoned, independent, supportive.

Here’s an article to show how women are usually represented in the media.

By contrast, Davies’s adaptation of Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize winner, Line of Beauty. is deeply bitter frequently. Davies’s Tipping the Velvet, despite some ravaging misery and exploitation, has on the whole an upward turn and readily ends happily. At the end of all three parts of Line of Beauty, there was a devastating parting, never brought on by Nick, but always the other person or people, who either claim they are realistic or simply dump him, however reluctantly with ease:

Leo Charles (Don Gilet) moving off and on

The difference is partly Tipping the Velvet is costume drama set in another century: this is ever finally fantasy and the level of probability we expect is lower. But it’s also due to a reality that lesbian couples simply aren’t recognized automatically as such and two women can set up housekeeping together infinitely more easily.

A central theme in Hollinghurst’s book which makes it over to Davies’s film is the life of the homosexual male is twisted and perverted by having to hide it, being subject to blackmail, and the reality that often the male who can pretend to be heterosexual or act out a bisexual life can get the world’s prizes so will scuttle his relationship with a man. This is the story of Clive in Forster’s Maurice; and an undertext story in Henry James. Raven in his masterpiece, Fielding Gray (a gay classic like Wilde’s Dorian Gray) takes this further showing how the blackmail aspect of life allows spite, rivalry and endless punishments wreaked on a gay man who wants to fulfill himself.

Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty descends from Henry James in the subgenre gay novel. Eva Sedgwick goes into this: one feature is the quietly or implicitly gay (closet) homosexual male. I had thought Fielding in Fielding Gray showed Raven’s allegiance with Henry Fielding (he’d probably despise Clarissa with distrust of women) with Gray an homage to Dorian, but now I see Fielding refers to a possibly homosexual man, Fielding in Forster’s Passage to India (which I”m listening to now as read by the golden voiced David Case, also a gay man), who however marries. His deepest relationship is with the Indian man accused of rape, Azziz, to whom Fielding remains loyal at possible real cost to himself. The “signal” allusion that this book belongs to this subgroup is Nick Guest begins the novel by being someone working on a graduate thesis on Henry James. He gives it up as the years wear on in the book. One difference — and it goes on hurting Nick right and left is Nick is openly gay.

To return to the film, after winning some awards, it dropped out of sight. I don’t wonder. Not only openly gay, the ending is courageous enough to have no false uplift. Within the film Nick himself wants to make a film of James’s Spoils of Poynton and finds the enough of the film-makers insist on changing the story so we don’t have a cheated old woman at the center to make the whole presentation utterly false to James’s novel.

The end of the filmic story was inherent and the very point in the beginning. It’s been very easy to drop Nick all along because it’s so easy to pick him up: he is shown to have no recourse and nothing he can give others when he wants to hold onto them (like the lover at the end of the first part). It was to be expected and the foreshadowing began in the second part. In the last part we see from the get-go he is increasingly used as an errand boy. He gives all as in this scene where he has been kind to the daughter, Catherine Ferrens, whom the mother to cater to her husband, neglects:

Alice Krige as Rachel Fedden, cannot be there in order to keep her husband, the powerhouse Thatcherite worshipping hypocrite philanderer, Gerald

Gerald (Tim McInnery) with his stern face

It didn’t distress me — it seems what would be and as I like tragic closes that seem right from the premises so I liked this close. It was not tragic since Nick is not a tragic hero, but more ironic — as 20th century works often are.

Lots of little incidents about many aspects of Nick’s life along the way contribute to the richness of this story: one about sexuality and women, is Nick’s close Muslim friend’s near marrying a rich heterosexual girl. Another is due to his connection with the Ferrens’ family he gets a job as an editor of a magazine which comes out with one rich issue before he’s ejected by the family. I mention this as part of what I called Hollinghurst (and before him) James’s gay awareness; an awareness of the so many indirect things that cannot be sustained as a result of being sexually and socially marginalized.

So, at the close our hero is thrown out of the palaces:

He’s often photographed to the side of the screen, slightly apart from the others, his eye the alienated oe looking on.

But not to worry one guy leaves him a building (it’s real and really owned, with real tenants in a good location) which may support him for the rest of his life.

Rich Muslim friend comforting Nick; the friend apparently had everything, including a rich arranged wife; he commits suicide

Nick is expelled because his masters (so they have become), his apparently family and good connections have gotten embroiled in a scandal which exposes them as utter phonies, and the male honcho has to resign from parliament. His wife learns about his promiscuity. The daughter finally leaves.

