25 February 2005 | gregorybnyc
A Gorgeous Adapation of a Very Personal Novel
I saw MAURICE when it first appeared in theaters in the mid-80s and enjoyed it. I was surprised on a second viewing on DVD last night at how much I had forgotten about this film. This story of a thwarted love affair between two upper- class men during their years at Cambridge is a deeply absorbing and entertaining adaptation of Forster's posthumously published novel, which I read at in 1971. I thought the book rather dull. The movie seems anything but, which makes me wonder if I shouldn't pull it off my library shelves and give it another go.
Though James Wilby's Maurice Hall is the main character, it is Hugh Grant young aristocrat that is most intriguing here. Clive Durham (Grant) is a spoiled and deeply entrenched member of Britain's snobbish ruling class. It is Durham who pursues Wilby (not the other way around as some of these reviews would have you believe). Initially spooked by Durham's admission of his love for Maurice, he pursues Durham with a naive passion. But that passion is ruined when a fellow classmate from Cambridge is set up by a soldier in a bar and arrested by the police. This young man's future in politics and society is ruined (horrified, Durham says no to him when he asks to testify on his behalf), and he is found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail and hard labor. His picture is splashed across the headlines of London's tabloids. The realization that this could happen to him forces Durham to reject Maurice, pursue and marry a young girl from his class and move himself deeply into the closet. So much for the politics of homosexuality in Britain, circa 1912.
Maurice is devastated by his friend's rejection of him. Miserable, he seeks every avenue he can to reverse and cure his own homosexual longings. He even subjects himself to the quackery of a hypnotist-therapist (Ben Kinsley in a hilarious turn). Maurice finally gives in to his feelings when he finally falls deeply in love with the gamekeeper of Durham's estate (well played by the young and very handsome Rupert Graves).
This Merchant-Ivory film is, typically, gorgeous to look at, its pacing is novelistic and deeply rewarding. Hugh Grant showed early star appeal as the superficial and ultimately defeated victim of his class and society. He would rarely get the chance at so fine a part in the future despite his great success as a light comedian in a string of international hit movies (ABOUT A BOY being one such terrific film performance from this very appealing actor). James Wilby is pitch perfect as the perplexed and emotional Maurice. The expert supporting cast under the commanding direction of James Ivory delivers this period piece superbly. It's period look is typical of Merchant-Ivory productions--detailed, richly appointed and very beautiful. Kudos also to Kit Hesketh-Harvey's excellent screenplay.
One viewer here complained that ending was far too upbeat and unrealistic for its time, but I really didn't see it that way. There were many men and women who set up housekeeping in both London and New York, living their lives in discreet harmony under the noses of hostile societies. Still others preferred to move abroad to live their lives in discrete peace and tranquility. I prefer to think this is just what Maurice and Scudder do. If Maurice were as much of a snob as Durham, this might not have worked. But we see Maurice's slow understanding of the hypocrisy of his class in the aftermath of his affair with Durham, and he comes to realize that even he is somewhat constrained by his own upper-class upbringing in his initial interactions with Scudder's far lower standing.
This is a deeply affecting movie and holds up superbly. Highly recommended.