Another illustrated "classic" from the people who gave you The Europeons and The Bostonians: not Henry James this time, but E.M. Forster. The illustrations in this instance are handsome enough, though a little heavy on the starch. They are divided up at intervals by facetious chapter headings, or captions, along the lines of "In Santa Croce with No Baedeker" and "How Miss Bartlett's Boiler Was So Tiresome." The actors -- and a very skillful lot they are, numbering among themselves the likes of Denholm Elliott, Maggie Smith, Simon Callow, Julian Sands, Daniel Day Lewis, and, central to the group, the tulip-faced Helena Bonham Carter -- wring every ounce of irony out of the dialogue, and often interject additional textual commentary by way of heightened inflection, broadened facial expression, thickened accent. There is a pivotal scene -- a sort of noncompetitive version of the firelit wrestling match in Women in Love -- of cavorting nude bathers, including the vicar, surprised by a trio of afternoon strollers, including two proper ladies. Very tee-hee. But what, when all has been said and done, is the point? Anymore, that is. The comic element of social comedy dries up sooner than the social element, which tends to have more of an extension forwards and backwards through time. And the spectacle of an Eighties filmmaking team stepping in eight decades after the original author, and continuing to pepper away at targets long since tattered and replaced, is almost unseemly. Not to mention unfunny. The whole enterprise comes across as a bit bloodless and effete -- a charge all the more telling in a work that keeps going on about "passion" and attempting to make satirical hash of the timid, the aloof, and the bookish. Produced by Ismail Merchant; written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; directed by James Ivory. (1985) — Duncan Shepherd
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