So Nick Guest ends with a prize (a small part of the take — which in a poem by an American male poet I came across a while back is presented as the real American dreams) and a strong kick by those who have no other dog nearby to kick and know they can kick him with impunity.

And why can they kick him so easily; call him ugly names; why hasn’t he a family to turn to? Because he’s openly gay. It’s this sort of thing I was referring to when I said James has characters like this and uses them to make general meanings. It provides the bitter ending of Fielding Grey by Simon Raven – whose film adaptation of the Pallisers is shaped by his strong identification with outsiders, stronger than Trollope’s own as coming from a different really alienating experience

This film enabled me to I’ve picked up on another element in the typology of Austen males; three of the actors who have been chosen to play Edward Ferrars also have played successfully important star roles as gay men. Robin Ellis, Edward in 1971, was the closet gay man in Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala Europeans; Hugh Grant in 1996 Clive in Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala Maurice, and now Dan Steevens in 08 (a brilliant much more effective Edward), Nick Guest in Line of Beauty.

Nick as a name and narrator, the everyman, also has resonances from Fitzgerald’s Gatsby to Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

There have been articles about the use of sensitive, emotional typologies in leading males who are also conventionally sexy for Austen movies since the
1990s (most notably Colin Firth, Alan Rickman), but nothing about this reaction in movies to Austen’s undermining of macho maleness in her books. Nor about the use of Mark Strong (who plays torturers) for Mr Knightley.

To turn now to Davies’s adaptation of Forster’s Room with a View. I have read the novel this time though 30 years ago now. It links to James and Hollinghurst by its homoeroticism. I watched it last night and as in the case of Davies’s Dr Zhivago, find I am not that unusual in finding it superior to a much lauded previous film, Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s 1980s Room with a View.

Again Davies has boldly challenged a famous much-lauded movie and created a movie which is as a whole better even if the individual performances of Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala’s actors are inimitable. The older film is too drawn out, too self-indulgent, not enough happens because the inner life of homoeroticism is erased and we are left sorrow for Cecil Vyse but no sense of what he longed for as worth it, as rich as what the heterosexuals in the movie achieve by casting off repression — without giving up a love of great art and learning.

Lucy (Elaine Cassidy) looking up at a church front

Without the absolutely famous-star cast, but a very effective set of actors, Davies presented a more concise version of Forster’s Edwardian novel. It’s a slight story really and much of inward meaning comes out of the strongly sexualized yet repressive atmosphere. By making everything happen much quicker, Davies brought home more effectively in some ways the homoerotic currents of the original story where the males express their sexuality far more freely than most books; at the same time he does justice to the central story where a gay man, Cecil, and our heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, almost make the mistake of marrying one another. Lucy faces up to the reality that she has fallen in love with a man from the lower classes (Mr Emerson’s son) and Cecil that he’s forcing himself to woo her, and preparing a life of estrangement from his own identity for himself.

Lucy (Elaine Cassidy) and Cecil (Laurence Fox) facing they don’t want one another even if they are of the same class.

As it happened, I listened to David Case read aloud Forster’s Passage to India just at the time I watched Davies’s film. I also came across a Guardian review which said Davies was “truer to the spirit” of Forster — without saying why. How discreet. (Cowardly.) Davies has scenes of homoerotic swimming and uses the male sensibility centrally as trembling, sensitive, inward, and just as important to the story’s end as the women’s fulfillment whereas Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala pur Lucy at the center and fore and shuffled off Cecil, Edward’s father, Mr Beebe to the margins at the end. He also genuinely brings home to us the pain of exclusion for fringe people:

Mr Emerson and his son (Timothy and Rafe Spall) and his father, who give up their window to Lucy and her aunt (Charlotte Bartlett, Sophie Thompson), first excluded

Now this is true to the novel, but as with A Passage to India where Forster originally intended to include a description of the sexual assault Adela Quested endured and was pressured into dropping it, so in with A Room with a View there was a previous draft which was a much more conventional heroine’s text/story, which Forster discreetly and successfully changed. In the case of Passage to India, the earlier text was pro-feminist, women, about how the central heroine was raped; the one we have now is capable of being read as implicitly misogynistic (the false accusation in a courtroom).

Thus I think Davies’s changed ending is truer to Forster than Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala’s literally faithful one. In Davies’s film that happy ending with the two conventional heterosexual people at the window (in Forster and M/I/J) is changed. The emphasis becomes more explicitly that the heterosexual girl breaks off her engagement to marry a man of a definitely lower class who is sexually attractive to her and she to him, but they are not permitted to be happy forever. We fast forward past WW1 to discover he has been killed in WW1 and she turns to the Italian escort who gave the small group from the pension such a happy day in the country. It is generic romance and resembles the ending of the movie version of Secret Garden where Dicken is killed and Mary remarries, this time Colin so we are in the same genre of movie, but it seemed to me more appropriate, about how society makes people lose what is most valuable to them.

