PBS followed up their wonderfully successful Complete Jane Austen with a new version of E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View this past Sunday. Adapted by Andrew Davies, who had a huge amount of success with Pride and Prejudice as well as Sense and Sensibility, he expands the ending and gives this wonderful story a bittersweet turn that is sure to stick with the viewer.
A Room with a View opens in Florence in 1922 with an older, wiser version of the Ms. Lucy Honeychurch we are so familiar with from E. M Forster’s story. With clothes and hair in fashion, she is obviously coming back to Florence to remember a time ten years past, a time she obviously holds close to her heart. While standing in rooms she stood in before, she hears voices from the past. Suddenly the viewer is thrust into what came before.
Lucy Honeychurch, played superbly by Elaine Cassidy, is in Florence as part of her Grand Tour across Europe. Naïve but passionate, even if that passion only comes through in her piano playing, she is being trailed by her prim and proper chaperone, Charlotte (Sophie Thompson). Charlotte, of course, is keeping a close eye on Lucy and reporting back to Lucy's mother, something Lucy doesn’t seem to resent quite enough to be plausible. In the novel, Lucy’s peevishness with her chaperone comes across much more clearly. In this newest adaptation, Lucy just seems resigned to the fact that all of her actions are being watched.
Despite having every motion picked over and examined, Lucy is ready to be the object of someone’s desire and love, just as she is ready to fall in love herself, though she does not realize it. What better setting than Florence, Italy? Here she meets George Emerson (Rafe Spall), who is on a Grand Tour of his own with his father, Mr. Emerson (Timothy Spall). The Emersons are wonderfully eccentric and Lucy is drawn to them, even though they are working class and supposedly beneath her notice.
The romance that is soon to blossom between Lucy and George is plausible and expected, but I thought Rafe Spall as George Emerson was awkward and unsure of himself. While I don’t remember the particulars of the novel that well, I do remember the character having a bit more spine and it would have been nice to see more of it show through.
Miss Lavish (Sinead Cusack), an over the top writer staying at the same hotel as Ms. Honeychurch, latches on to Lucy for a day but quickly loses her in a church where Lucy runs into the Emersons. Alone with Mr. Emerson for a moment, he tells her how good she would be for his son, George. Lucy has no idea what he might be talking about and recommends that George take up collecting postage stamps, a pastime which has done no end of good for her younger brother. Mr. Emerson laughs, and though Lucy cannot see what her future will hold, Mr. Emerson can.
On a trip out to the country, Lucy and George are brought together despite Charlotte’s interfering ways. This was always one of my favorite scenes in the book, something that I read again and again when I was young. I was not disappointed in Davies adaptation. Was there ever a more romantic kiss? Probably, but by gosh, this was a pretty wonderful one. Paolo, the Italian coach driver, leads Lucy to George, though she was looking for the other members of her party. Paolo gives her a small push down the hill and into George’s waiting arms. It’s fantastic, a little awkward, and made all the more sweet for that moment of honesty.
Lucy, not understanding her feelings, runs from what George is laying at her feet and finds herself in the arms of Cecil Vyse (Laurence Fox). Soon Lucy and Cecil are engaged, but George isn’t going to give up just because she’s promised herself to another man when he knows she loves him. It takes a little while for Lucy to understand her heart, but when she finally does (with the help of Mr. Emerson), everything that should be is, and a happy ending isn’t too far off.
The big draw for A Room with a View is the wonderful characters that are colorful and over the top: outrageous writers, meddlesome relatives, romantic Italians, and self-important clergymen. These characters jump from the pages of the novel. In the adaptation, some come through more clearly than others. Sophie Thompson is a wonderful and irritating Charlotte Bartlett, Timothy Spall is the perfect Mr. Emerson, and Sinead Cusack is a delightfully wicked Miss Lavish. These actors brought so much to A Room with a View, and without them it would not have been the same.
The ending, however, isn’t light. This adaptation doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling when the credits start to roll. It’s a bittersweet ending, with tragedy hanging over Lucy’s head as she connects with Paolo, the carriage driver that helped to change her life all those years ago. That one small moment when she looks up and Paolo takes her hand is what redeemed this adaptation for me and might make it possible to watch once again.