Monday, March 17, 2008

Room With A View Revisited

On Masterpiece Theatre

There’s a lot to like initially in the much-reviled (at least in England where it’s already aired; and those of us, like BeansTalk who have the Brit DVD) new version of “A Room With A View.”

Sophie Thompson is excellent as fussy Charlotte, a role that fans of the 1985 Helena Bonham Carter/Julian Sands feature-film version, may remember as played to perfection by a preening Maggie Smith.

In that regard, the leads, here played by Elaine Cassidy (The Others) and Rafe Spall (although George Emerson’s role is considerably reduced), are very likeable, too.

It’s a pretty film, too, with lush locations; since Forster’s novel is so specific in where the tale is set, the locations will look familiar, although there is a decidedly different tone to the watershed moment of the Italian murder-among-friends.

But there is a major problem here (and it’s beyond the common internet complaint that this version’s Cecil isn’t as icky).

While we have loved pretty much all of brilliant screenwriter Andrew Davies’ adaptations, for some inexplicable reason, Davis has put together, whole cloth, a completely new future-set storyline. We certainly won’t give away any spoilers, but as a fan of Forster’s original novel, we can tell you that Davies’ wasn’t going to the book for inspiration. The one "new" element we can mention is that, here, Mr. Beebe (played by Harry Potter's Mr. Weasley, ) is, if not necessarily openly, clearly gay. He's seen chatting up (ie soliciting) young Italian boys and going off with them. He also makes very blunt statements about why he, notably, knows why Cecil should remain a "bachelor."

Davies’ beautiful 1995 adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice,” spawned a massive revival (that continues today) of Jane Austen appreciation. His new 2008 (as yet unseen in the U.S.) version of “Sense & Sensibility” (which features a young cast of new talent, but also such top actors as Janet McTeer and David Morrissey) is very, very good. As a mini-series, this latest television adaptation (Emma Thompson’s 1995 version was a feature film) is able to flesh out Austen’s story and remains very faithful to the original. The previous made-for-TV “Sense and Sensibility” was another BBC production, presented in 1981. While serviceable, that version completely omitted youngest sister Margaret).

We have no complaint with the huge list of credits Davies has amassed – we loved and recommend his wonderful 1996 Emma (with Kate Beckinsale), 1999’s Wives and Daughters, 2000’s Take a Girl Like You, 1998’s Vanity Fair, 2002’s Doctor Zhivago (gorgeous, and starring Keira Knightley) but still, an ultimately sad, sad story), 2002’s Daniel Deronda, 2004’s He Knew He Was Right, 2007’s Northanger Abbey (a vast improvement on the almost un-watchable 1986 telefilm).

Davies not only wrote the 1994 Middlemarch, which starred Rufus Sewell, but he’s currently at work on the 2009 version, to be directed by Mr. Kate Winslet, Sam Mendes.

There was a charming relationship between the late Denholm Elliot as Mr. Emerson and Sands as his son George, but in 2007’s Room With a View, there is a truly warm connection between the actors, Timothy and Rafe Spall, who are, indeed, father and son.

Certainly the BBC knows that viewers are crazy-hungry (we are, certainly) for new versions of beloved books and even, beloved film and television (yes, we own them all and have watched them with the frequency that BeansTalk’s Chairman of the Board once watched Thomas the Tank Engine).

MASTERPIECE™ “A Room With a View” Sunday, April 13, 2008, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET on PBS
In Andrew Davies’ adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, Elaine Cassidy stars as Lucy Honeychurch, who is disappointed upon her arrival at a guest house in Florence, Italy, because her room has no view. Timothy Spall and son Rafe Spall play Mr. Emerson and his eccentric son, George, who offer Lucy their room — which has a view.