Maurice (film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Paul Bradley
Screenplay by Kit-Hesketh-Harvey
James Ivory
Based on Maurice
by E. M. Forster
Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography Pierre Lhomme
Edited by Katherine Wenning
Distributed by Cinecom Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 5 September 1987 (1987-09-05) (Venice)
  • 18 September 1987 (1987-09-18) (US)
Running time
140 minutes [1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $2.6 million
Box office $2,438,304[2]

Maurice is a 1987 British romantic drama film based on the novel of the same name by E. M. Forster. It is a tale of gay love in early 20th-century England, following its main character Maurice Hall from his school days through university, until he is united with his life partner.

Maurice was produced by Ismail Merchant via Merchant Ivory Productions and Film Four International, directed by James Ivory, and written by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, with cinematography by Pierre Lhomme. The film stars James Wilby as Maurice, Hugh Grant as Clive and Rupert Graves as Alec. The supporting cast included Denholm Elliott as Dr Barry, Simon Callow as Mr Ducie, Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Hall, and Ben Kingsley as Lasker-Jones.


During a trip to a windswept beach, Maurice Hall, an 11-year-old schoolboy, receives instructions about the "sacred mysteries" of sex from his teacher, who wants to explain to the fatherless boy the changes he would experience in puberty.

Years later, in 1909, Maurice is attending Cambridge, where he strikes up a friendship with two fellow students: the aristocratic Lord Risley and the rich and handsome Clive Durham. Durham falls in love with his friend and surprises Maurice by confessing his feelings. At first, Maurice does not react favorably to the revelation. He soon realizes that he reciprocates Durham's feelings. The two friends embark on a love affair but, at Clive's insistence, their relationship remains platonic. To go further, in Durham's opinion, would diminish them both. Clive, a member of the upper class, has a promising future ahead of him and does not want to risk losing his social position. Their close relationship continues after Maurice is expelled from Cambridge and begins a new career as a stockbroker in London.

The two friends keep their feelings secret, but are frightened when Lord Risley is arrested and sentenced to six months at hard labour after soliciting sex from a soldier. Clive, afraid of being exposed as a homosexual, breaks with Maurice. After his return from a trip to Greece, Clive, under pressure from his widowed mother, marries a naive rich girl named Anne and settles into a life of rural domesticity.

Heartbroken, Maurice seeks the help of his family physician, Dr. Barry, who dismisses Maurice's doubts as "rubbish". Maurice then turns to Dr. Lasker-Jones, who tries to cure his homosexual longings with hypnosis. During his visits to Clive's estate of Pendersleigh, Maurice attracts the attention of Alec Scudder, the under-gamekeeper who is due to emigrate with his brother to Argentina. Maurice not only fails to notice Scudder's interest in him, but initially treats him with contempt. This does not discourage Scudder, who spies on Maurice at night. Simcox, the butler at Pendersleigh, suspecting the true nature of Maurice and Clive's past relationship, has hinted to Scudder about Maurice's nature. On a rainy night, Scudder boldly climbs a ladder and enters Maurice's bedroom through an open window. Scudder kisses Maurice, who is completely taken by surprise, but does not resist his advances.

After their first night together, Maurice receives a letter from Scudder proposing they meet at the Pendersleigh boathouse. Maurice wrongly believes that Scudder is blackmailing him. Maurice returns to Lasker-Jones, who warns Maurice that England is a country which "has always been disinclined to accept human nature" and advises he emigrate to a country where homosexuality is no longer criminal, like France or Italy. When Maurice fails to appear at the boathouse, Scudder travels to London and visits him at his offices.

Maurice and Scudder meet at the British Museum and the blackmail misunderstanding is resolved. Maurice begins to call Scudder by his first name, Alec. They spend the night together at a hotel room, and as Alec departs in the morning he explains that his departure for Argentina is imminent and they will not see each other again. Maurice goes to the port to give Alec a parting gift only to discover that Alec has missed the sailing. Maurice goes to Pendersleigh and confesses to Clive his love for Alec. Clive, who was hoping that Maurice would marry, is bewildered at Maurice's account of his encounters with Alec. The two friends separate and Maurice goes to the boathouse looking for Alec, who is there waiting for him. Scudder tells him that he sent a telegram to Maurice stating that he was to come to the boathouse. Alec has left his family and abandoned his plans to emigrate in order to stay with Maurice, telling him, "Now we shan't never be parted."




