Re-watching A “Room With A View” Twenty Years Later

“Wait, is this a parody?” That was one of my first surprising thoughts when rewatching a much beloved cinematic experience. Let me explain.

I first saw “A Room With A View” as a college undergrad. It was my first foray into British period pieces and I was enchanted. Such romance! Such beauty! I don’t recall ever doing a second viewing after that magical first. Why would I? It was perfection.

I had trouble sleeping the other night and “A Room With A View” popped into my Apple streaming service. It was cold outside and I had a pretty miserable day so why not give it another go? A sweeping romance could be the panacea I needed to sooth my aching soul. Can you feel the romance in the air?

This experience was quite different than the first. The first thing that hit me was the music. Was it always this loud and intrusive? It was as if those soaring notes intended to grab the viewer by the shoulders and shout “FEEL something!”

Then came those scene setting placards. Cute perhaps but a little too precious for my tastes these days. What did my younger self think of those? Not too much I think but I don’t remember being bothered by them. Maybe I’m just and old curmudgeon?

Needless to say that “A Room With A View” is not parody but a much loved comedy of manners. I checked on Rotten Tomatoes and it has a 100% critic score! Admittedly, the film is fairly entertaining and certainly very pretty to look at but there were plot points that struck me odd back then – I think I blamed it on lack of cultural understanding of the British – that seem even more ludicrous to me today.

OK let’s start with the things that bothered me first.

George Emerson – the romantic lead – is just plain odd. I’m sorry but the minute he climbed up a tree and started shouting his affirmations it would have been game over for me. His fantastic bone structure and pretty blue eyes not withstanding this dude is just plain strange. Who wants to deal with a lover who spends his days daydreaming in trees and shouting gibberish?

Cecil – the romantic foil – is clearly written to be George’s polar opposite. A cold and fastidious snob I couldn’t figure out why Lucy would ever agree to marry him. The film certainly didn’t provide much rationale either beyond the clear fact that he was a very wealthy man.

The time jumps. George and Lucy have their romantic first meeting then she is swooped back to England due to her overprotective cousin Charlotte. The very next scene she is becoming happily engaged to stodgy and somewhat sexless Cecil. Lucy is hotblooded, easily established in the opening scenes, so why this engagement? Had two years past since her meeting George? Or was it more like a month? Did Lucy and Cecil have a history? Hard to say and the film did not make it clear.

Lucy’s brother Freddy is an odd character. His first meeting with George he takes one look at this golden God and suggests they go for a bathe. With a vicar no less! There could be multiple layers of meaning here but let’s just leave it as odd.

With that aside let me describe what I loved then and still love to this day.

Lucy Honeychurch: Helena Bonham Carter was just delightful as the young, willful and impetuous Lucy. Though I didn’t quite understand her attraction to oddball George (beyond the physical) I certainly understood his falling for her.

Cousin Charlotte: I guess in retrospect it’s no surprise that Maggie Smith is wonderful as the prudish and gossipy Cousin Charlotte. Her pairing with Lucy was comedic gold.

Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil: Though I don’t like his character (by design) I greatly admired Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of him. Again in retrospect no surprise here. He annoyed and infuriated me in equal measure but almost won me over in the scene where Lucy coldly breaks off their engagement. Here Day Lewis hints at a more sensitive and deeply feeling individual than had been shown up to that point. I found myself surprised by my empathy for him and irritation at Lucy for her insensitive dismissal.

George’s love for his father: Though admittedly an oddball, George’s obvious love for his father was touching then and remains even more so now. Maybe he’s not so bad after all?

Bottom line – I still enjoyed this movie but some of the over melodramatic notes changed my initial swooning experience to mere entertainment at a cute romantic romp. Or perhaps the inability to get swept away by a soaring romance is simply the difference of being in your twenties versus forties?

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