Thursday, April 4, 2013

Farewell to the Woman Behind the Men

This being a ridiculous week, I've only just seen the obituary for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who went off in search of a room with a better view yesterday at the fine age of 85.

Jhabvala was the silent partner in the magical film duo-really-a-triad known as Merchant/Ivory, the writer whose work underpinned much of what was best in their mostly very, very fine work.  Of them all, I must confess that it's her first Oscar-winner that's still, after 27 years (!), my favorite - indeed very nearly my very favorite film.  A Room with a View must rank as one of the most remarkable film adaptations ever - at once painstakingly faithful to E.M. Forster's dryly sentimental (an odd combo, but that's how he strikes me) view of the world and an achingly romantic, utterly cinematic creation.  It's a luxury wallow in beautiful clothes and wonderful rooms and stunning scenery, yet the wit and discipline of Jhabvala's screenplay make it ring true in every moment.  Let this fateful sequence represent the whole, even if it omits two of my pet characters, the dear Miss Allens.

Filling out Jhabvala's script, of course, is one of the more treasurable casts one can imagine:  fresh-faced and still un-Gothed Miss Bonham Carter, Julian Sands at the height of his considerable looks, Denholm Elliot rumbling away as his eccentric father, Daniel Day Lewis bechameleoned into an Edwardian dandy, young Rupert Graves in a small but toothsome baby-brother part, Dames Maggie and Judi as the straitlaced cousin and unbuttoned novelist, respectively, and - nearly as beloved as the Allen sisters - infinitely charming Simon Callow as the worldly Reverend Beebe.

Jhabvala wrote many more films, many of them marvelous indeed, as well as a great deal of distinguished fiction, but if she'd never done anything but this, she would still be a film immortal.  I've decided not to think about her dying; I think instead she has, like the Miss Allens, gone on to Constantinople.  The title of her last screen adaptation, after all, was The City of Your Final Destination...


  1. A sad loss, and a fascinating woman. A German Jew who escaped the Nazis as a child and was educated in England, she married an Indian and only later in life left India for America, where she was "discovered" by the Merchant-Ivory boys. Thank heavens they did... Jx

  2. Yay! I love this as well. I had a chance to show this film to a younger female friend (29)- last month - and it was lovely to see her laugh and cry with the discovery of such a great film. Forster's dialog shows the great power of words to hide and obstruct.

  3. yes, all one need do is snap their fingers
    and i will watch 'room' again. and again.

    and again.