E. M. Forster wrote Maurice in 1913–14, and revised it in 1932 and again in 1959–1960. Written as a traditional bildungsroman, or novel of character formation, the plot follows the title character as he deals with the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in the restrictive society of the Edwardian era. Forster, who had based his characters on real people, was keen that his novel should have a happy ending. The author did not intend to publish the novel while his mother was alive, but he showed the manuscript to selected friends, such as Christopher Isherwood. Forster resisted publication during his lifetime because of public and legal attitudes to homosexuality. He was also ambivalent about the literary merits of his novel. A note found on the manuscript read: "Publishable, but worth it?" The novel was only published in 1971 after Forster's death. It is considered one of his minor works, in comparison with his novels Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924).

James Ivory was interested in making a screen adaptation after the critical and box office success he achieved with another of Forster's novels, A Room with a View. While involved in this earlier project Ivory had read all of Forster's books, and eventually came to Maurice.[3] "I thought," Ivory said, "that it was interesting material and would be enjoyable to make – and also something we could make in that it wouldn't require too much organization and wouldn't cost all that much."[3] The situation it explores seemed to him to be still relevant: "People's turmoil and having to decide for themselves how they want to live and what their true feelings are and whether they're going to live honestly with them or deny them. That's no different. Nothing's any easier, for young people. I felt it was quite relevant."[3]

Following Forster's death, the self-governing board of fellows of King's College at Cambridge inherited the rights to his books.[4] They were initially reluctant to give permission to film Maurice,[5] not because of the subject matter of the novel but because it was considered an inferior work.[5] A film that called great attention to it would not enhance his literary reputation.[5] Ismail Merchant, the producer of the film, conferred with them and he was very persuasive. They were favourably impressed with Merchant Ivory Productions adaptation of A Room with a View and relented.[4][6]


Ivory's usual writing partner, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was unavailable because she was busy writing her novel Three Continents. Ivory wrote the screenplay with Kit Hesketh-Harvey, who had become connected with Merchant Ivory productions through his sister, journalist and author Sarah Sands (born Sarah Harvey), who was then the wife of Julian Sands, the leading man in A Room with a View. Hesketh-Harvey had previously written documentaries for the BBC.[4] He had attended Tonbridge School and to Cambridge University, where Forster was educated, and knew the background. Jhabvala reviewed the script and suggested changes.[7] On her advice, Clive Durhams's unconvincing conversion to heterosexuality during a trip to Greece was justified by creating an episode in which Clive's university friend Risley is arrested and imprisoned after a homosexual entrapment, which frightens Clive into marrying.[7]


Julian Sands, who had played the male lead in Merchant's Ivory previous film, A Room with a View, was originally cast in the title role,[7] but backed out at the last minute. John Malkovich was due to take the role of Lasker-Jones. He had become a friend of Julian Sands while making together The Killing Fields. After Sands left the project Malkovich lost interest in the film and was replaced by Ben Kingsley.[8]

James Wilby had auditioned for the role of Clive Durham's brother-in-law. When Sands left the project, Ivory considered two unknown actors for the role of Maurice: James Wilby and Julian Wadham.[8] Since he had already cast the dark-haired Hugh Grant as Clive, Ivory decided on the blond James Wilby over the dark-haired Julian Wadham, who was given a role as one of Maurice's stockbroker friends.[8]

Hugh Grant, who later found international stardom with Four Weddings and a Funeral, had appeared only in one previous film, Privileged. He was doing review comedy at the time and had lost interest in professional acting when Celestia Fox, the casting director, sent Grant to Ivory who immediately gave him the role of Clive.[9] It helped that Grant and Wilby had worked together in Grant's only previous film, made at Oxford. Rupert Graves was cast as Alec Scudder, Maurice's working-class lover. He had appeared as Lucy Honeychurch's young brother in A Room with a View, a performance with which he was unsatisfied, and so he appreciated the opportunity to deliver a better performance.

The supporting cast included: veterans Denholm Elliott as Dr. Barry and Simon Callow as the pedagogue Mr. Ducie, both from A Room with a View; Ben Kingsley as Lasker-Jones; Patrick Godfrey as the butler Simcox; and Billie Whitelaw as Maurice's mother.


The film was made on a budget of $2.6 million that included investment by Cinecom and England's Channel 4. Maurice proved more complicated to make than Ivory had anticipated. Its fifty-four-day shooting schedule, which involved working six-day weeks, proved long and grueling. There was no rehearsal period, only a read-through before shooting began.

