Friday, August 30, 2013

Small comparisons #1: A Room with a View

This is the series where I compare a book and the movie version of the book based on these 3 criteria:
1) Is the mood of the book translated into the movie?
2) Do the characters have the same motivation in both the book and the movie?
3) Is the movie just as easy to understand without having read the book first?

This is one of relatively few times where I saw the movie before reading the book. The movie instantly caught my attention with the opening music being O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini and the excellent cast (Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis, Dame Judi Dench among others). Further on I found the way they divided the movie into chapters very interesting. All this made me download a free version of the book on Kindle and read it right away.

Short synopsis 
E.M. Forster published A room with a view in 1908 and the story takes place in the same period. Director James Ivory chose to stay very close to the original setting in the book in his movie from 1986.

The main character is the young woman Lucy Honeychurch. In the first part she is in Florence with her older cousin Charlotte Bartlett as her chaperone. At the pension where they stay, they get to know among others Miss Lavis, a writer, and Mr. Emerson and his son George. There are some tensions between the rest of the pensionnaires and the two Emersons because of their direct and frank behavior. There is a hint of romance between Lucy and George, but it is swiftly suppressed by among others Miss Bartlett.
Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) and George Emerson (Julian Sands)
The second part of the movie takes place back in England. Lucy Honeychurch says yes to marry Cecil Vyse, an acquaintance neither her mother, nor her brother really likes. It seems Lucy says yes to his proposal because he is a suitable a husband for her. Whether it is fate, coincidence or divine intervention, the Emersons move in to a house in the village where Lucy lives. Will Lucy choose the man she thinks is the proper choice for her, or will she choose love?

The proper way
The first thing that hit me, was the slight absurdity of the behavior of the characters. It is obvious already in the opening scene when Lucy and Miss Bartlett arrive in Florence and to their disappointment realize that they haven't got rooms with view. When Mr. Emerson and his son offer their rooms since men don't appreciate a view the same way women do, Miss Bartlett brusquely refuses this because it seems improper to her. This constant concern for what society deems "proper" runs through the book as well as the movie.
Miss Bartlett does NOT approve of that. 
Lucy is young and has not yet grown into her own personality, and both the book and the movie shows how she is influenced by everyone around her in different ways, but the book show her own confusion better than the movie, which is understandable as long as you can't show a person's thoughts in the movie. However, the dialog in the book is very rich and filled with much of the characters' thoughts and motives, and since the movie is using the dialog almost word to word, most of the feelings and opinions seen in the book are conveyed to the movie.
But Cecil approves of this. 
The big question in both the movie and book, is whether Lucy will conform to what society seems to deem as right for her, or if she will make her own choices. 

Characters as caricatures
Since all the dialog in the movie is so closely based on the dialog in the book, the personality of the characters stays the same. And in this they seem to me like caricatures of opinions. It seems that Mr. Vyse and Miss Bartlett are the voices of the society, where as the Emersons are the voices of a more liberal and free approach to life. Lucy's mother and brother are somewhere in between.
Mr. Emerson telling Lucy that she should choose love. 
What I found very interesting when reading the book, was the author's strong sympathy with Lucy and antipathy with Mr. Vyse, especially when it came to Lucy's search for her own personality. While Mr. Vyse found her the most attractive when she reminded him of a lifeless piece of art, Lucy shows on several occasions (especially when playing the piano) that she is inclined to be much more independent, and has a strong personality just waiting to blossom. This makes me ask myself a couple of questions; Was E.M. Forster kind of a feminist? And was the book perceived as a criticism of the society at the time it was published? 

Those two last questions are the main difference between the book and the movie, as far as I see it. The story in itself is very well put onto screen in the movie, but the radicalism of the author is partly lost in the movie. That being said, the movie stands very well on its own feet and I don't expect a movie to be able to convey every layer and sentiment found in the book it is based on.


How did you feel about the movie and/or the book?
What should I read and watch next?
I have already started on reading "Dangerous Liaisons" and want to compare it with the 1988 movie with Glenn Close and John Malkovich and with "Cruel Intentions" from 1999. This will however take about a year to finish since the only free version of the book was in French and my efficiency when it comes to reading French is rather low compared with Norwegian and English. 


  1. Nice review! I had to read E.M. Forster's "Howard's End" for a literature class once. I loved the book and then watched the movie. I saw "A Room With a View" on netflix and now I will surely watch it as well!

    As for what to read/watch next, here are my suggestions:
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (did this myself but never posted about it)
    The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

    I can't imagine knowing that many languages! I have to take more Spanish classes next semester and oh my am I horrible at it!

    1. Well, the first thing I think about when you mention The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that the American version of the movie downplayed the rape and I found that annoying given how important it is if they are going to film the rest of the books.

      I've always loved languages and I've lived a little bit here and there, so it helps :)