Maurice [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (10th March 2019).
The Film

"Maurice" (1987)

Taking place in the early twentieth century in England, Maurice Hall (played by James Wilby) has a sexual awakening, falling for fellow Cambridge University schoolmate Clive Durham (played by Hugh Grant). At a time when homosexuality was illegal in the country, the two keep their affair secret from their friends and their family. Though Maurice is not as concerned of what others may think, Clive is the one who is more preoccupied with what would happen to his social status or his future. But their differing views will cause a rift that changes their fates...

Writer E.M. Forster was one of England's most gifted and celebrated writers both during his lifetime and following his death. "A Room with a View" (1908), "Howards End" (1910), "A Passage to India" (1924) were masterworks that were also adapted into highly acclaimed film adaptations by Merchant-Ivory for the first two and by David Lean by the latter. After Forster's death in 1970, it was revealed that his unpublished book "Maurice" would see the light of day. Started in 1913 and rewritten over the years, it was finally published in 1971 and was a work that seriously divided critics and readers. A story of a homosexual awakening of a young man, the semi-autobiographical work was a controversial work, something that would have been considered blasphemous by the English government if it had been published earlier in his lifetime. In 1985 the Merchant-Ivory team adapted Forster's "A Room with a View" to great acclaim, nominated for 14 BAFTAs and winning 5, and nominated for 8 Oscars and winning 3. Riding high on critical and commercial success, director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant looked to producing another one of Forster's works and their choice was "Maurice". The Forster estate was not particularly thrilled with the choice considering how it was the most controversial of the author's work, but thankfully the content was given approval for adaptation.

While homosexuality and its forbidden nature in the time period is the backbone of the story, sex itself is not. There are moments of the characters caressing and touching but it is obvious to them and to the audience that neither are experienced in the activities to know what to do. Granted Maurice and Clive's relationship was not a sexually physical one, but an emotional connection between them. They both grew up without fathers in their lives. They both came from similar middle class households. They are both young men in search of themselves. It's interesting to see their feelings for each other blossom from standard male bonding friendship into something more, while keeping their secret away from almost everyone else in their lives, but like many early relationships, their slow and gradual separation in ideals is relatable for anyone that has experienced a romantic relationship. Rather than the usual formula of romantic dramas or romantic comedies where sudden mishaps or revelations ruin the relationships (and when they suddenly return to each others hearts in many cliches), "Maurice" is a slow disintegration, one that is uncomfortable yet emotionally involving and heartbreaking. Of course to say "Maurice" is without sex is not entirely true. As time passes and the character of Maurice finds love with Alec Scudder (played by Rupert Graves), there are quite a few physical scenes involved, as almost a polar opposite to Maurice's relationship with Clive. Freer, yet still behind closed doors yet with a feeling of some distrust.

Ivory and Merchant were not just film partners but a homosexual couple themselves in real life, yet in front of the cameras the main actors were heterosexual playing homosexual characters. Ironically though, openly gay Simon Callow played a schoolmaster that explains about heterosexual intercourse in one of the more memorable and also awkward opening scenes in cinema, which in fact was the opening to the book as well. Pre-production in 1986 had a few hiccups, with the original choice for the character of Maurice Julian Sands suddenly dropping out and having Wilby being recast immediately. The original choice for cinematography was Tony Pierce-Roberts who couldn't commit due to other work. Instead French cinematographer Pierre Lhomme filled the role, who previously worked on Merchant-Ivory's "Quartet" in 1981. Interestingly the English story would be filmed in England with an American director, an Indian producer, and a French cameraman. Ivory thought it would be interesting to have someone non-English to film the locations and settings to bring a different perspective to the familiar locations, and with Lhomme's impressive resume of working with Jean-Pierre Melville, Chris Marker, and Jean Eustache in the past, the veteran cinematographer definitely game a look and charm that was in the Merchant-Ivory theme while also giving new life to the subject matter and visuals.

With a shooting schedule without much rehearsals and on a fairly small budget of $2.6 million, the 54 day shoot, the finished feature premiered theatrical premiered in America on September 18, 1987 and a UK release two months later. The film was highly acclaimed by critics but was not a major financial success, grossing just under the film's budget in its theatrical run. It certainly was admired by the critics but received less awards in comparison to "A Room with a View". The homosexual subject matter was certainly a turn off for most filmgoers, though the film has had legs over the years being an honest and heartbreaking film where the gay characters were no exaggerated or artificial. For its 30th anniversary a 4K restoration was done, breathing new life into the film and giving it a theatrical re-release in 2017. The BFI presents the new 4K restored edition on this 2-disc Blu-ray edition.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the theatrical 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. For its 30th anniversary, the original negative held at the George Eastman Museum was scanned and restored in 4K, with the digital restoration and color grading supervised by Pierre Lhomme and approved by James Ivory. The transfer on the Blu-ray is very beautiful, slightly leaning on muted tones with the blues and greys, while also giving emphasis to the warm tones indoors in some of the more intimate settings. Damage such as dust and specs are almost entirely eliminated, the image is always stable, and film grain is intact, bringing possibly a better looking experience than what was originally projected more than 30 years ago. Overall a great restoration, and excellent transfer by the BFI.

