Tag: Rupert Graves

A Room with a View (1985)

Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter find romance from A Room with a View

Director: James Ivory

Cast: Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy Honeychurch), Julian Sands (George Emerson), Maggie Smith (Charlotte Bartlett), Denholm Elliott (Mr Emerson), Daniel Day-Lewis (Cecil Vyse), Simon Callow (Reverend Beebe), Rosemary Leach (Mrs Honeychurch), Rupert Graves (Freddy Honeychurch), Patrick Godfrey (Reverend Eager), Judi Dench (Eleanor Lavish), Fabia Drake (Miss Catherine Alan), Joan Henley (Miss Teresa Allan), Amanda Walker (Cockey Signora)

Merchant-Ivory are the gold standard, practically synonymous with costume drama in the 80s and 90s. This really began with A Room with a View, their first true sensation, a box-office smash that won the BAFTA for Best Film and three Oscars. It practically defined what to expect from a Merchant-Ivory production: a classily made slice of English literature, with a wonderful cast of top British talent, tastefully directed with a sly observational wit for the foibles of the British class system. No one does such things better than Merchant-Ivory, and maybe only Howards End and The Remains of the Day did Merchant-Ivory better than A Room with a View.

Based on EM Forster’s novel (and that novel, largely thanks to this film, is probably now his best loved work), the film is set in Italy and England during the early 1910s. Holidaying in Florence, Miss Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) and her chaperone cousin Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith) are given poor rooms in their hotel – and accept an offer to swap (for the eponymous room!) with Mr Emerson (Denholm Elliott) and his romantic son George (Julian Sands). George, a free spirit, finds himself romantically drawn towards Lucy (and she to him), but something about the free Italian air frightens Lucy, and she withdraws and returns to England where she becomes engaged to the prig’s prig Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis). However, when the Emersons rent a house near her home in Surrey she finds herself slowly drawn back once again towards George.

A Room with a View is the perfect expression of delicate, well-judged film-making, with James Ivory marshalling his precise judgement to create a luscious and involving reconstruction of the novel, which carefully layers its social and emotional observation with a dry wit. Ivory is a master of allowing the novel – and the film – to speak for itself, not intruding with flourishes but allowing the camera to hold moments. He captures wonderful moments of slightness: who can forget the camera holding on a rejected Cecil as he takes a moment to calm himself, then sits and begins to systematically retie his shoe laces? It’s a gentle, unforced moment of direction but it’s what makes the film work. 

And the careful grace and stateliness of much of A Room with a View is part of the film’s point. All this taste and manners, all this finery and wonderful design, is of course a trap. It’s precisely this pristineness and neatness that inhibits people from following their hearts, from actually having a bit of carpe diem. It’s telling that one of the film’s most striking moments involves George, Lucy’s brother Freddy and churchmen Mr Beebe going skinny-dipping (with long-shot full frontal nudity). There is something joyous for these men to literally cast off (for a few minutes) the shackles of society to just muck around in the all-together. And it’s a sort of exuberant liberal freedom you just don’t see in other parts of the film.

The film’s main theme is to see if Lucy will discover – and accept – enough about herself to follow the sort of romantic longings she feels within herself or if she is going to knuckle down and conform. Italy is a perfect sign of this – it’s hot, temperamental, the people wear their passionate hearts on their sleeves (whether that’s making-out in a carriage in front of uptight churchmen or stabbing each other in the piazza) – and it’s all that energy and lust for life that Lucy seems unsure about, but which George is chasing after. And it’s difficult to cast aside the rules you have grown up with – and scary – to find something a bit freer. Although I think you could criticise Ivory’s neat competence for failing to really visually get a contrast in look between Italy and England.

The film is blessed with a superb cast of British character actors. Helena Bonham Carter is excellent (in only her second film role) as a young woman who knows her mind but doesn’t want to follow it to its logical ends, part independent and free-thinking but also putting a constant block on her own instincts. Julian Sands as George does a decent job, although already the film (by far and away the best part he ever got) exposes his studied woodenness and flat, uninteresting voice and he often seems straining for a sort of depth and Byronic passion that is slightly beyond his range.

Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliott were both Oscar nominated, and both bring their A-game to the roles. Smith is perfect as a spinster who slowly reveals she has more sense of life’s lost opportunities than expected (even if the part is one she could play standing on her head), while Elliott gets lot of scene-stealing mileage from a sweetly eccentric Mr Emerson. Simon Callow, also in his second film role, probably gives his best (and most intriguing performance) as Mr Beebe the affable but subtly sleazy clergyman.

The film is however stolen by Daniel Day-Lewis as Cecil Vyse (originally offered his choice of parts between George and Cecil). A Room with a View opened the same day as My Beautiful Laundrette in the States and audiences were amazed that the same actor could play a self-important prig and a gay, punk fascist. Day-Lewis is the embodiment of fastidious preciseness, a man so studied in every second that each movement seems planned, with no touch of spontaneity. He even kisses Lucy with a carefully placed precision. He’s arrogantly certain of his place in the world and every moment of his life has been planned in advance with careful exactitude.

It’s the jewel in the crown of this perfect costume drama. Merchant and Ivory had longed to film the works of EM Forster for decades, and had to wait until King’s College, Cambridge (the rights holders) had someone in place who actually liked films until it was considered. They expected the main interest to be around Howards End (don’t worry its time would come!) and A Passage to India. But in A Room with a View, Merchant Ivory felt there was an unappreciated gem. They were right.

Made in Dagenham (2010)

Up the Women! British comedy wallows in nostalgia but tells a still relevant tale of sexual equality

Director: Nigel Cole

Cast: Sally Hawkins (Rita O’Grady), Bob Hoskins (Albert), Miranda Richardson (Barbara Castle), Geraldine James (Connie), Rosamund Pike (Lisa Hopkins), Andrea Riseborough (Brenda), Jamie Winstone (Sandra), Daniel Mays (Eddie O’Grady), Richard Schiff (Robert Tooley), Rupert Graves (Peter Hopkins), Kenneth Cranham (Monty Taylor), Nicola Duffett (Eileen), Lorraine Stanley (Monica), Roger Lloyd-Pack (George), Andrew Lincoln (Mr Clarke)

You’d like to think a film made ten years ago about a strike for equal pay in the 1960s would be more of a history piece than something that still carries real relevance today. But this is still a world where women are often paid less than a man, and where their work is often devalued or held as less “important” than their male counterparts. Made in Dagenham looks at all these issues with a rose-tinted, feel-good stance that aims to entertain first and make you think second. Nothing wrong with that, but it means the film is largely just a crowd-pleaser, when you feel it could be more.

At the Ford factory in Dagenham, the female sewing machinists are not paid as skilled workers, and are forced to accept less work. Frustrated at the patronising attitude from their all-male union reps, and encouraged by foreman Albert (Bob Hoskins, lovely in one of his cuddliest performances), the women decide to go on strike for equal play, led by Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins). As public attention builds, the Ford owners in America mobilise for a battle and the strike attracts the interest of Secretary for Employment Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), someone who knows the struggles a woman faces in a man’s world.

It’s no great surprise based on the fluffy, charming tone of this film that Nigel Cole’s previous credit was Calendar Girls. (Also no surprise that, like that film, this has been turned into a crowd-pleasing stage musical.) William Ivory’s script deftly sketches out some familiar movie-dynamics for its characters, establishes clear heroes and villains, gives us a good sprinkling of information and “things to think about”, mixes in at least one tragic sub-plot and provides a steady stream of high points, heart-string tugging moments and punch the air moments. As a piece of writing playing to the masses, it’s pretty flawless.

It’s in love with the 1960s details, with nostalgia dialled up to 11, with a love of the look, feel and styles of the era and plenty of sound cues mixed in that will have you tapping your toes. It’s all designed for you to have fun, and if that means some of the deeper questions get a bit lost at points, that doesn’t really matter. 

And there is more than enough enjoyable material to be seen in setting up a series of bigoted or patronising men (gamely played principally by Kenneth Cranham and Rupert Graves) and seeing them knocked down. You could argue that a slightly braver film would touch at the implications of what Richard Schiff’s corporate big-hitter says about equal pay: make it more expensive to make cars here and we will make our cars somewhere else. (In fact it was pretty hard to forget that, watching the film today, as Brexit has already caused at least three major car factory closures in the UK. In fact the film is very happy to talk all about equal pay for women in the Western World but never even raises the question of how we are quite content to have people in the third world slave away in conditions far worse than this for a few pennies an hour.) But that’s not the film’s point, and instead it’s all about those male-female relationships. 

