by Amanda Leiva
In today's society, homosexuality is tolerated. In Edwardian England, homosexuality was punishable in the court of law and led to disgrace. Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, the film Maurice is the story of Maurice Hall and his gradual acceptance of his homosexuality.
The film opens in 1900. A young Maurice Hall listens as his teacher awkwardly explains the mystery of sex. Maurice declares he will never marry a woman, but the teacher merely laughs and assures his student that he will. Years later, Maurice is a student at Cambridge University. Here he first encounters another student named Clive Durham. They first meet in the room of a mutual friend, Lord Risley; they discover they have many shared interests and immediately begin a friendship. Clive is the first to proclaim his love; his declaration catches Maurice off guard, and he rebuffs Clive's advances. However, Maurice soon comes to realize that he loves Clive, and the two men share a brief kiss. Their relationship is unusual from the beginning. Even though Clive is the first to admit his feelings, he pulls away as soon as his feelings are returned. He is afraid that physical love will spoil their love and only shares a few kisses with Maurice. It is obvious Maurice wishes for more, but he loves Clive and willingly agrees to keep their relationship platonic. During the beginning of their relationship, Maurice leaves Cambridge and returns home to become a stockbroker; Clive remains in school. Their separation causes a strain in the relationship, but they manage to find time to be together. They integrate themselves into each other's families. The major turning point in Maurice and Clive's relationship occurs when their friend Lord Risley is arrested for trying to kiss a man. A prominent political figure, Lord Risley is forced to forfeit his position in society, and he is permanently disgraced. Fearful that the same will happen to him, Clive flees to Greece, and upon his return, marries a woman. In 1913, Maurice stays with Clive and his new bride. Clive urges Maurice to also marry; unable to do so, Maurice visits a hypnotist in search of a cure. It is during this time that Maurice has his first experience of physical love with a servant named Alec Scudder. Ashamed that he has involved himself with a servant, Maurice returns to London, but Scudder visits him soon after. They give in to their affection once more. Maurice can no longer hide who he is and accepts that he is a homosexual. Scudder and Maurice separate again, deciding their involvement is detrimental to their careers and personal lives. Maurice and Scudder reunite after choosing to be together over everything else and shun society. Whereas Clive is forgotten and must live the unhappy life of marriage to a woman, Maurice has found love.
Although Maurice begins as an accurate depiction of homosexuals in the early twentieth century, the ending of the film is unrealistic. "In the England of 1914, with its rigid class divisions, the two men (Maurice and Scudder) would have had even less in common than the movie makes it seem, and the real reason their relationship is daring ? is not because of sexuality but because of class" (Ebert). The book's author also realized the flaw in his ending, but he "was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows" (Forster 250). However, even though the ending is fanciful, the scenes before poignantly recreate the hardships of homosexual life in the early 1900s. During the time, homosexuals were viewed as ill. Maurice also believes this diagnosis, and in an emotional moment, arrives at the home of his family doctor and proclaims that he is diseased. He begs the doctor to help him find a cure. The shocked Dr. Barry assures Maurice that all he needs to do is to find a woman to cure him; Maurice later tries again to cure his disease by seeing a hypnotist. Both Maurice and Clive are desperate to cure themselves because of what happens to Lord Risley. The law in England forbade any homosexual activity, and like Lord Risley, offenders were punished. The law was unforgiving to homosexuals:
Any male person who, in public or private, commits or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour (Fone 274). In the deleted scenes presented on the DVD version, the film follows Lord Risley's disgrace further and reveals that he commits suicide.