The luxury in this civilization comes at the price of war as well as repression: Aunt Charlotte and Mrs Honeychurch (Elizabeth McGovern) watching Edward and Lucy from afar

Last but not least (as they say) is Davies’s strongly woman-centered and frequently lesbian Fanny Hill. It is arguable that John Cleland’s text is a homosexual, not lesbian one, and is misogynistic. Davies has liberated the women from convention here instead of the men and written an implicitly feminist screenplay.

He has brought out the affinities of Cleveland’s plot-design — which he generally follows — with Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne, not to omit Richardson’s Pamela: young girl detached from parents or orphaned, is taken up by corrupt people but her good nature wins out with luck and she ends the world’s winner.

In addition, the same continual direct address that we find in his Moll Flanders is repeated arguing defensively from a woman’s vulnerable standpoint. The story is presented with Fanny as our storyteller writing it down with the scenes framed by her confiding addresses:

Opening shot of Fanny (Rebecca Knight) turning to us to tell her happy tale

He follows the “euphoric” tradition of Nancy Miller’s reading of these 18th century heroine’s texts: our heroine does descend to the streets at one point (and treated very badly indeed), but she is taken up by a very old man (Edward Hardwicke, who often does kindly parts: he was Doctor Watson in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series), and this one is patient. And we are asked to believe that when he dies not only did he leave all his money and a huge estate to her, but his relatives let it stand and her early first love, Charles Standing (Alex Robertson) returns from the West Indies, in good health, finds her, most providentially as he pretends to be a robber of a coach; when she alights, they fall into one another’s arms:

and live rich as well as happily ever after.

Where is the proto-feminism (I’ll call it as it’s a period piece) and lesbianism? Early on quite unnecessarily Fanny Hill is brought to lose her virginity and like sex by having a semi-affair with a friendly gentle prostitute pushed on her, and we are shown far more of their sex than hers with the sweet Charles who is her first protector. We do see her with Mr H (Hugo Speer, the best performance in the film) having sex: he is hard on her, possessive and rigid, but he is genuinely passionate, involved, and that’s why he tries to take revenge and rejects her at one point:


But the explicitness is left to the prostitute who breaks her hymen.

Early in the film Davies also focuses on the ruthless animal brutality of an older man who tries to pay for Fanny when still a virgin; he is a horror of a human being in other ways in a later scene. We do see how little the so-called sexual power of women is worth.

In addition, the emphasis on the full realities of women’s lives comes out through Davies’s witty use of intertextuality: we were meant to remember the actresses who madams in this film were mothers and mentors in the Austen ones: Alison Steadman’s grating domineering Mrs Bennet becomes a hypocritical and somewhat vengeful first brother madam, ruthless; Samantha Bond’s sensible Mrs Weston becomes the political madam who hides her brothel with a milliner’s shop. Handy dandy, the same authority figure in different circumstances.

Alison Steadman as the madam Fanny runs away from

Admittedly, earlier in the day I saw this film I had read a deplorable romance tale by Eliza Haywood (early to mid-18th century romance writer, great on vacuous hectic salacious prose) called “The Lucky Rape,” about which the less said the better. I know Davies’s film could be turned into a kind of smirk smirk smirk. It lends itself to that. It is, however, true to say here that this line of emphasis tells us more about the coarse mind of the viewer than this film. In one scene we have Charles teaching Fanny the sonnet “Those who can do hurt and will do none” (Shakespeare Sonnet 91): it’s a deeply instinctively ethical point of view rarely articulated.

To conclude, like Ang Lee, the openness to unconventional sexuality, a wide humane liberality in Davies’s films has not been much noticed. He deflects attention by vaunting or claiming a frivolous pandering sexuality for his films. You can take them this way, but they are really much better and finer than this.

Florence (Jodhi May) animated by real half-angry feelings about life as she and Nan (Rachel Stirling) feast on oysters (Tipping the Velvet)

Catherine Fedden (Hayley Atwell) calms herself by cutting; here is Nick helping her and he will keep her secret too (The Line of Beauty here the line of the bandages)

Lucy (Elaine Cassidy) at her piano, at peace, rejuvenating in solitude, with a view too (A Room with a View)

Fanny (Rebecca Knight) holding her own yet with the other women as colleagues (Fanny Hill)


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