Sally Hawkins does a good job as a woman slowly growing a social and political awareness and then turning that new-found enlightenment on her own domestic life with well-meaning but of-his-time husband Eddie (a sweet but cluelessly sexist Daniel Mays). It’s all conventional stuff, but Hawkins and Mays play it very well.

The real meat actually comes from plotlines elsewhere. Rosamund Pike is excellent as a woman with a first in history from Oxford, reduced to wheeling out nibbles for her patronising husband and keeping her ideas to herself. Geraldine James and Roger Lloyd-Pack get the tragic plotline of a couple struggling with his post-war undiagnosed PTSD, which gets most of the heart-string tugging. 

Eventually all is made well by Miranda Richardson’s Barbara Castle, floating into the picture to wave a magic wand and save the women’s bacon. Richardson thoroughly enjoys herself in a rather cardboard role, at least two scenes of which are solid exposition, in which Castle’s lecturing of two uppity civil servants is used to introduce the political context. By the end you won’t be surprised that good triumphs. But it’s a film which largely only looks to put a smile on your face, and doesn’t really look at the wider implications or injustices of unequal pay. To the film’s credit it has a final montage of the real Ford women talking about their lives and the battles they had to be respected, which gives it a bit of extra depth. A truly brave film would have found a few minutes – and that’s all it really needs – to look at the wider issues (then and today) economically and socially, and to make us think a little. As it is this just entertains, which is what you want, but it could be more.

The Madness of King George (1994)

Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren excel in this masterful adaptation of Alan Bennett’s classic play

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Cast: Nigel Hawthorne (King George III), Helen Mirren (Queen Charlotte), Ian Holm (Dr Willis), Rupert Everett (Prince of Wales) Amanda Donohoe (Lady Pembroke), Rupert Graves (Captain Greville), John Wood (Lord Chancellor Thurlow), Geoffrey Palmer (Dr Warren), Jim Carter (Charles James Fox), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Duke of York), Julian Wadham (William Pitt), Anthony Calf (Captain Fitzroy), Adrian Scarborough (Fortnum), Struan Rodger (Henry Dundas), Caroline Harker (Mrs Fitzherbert), Roger Hammond (Dr Baker), Cyril Shaps (Dr Pepys)

Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III allegedly changed its name for the film adaptation because producers worried American audiences would feel they missed the first two films in the series. It’s not actually true, but it was a lot of free publicity for Nicholas Hytner’s film debut – a marvellous, accomplished and brilliant theatrical adaptation that will always take a firm place on my list of favourite films. It’s an excitingly well-made, hilarious and heartfelt film that captures forever Nigel Hawthorne’s greatest ever performance.

In 1788 King George III (Nigel Hawthorne) is still fuming over the loss of “the colonies” (the film front and centres talk of the plucky United States, to help sell the film in the land of the free) and the behaviour of his ambitious oldest son George (Rupert Everett). Happily married to his wife Queen Charlotte (Helen Mirren), and the father of 15 children, George is a stickler for form and duty. So imagine the shock of his ministers when his behaviour becomes impulsive, irrational and finally obscene. With the king talking non-stop and impossible to control, the Prince of Wales schemes to become Prince Regent. Desperate, the king’s ministers call in Dr Willis (Ian Holm), a professional doctor of the mad, who claims he can (with time) cure the king. But will it be in time to prevent the regency?

Nicholas Hytner has rather charmingly claimed that he knew so little about film-making he didn’t realise the difficulty of many of the things he asked for, and if he had known he would never have asked. He gives much of the credit to the seasoned pros working on the film pulling out the stops to give him what he asked for. The end result is a brilliantly paced, lusciously filmed epic that is both a wonderfully moving personal story of a crotchety but lovable monarch and a witty look at regency politics. Several scenes are shot with an imaginative brilliance, from shots that throw themselves into the middle of scuffles at court with the unbalanced king, to sweeping landscape shots that make it look like the thing cost millions of dollars.