Maurice was shot on location largely in the halls and quadrangles of King's College, Cambridge including interiors in the college's chapel, where Forster was educated and later returned as a Fellow. The other interiors were primarily shot at Wilbury Park, a Palladian house in Wiltshire. Its owner, Maria St. Just, an actress and trustee of the estate of Tennessee Williams, was a friend of Merchant and Ivory. In 1979 they had been weekend guests at Wilbury Park, which made an impression on James Ivory, who, when Maurice was being prepared, chose it to serve as Pendersleigh, the country house where Maurice visits his friend Clive.

In the style of Merchant Ivory's A Room with a View, old book endpapers accompany the theme music played in minor scale at the beginning and in major scale at the end to bracket the film as a cinematographic novel.

Differences between the film and the novel

Maurice is 11 at the beginning of the film, rather than 14. The film omits almost all of the novel's philosophical dialogue and many subplots, such as Maurice's desire for the schoolboy Dickie. The scenes dealing with this subplot were filmed but not included in the final cut. The film expands the Wildean character of Lord Risley and his 6-month imprisonment at hard labour for homosexual conduct, while he is not imprisoned in the novel. In one deleted scene released in the 2002 edition, Risley commits suicide, but this was not included in the original version of the film. In the novel, the Durham family seat is Penge, on the border of Wiltshire and Somerset. In the film the country house is set in Pendersleigh Park. The hypnotist Lasker-Jones appears in the film rather more than in the novel as the person most understanding of Maurice's psychological and social situation.


The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1987, where Ivory was awarded a Silver Lion as Best Director, sharing the prize with Ermanno Olmi.[10] James Wilby and Hugh Grant were jointly awarded Best Actor, and Richard Robbins received the prize for his music.[11] The film received favourable reviews when it opened in New York City. Maurice received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Costume Design category.[12]

Critical reception

The film received universal acclaim from film critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% of critics gave the film a positive review.[13] Ken Hanke from Mountain Xpress said it was probably Merchant-Ivory's best film.

In the New York Times Janet Maslin observed "The novel's focus is predominantly on the inner life of the title character, but the film, while faithful, is broader. Moving slowly, with a fine eye for detail, it presents the forces that shape Maurice as skillfully as it brings the character to life."[14]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film three stars out of a possible four, commenting:[15]

Merchant and Ivory tell this story in a film so handsome to look at and so intelligently acted that it is worth seeing just to regard the production. Scene after scene is perfectly created: a languorous afternoon floating on the river behind the Cambridge colleges; a desultory cricket game between masters and servants; the daily routine of college life; visits to country estates and town homes; the settings of the rooms... Although some people might find Wilby unfocused in the title role, I thought he was making the right choices, portraying a man whose real thoughts were almost always elsewhere.

Dale Winogoura in Frontiers called the film "Passionate yet civilized candid yet dignified, Maurice is among the few genuinely romantic gay films ever made and a landmark of the genre".

Judy Stone in San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "To director James Ivory's credit, however, he has recreated that period in pre-World War I England and endowed the platonic passion between two upper-class Englishmen with singular grace in Maurice."[16] Michael Blowen in the Boston Globe commented: "The team of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory has created another classy film of a classic novel with their stunning adaptation of E.M. Forster's Maurice."[16]

Home media

In 2002, a special edition DVD of the film was released with a new documentary and deleted scenes with director's commentary.


Venice Film Festival
Academy Awards

See also


  1. "MAURICE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 21 August 1987. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  2. Maurice at Box Office Mojo
  3. 1 2 3 Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 147
  4. 1 2 3 Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 211
  5. 1 2 3 Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 150
  6. Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 151
  7. 1 2 3 Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 212
  8. 1 2 3 Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 213
  9. Long, James Ivory in Conversation, p. 214
  10. Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 153
  11. Long, The Films of Merchant Ivory, p. 154
  12. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (2015). "The 60th Academy Awards (1988): Winners & Nominees - Costume Design". Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  13. Maurice - Rotten Tomatoes
  14. Maslin, Janet (18 September 1987). "Maurice". New York Times. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  15. Ebert, Roger (9 October 1987). "Maurice". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  16. 1 2 Alexander Ryll (2014). "Essential Gay Themed Films To Watch, Maurice". Gay Essential. Retrieved 22 December 2014.


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