The film's runtime on the Blu-ray is 140:08.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 stereo

The original stereo audio is offered in an uncompressed LPCM track while a newly remixed 5.1 track is also offered as an option. The remixed track was made from the original magnetic track by Audio Mechanics, and the results are excellent. The wonderful music by Richard Robbins is given breathing space and the surround track is never obtrusive, used mostly for ambiance, while the center speaker is almost entirely for the dialogue track. The stereo track is also very good with stereo separation, also restored from the original materials. There are no hisses, pops, or other audio defects in the track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature.

Extras

This is a 2-disc Blu-ray set, with the first disc having the film and a commentary track while all other extras are available on the second disc.

DISC ONE

Audio commentary by film historian and Maurice expert Professor Claire Monk

Monk clearly says from the start she is a longtime fan of the film and brings a heavy amount of information to the commentary track. She discusses the making of the film, biographies of the cast and crew, information on Forster, comparisons to other Merchant-Ivory films, homosexuality in the period the film was made and during the 1980s in England, and much more. A solid listen.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


DISC TWO

"Maurice: A Director's Perspective" 2017 interview with James Ivory and Tom McCarthy (40:09)

In this lengthy interview, Ivory is joined by "Spotlight" director Tom McCarthy after rewatching the film together for the 30th anniversary. They discuss about certain scenes, the structure of the film, concerns by Forster's estate, the editing process, and much more. This extra was previously released on the US Cohen Media Blu-ray edition.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"James Ivory and Pierre Lhomme on the Making of Maurice" 2017 interview with Ivory and Lhomme by Gavin Smith (15:43)
In this 30th anniversary interview, Ivory is joined by Lhomme as they share some memories of the shoot and being "outsiders" as an American and Frenchman respectively. They also talk about the casting and the responsibility to the source material for the shoot. This extra was previously released on the US Cohen Media Blu-ray edition.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Q&A with James Ivory and Pierre Lhomme (22:59)
In this Q&A from 2017 at the French Institute Alliance Francaise moderated by Nicholas Elliot, Ivory and Lhomme again talk about the film's production and reception, while also talking about other topics such as their influences and previous films. This extra was previously released on the US Cohen Media Blu-ray edition.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Reflections on Maurice" 2019 interview with James Wilby (19:07)
In this new interview, Wilby talks about the film, his character, replacing a dropped out actor, living with the legacy of "Maurice" including its revival on stage, and much more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Hugh Grant and James Wilby in Conversation" featurette (4:31)
In this all too short interview mostly headed by Grant, the two actors reminisce about the film and its importance in gay culture and in film culture.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Screening E.M. Forster" audio discussion with stills (8:06)
An audio recording at the National Film Theater with Ivory and Merchant from 1992 is presented here. They talk about their interest in Forster's work from many years prior, the making of their three adaptations of the writer's work, and more. This is accompanied by black and white behind the scenes stills, color stills, and film posters.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary by Professor Claire Monk) (39:05)
A collection of deleted scenes are presented here, including a 15 minute non-linear opening segment that would have confused many audiences in its structure, an earlier introduction of Scudder, Risley's suicide, additional confrontations, and more. These were previously available on the US Cohen Media Blu-ray and various DVD editions. The scenes can also be seen with optional commentary by Monk who discusses each of the scenes and where they would be presented.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 (deleted scenes audio), English Dolby Digital 2.0 (audio commentary) with no subtitles

Original Theatrical Trailer (3:24)
The effective original trailer, even if it has too many spoilers. Is presented in fairly good quality. There are some minor specs and dust with a bit of hiss in the audio.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Re-release Trailer (2:21)
The 4K restoration trailer by Cohen Media is presented here in quality as good as the restored film on the first disc.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles


Booklet
A 32 page booklet with essays, credits, stills, and information is presented. First is an introduction by James Ivory in which he discusses the importance and history of gay characters in the Merchant-Ivory productions over the years. Next is a lengthy analysis of the film simply titled "Maurice" by writer John Pym. Next is a printed interview with James Wilby conducted by Claire Monk as they discuss the character and the film. A Sight & Sound review from 1987 by Claire Tomalin is reprinted, followed by full credits, transfer information, and acknowledgements.


While the extras seem full, there are a handful of notable omissions. The US Cohen Media Blu-ray also had the "The Story of Maurice" and "Conversation with the Filmmakers" extras ported from some previous DVD editions, and also had select commentary tracks for the deleted scenes by Ivory. These have not been carried to the UK Blu-ray set.

Overall

"Maurice" is not just one of the most important films in gay cinema, but one of the most brutally honest love forbidden love stories on film. It's certainly one of the highlights of the Merchant-Ivory team and the BFI's Blu-ray edition features a lovely restored transfer with a great selection of extras making this highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A- Overall: A

 


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