A Room with a View: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

September 21, 2015 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) is a proper young woman from a strong background who is visiting Florence for the first time, with her overcautious and ever watchful Aunt Charlotte (Maggie Smith) to keep her company. While in Florence Lucy finds herself bored with the activities her aunt has planned and longs for a more exciting and perhaps even romantic time. But if she even came close to any such excitement, her aunt would scoop her up and return home without an eye lash of hesitation. This idea is confirmed when Lucy meets the Emersons, a family who shares the same home and loves to have a good time. So when Lucy is shown some romance by George Emerson (Julian Sands) by way of a kiss, Charlotte sees the educational value of this voyage going out the window so she takes Lucy back to her home and current suitor Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day Lewis). But while Cecil tries to court her as a gentleman should, Lucy longs for the passion and fun she had with George. Will Lucy decide in favor of tradition and properness or let her feelings take charge of her life?

If you’re a fan of movies like Howard’s End, Jane Austen adaptations, or other such art house period pieces, A Room With A View is a movie that deserves a place in your collection. I have several movies along the same lines as this one, but on the whole don’t find too many of them interesting enough to view more than once. But out of the ones I do own, this one holds a special place as my pick of the litter and one I can watch time and again. This has the elements you need for a movie like this such as lush locations, excellent costumes, and a terrific ensemble cast but it seems to have a little something most of the others lack, fun. If you judge this disc by the cover you’d expect a slow moving and old fashioned period piece, which is by no means what this really is. This is more of a romp through a fantastic story loaded with superb performances. The characters seem more lively and the production design seems a little better than most of these literary art house movies and maybe that’s why I like it so much. I recommend this movie to fans of this type of film, but a rental would serve all but die-hard fans as this disc offers no supplements and an average transfer.

This film was directed by James Ivory, who knows his path within a period piece like this as he should, since he has directed many, many of them. Ivory creates a complex and beautiful world within this movie and I think it is the best title on his resume, which is saying something. Ivory also knows how to get the best out of his actors and it shows with this film, that is packed with terrific and powerful turns. This is as solid a literary period piece as I have seen and Ivory went on to create several more of high caliber after this one. If you want to see more excellent films by Ivory I recommend Howard’s End, The Remains Of The Day, Jefferson In Paris, Surviving Picasso, and many more. This film features an impressive ensemble cast that shines throughout, all the actors manage to give terrific turns here. Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Wings of the Dove) and Julian Sands (Leaving Las Vegas, Warlock) seem to take the cake, but the entire cast is quite good. I also want to make special note of Daniel Day Lewis’ magnificent performance here which is refined, controlled, and picture perfect. The rest of the cast includes Judi Dench (The World Is Not Enough, Shakespeare In Love), Simon Callow (Bedroom & Hallways, Notting Hill), Maggie Smith (Hook, Tea With Mussolini), Denholm Elliot (Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade), and Fabia Drake (White Corridors).

Video: How does it look?

The previous DVD version of this movie (or at least the one reviewed on this site) was shown in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer which left a little to be desired. Ok, it left a lot to be desired. Criterion, in conjunction with director James Ivory and cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, has given the film a brand new 4K digital restoration and the result is, well, stunning. Granted, some of these “British” films aren’t exactly bursting with color and though this is the case with the film, I immediately noticed a difference in overall image quality, the film seemed to have a sheen to it that really gave it a more “film like” appearance.  Colors are warm, detail has been improved and the ever-present edge enhancement from the DVD version is a thing of the past. There’s still a little room for improvement, but not much – this new transfer was certainly well worth the wait.

Audio: How does it sound?

While this isn’t the movie to choose for high octane audio, the new DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is rather robust (or at least as robust as any 2.0 mix can be). The dialogue is the main focus and this mix ensures that each word is heard in high clarity form and at a proper volume and while any range is certainly limited, it’s a nice soundstage that’s sure to please. I will say that Richard Robbins’ score sounds just about as good as one could imagine. A fine effort from Criterion.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I can only assume that there aren’t a lot of supplemental materials out there as the original DVD was feature-less. This Criterion Blu-ray has added a few features of note so let’s explore those.

  • Thought and Passion – Running just a tad over 20 minutes, this supplement features director James Ivory, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts and costume-designer John Bright discussing the production of the film.
  • The Eternal Yes – A bit longer, at 35 minutes is this piece with features the actors: Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Callow, and Julian Sands as they give their take on the film and its lasting influence.
  • NBC Nightly News – A 1987 short piece that mentions Merchant Ivory Productions.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Essay – The ever-present essay on the film is included in booklet form tucked inside the case.

The Bottom Line

Odds are that films like this are hit and miss with audiences. Well, let me recant that, the film itself is wonderful, but it’s bound to have a certain audience that will appreciate it. Nevertheless, Criterion has done their usual amazing job with the disc giving it new life in the video department and offering up a very rich and robust soundtrack. A nice array of supplements (although not as packed to the gills as other Criterion titles) are included and should make for an easy recommendation.

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