‘I am an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort’ – Maurice (Film Review)

Rating:

Maurice, directed by James Ivory, and starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby, is an award-winning adaption of E.M. Foster’s autobiographical novel of the same name that became one of the most well-known and esteemed mainstream gay-themed films of its day. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1987; and in celebration of its 30th anniversary in 2017, Cohen Media Group brought Maurice back to the big screen in new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, as well as magnetic soundtrack. It will open at BFI Southbank and other selected cinemas UK-wide from 27th July 2017. Written by E.M Foster more than a century ago, Maurice hasn’t lost it’s relevance today, and has maintained a broad appeal in its effective portrayal of sexual awakening, and coming to terms with one’s identity in a homophobic and repressive society.

Set in Edwardian England, against the backdrop of the suffocating conformity of pre-World War I English society, two Cambridge undergraduate students – Clive (Grant) and Maurice (Wilby) – find themselves falling in love with each other. At this time, homosexuality, ‘ the unspeakable vice of the Greeks’, is punishable by imprisonment, and so the two have to do everything in their power to keep their feelings for each other a complete secret. After their friend is arrested and humiliated for his sexuality, Clive rejects his forbidden love, and marries Anne (Phoebe Nicholls), a perfectly nice but rather shallow young woman. Maurice is left confused and struggling with his identity and self-confidence to such extent that he even seeks relief from a hypnotist to free him from his ‘sinful’ urges. However, when visiting Clive and his wife (as the two remain friends…), Maurice meets an affectionate under-gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves) and thus begins a new, passionate love affair. 

The emotional and persuasive performance by all three leads – Grant, Wilby, and Graves – outstandingly highlights the themes of repression, dignity, compromise, and love in Maurice, while still keeping its status as realistic period drama. Such themes, and the morality of them, is undeniably still as relevant today as it was in 1980s, and in the beginning of 20th century when the story was penned. It makes us ponder over one’s freedom to be true to themselves, and what we are willing to give up for love. Even if homosexuality is becoming more and more socially accepted in Western society, we still have a long way to go to ensure a widespread acceptance of LGBTQ+.

Maurice is absolutely worth seeing – even if you already have, then it probably wasn’t on big screen. Not only is it on point as a romantic drama about first love, and the portrayal of what it’s like to be homosexual in an oppressive society; it is also aesthetically compelling.

Dir: James Ivory

Scr: Kit Hesketh-Harvey, James Ivory from the novel by E.M. Foster

Cast: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves

Prd: Ismail Merchant

Music: Richard Robbins

DOP: Pierre Lhomme

Runtime: 140 minutes

Opening at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 27 July 2018