Set in Edwardian England, Maurice provides a wonderfully accurate portrait of the life and culture of the time. The filmmakers' attention to detail and aesthetics prompted one reviewer to state that "[James] Merchant and [Ismail] 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" (Ebert). The costumes are particularly elegant and add to the illusion of being in early twentieth century England. There are relatively few females in the cast, but the few present look beautiful with a variety of clothing and hair worn "wide, low and puffed out over the ears" (Cunnington and Mansfield 93). Clive's mother and Maurice's sister often sport "shirt-waist designs worn with a tie" (Yarwood 39). In most scenes, the women wear elaborate hats. These hats are "vast and weighted down under complete stuffed birds, single plumes, artificial flowers, ribbons and lace" (Yarwood 39). The men also wear a variety of the styles prevalent during the era. Notably, Maurice often wears "[a] wing collar...with the front points turned over downwards" (Cunnington and Mansfield 272). The shirts the men wore during dinner parties and other formal occasions were "made of white linen...[and]had a stiffly starched front panel" (Bryde 108). This is in keeping with the fashion trend of Edwardian England where "the general impression of men's dress in the early years just before the outbreak of war was very neat and stark" (Bryde 90). Clive and Maurice represent the two common hairstyles of the period. They wear their hair "generally parted at the side or centre: later a side parting, or no parting at all, with the hair brushed back" (Cunnington and Mansfield 289). Clive's hair is often brushed back while Maurice's hair is parted. In the film, both Clive's and Maurice's homes are depicted accurately. The filmmakers notice every detail down to the light switch. The fireplace was often "the focal point of many Edwardian rooms" (Hockman 168). This is true in Maurice : in two dinner scenes, the fireplace is seen in the background and dominates the space. There are also a great number of lamps and other sources of light. At first, the number of lights seems odd, but for the time, it is accurate because "in their excitement over the new electric lighting, [Edwardians] had a tendency to put it everywhere" (Hockman 176).
The lead actors are excellent and effectively bring their characters to life. As the title character, James Wilby "offers an accomplished performance, torn up and confused beneath his dinner jackets and crisp white shirts" (Kempley). A reviewer describes him as "a reserved actor capable of surprising vibrancy, he very convincingly presents Maurice's dilemma" (Maslin). He absorbs Maurice so fully that every action and motion is consistent with his character. His portrayal conveys the perfect blend of sympathy and strength. The audience does not pity Maurice; they only wish for his happiness. Rupert Graves' performance as Scudder seems effortless. Although he is not introduced until near the end of the movie, views are instantly smitten and see in Scudder a perfect match for our hero. Scudder is the man Clive should have been; he is passionate, arrogant and unguarded. The movie's standout performance comes from Hugh Grant: it is impossible to imagine any other actor as Clive. Through the course of the movie, he "makes a virtually flawless metamorphosis from an exuberant college boy to frigid, rigid neo-Victorian prig" (Kempley). Unlike Maurice, Clive does not earn the pity of the audience because he is afraid. Also, the supporting cast is superb; including an amusing appearance by Ben Kingsley as Maurice's hypnotist who suggests exercise and carrying a gun as a cure.
For those living in a contemporary society, it is hard to understand the difficulties faced by homosexuals in Edwardian society, but Maurice , despite its romantic ending, gives honest insight into the time. The variety of costumes worn by the cast adds to the historical appeal of the film, as does the scenery. The visual aspects of the film are a good source of historical knowledge for those interested in the time period. For anyone interested in learning more about homosexuality or Edwardian society, the following books are useful: Homophobia: A History by Bryne Fone and The Edwardians by J.B. Priestly. Also, the film A Room with a View (1986) deals with similar topics.
Maurice is a beautiful, touching story of a young Englishman's journey from his first love to his true love, and his final acceptance of his homosexuality. The film contrasts the three men, and their ways of dealing with their different form of love. Clive suppresses it, Scudder accepts it, and Maurice first suppresses and then accepts it. As Scudder said to Maurice when they reunited in the final scene, "Now we shan't never be parted. It's finished." And they lived happily ever after.
List of Sources:
Bryde, Penelope. The Male Image: Men's Fashion in Britain 1300-1970 . London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1979.
Cunnington, Phillis and Alan Mansfield. Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century: 1900-1950 . Boston: Plays, Inc., 1973.
Ebert, Roger. "Maurice." Chicago Sun-Times . 10 Oct. 1987. 7 May 2004. <http://www.suntimes.com>
Fone, Bryne. Homophobia: A History . New York: Henry Hold and Company, 2000.
Forster, E.M. Maurice: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton and Company Ltd., 1971.
Hockman, Hilary. Edwardian House and Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book . Italy: David and Charles Brunel House, 1994.
Kempley, Rita. "Maurice (R)." Washington Post . 2 Oct. 1987. 7 May 2004. <http://www.washingtonpost.com>
Maslin, Janet. "Film: 'Maurice in Style of Ivory and Merchant." New York Times . 7 May 2004: <http://www.movies2.nytimes.com>
Yarwood, Doreen. Outline of English Costume . Great Britain: Plays, Inc., 1967.
Amanda Leiva is a Junior History Major at Stephen F. Austin State University