The other advantage of bringing in Hytner (director of the original stage production) was his brilliant understanding of Alan Bennett. Bennett’s script is superb, crammed with sensational lines and brilliant jokes that never get in the way of the humanity. Bennett is always more than radical than his cosy reputation suggests, and King George is a witty deconstruction of the purpose of the Royal family (politicians frequently comment on their pointlessness and George defines it as “smile and wave” and to act as “a model family”). It’s got a great understanding of the frustrating waiting game of long-serving heirs (being Prince of Wales “is not a position, it is a predicament”). The film even lands a cheeky gag at the end with the suggestion that the King’s condition was hereditary.

Hytner’s film uses the trappings of royalty brilliantly, contrasting them to great effect with the later degradation of the king – in an inspired moment, George’s first “enthroning” in the restraint chair Willis uses to condition him into behaving is soundtracked to Handel’s Zadok the Priest. George’s court is an uptight, staid place where people can’t relax (or even sit – George is so adamantly opposed to people sitting in his presence even a heavily pregnant woman is not exempt during an interminable bell-ringing version of Handel). George is a constrained figure – so it’s no wonder his insanity displays itself as an increasingly loose-lipped lack of inhibition.

The question of madness is richly handled. As Willis says, many of the mad consider themselves kings, so what does a king fancy himself as? And how can you tell what is normal for a king anyway? George is an eccentric from the start – and even his recovery at the end is basically eccentricity with an element of self-control rather than a full recovery. The film never shies away from making you invest in the rough treatment the king undergoes to wrestle him back to sanity. The doctors get short shrift, either incompetent or scheming (“When will you get it into your head that one can produce a copious, regular and exquisitely turned evacuation every day of the week and still be a stranger to reason” Geoffrey Palmer’s wonderfully dry Warren tells a toilet-obsessed colleague). 

The film is slightly more confused about Willis. Strongly played, with a twinkly chippiness, by Ian Holm (who is just about perfect) the film can’t quite decide if Willis is responsible for the king’s recovery or not. It’s a battle of wills, but is Willis ahead of his time or as medieval as his colleagues? Does Willis’ aggressive conditioning (punishing bad behaviour with restraints) force the king back into sanity? Or is it George’s love of his wife that provides the final push? Or is the king naturally on an upcycle where madness expresses itself in eccentricity rather than incoherence? It’s not clear (maybe this is deliberate) but Willis’ regime of punishment and reward has a slight air of quackery.

What’s pretty deliberate was Bennett and Hytner’s insistence that only Nigel Hawthorne could play the king. Thank god they did, as Hawthorne is simply brilliant. Cheated of the Oscar in 1994, Hawthorne is compelling. He also conveys the natural authority of a king, and the “grumpy old man” side of the king is mined for brilliant comic effect. But it’s also a beautifully heartfelt and hilarious performance, running the gamut from delight in obscenities to teary fury and fear at the treatment from his doctors and loss of mental control. Such a sublime performance.

And it surely inspired some top work from the brilliant cast around him, many of whom revived their roles from the stage production (chief among these Wadham’s wonderfully dry Pitt).  Helen Mirren is warm, proud and eventually desperate as Charlotte, while Rupert Everett mines the Prince of Wales for all the comic pomposity and childishness he can. Rupert Graves is excellent as a loyal equerry, while John Wood, Jim Carter and Geoffrey Palmer also excel. You’ve rarely seen such a strong cast of British stage notables, and it’s not surprising they were attracted to perform in a script that has as many good lines as this one.

It’s accomplished and luscious, is brilliantly shot and designed, and is packed full of wonderful sequences. It wears its intelligence lightly, with George as a proto-Lear struggling to hold onto his marbles. The characters even sit and read Lear at one point (“Is that wise?” questions Thurlow. “I had no idea what it was about” says the little-read Willis). George may recover his wits in time, but it’s unclear whether this makes him more or less of a human being. In many ways at the height of his insanity, he’s a warmer, friendlier person (if out of control), then he is as his buttoned-up, stickler-for-duty self. 

The Madness of King George is the sort of film all theatre adaptations wish they could be, brilliantly cast, opening out into something that not only feels compelling to watch but also brings out the great depths of the original play. What is monarchy for? How can we tell if the all-powerful are mad or not? What is sanity anyway? All this and with some superb jokes, and a story that really involves you. With Nigel Hawthorne’s simply brilliant performance at the centre, this is one for the ages.