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    1980s Romantic Gay Drama Maurice Undergoes Restoration Ahead of 30th Anniversary Re-release

    By Gary M. Kramer

    James Ivory and Ismail Merchant’s elegant gay romantic drama Maurice is receiving a 4K restoration re-release in honor of its 30th anniversary. A classic film in the queer cinema cannon, this heartfelt adaptation of gay writer E. M. Forster’s posthumously published novel is set in the Edwardian era. Maurice depicts issues of sexuality and class as the title character (James Wilby) falls in love. He is first besotted by Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) at Cambridge, and later, attracted to Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), the irresistible gamekeeper at Clive’s estate.

    The film—which came out the same year that Britain introduced Clause 28 that restricted “the promotion of homosexuality”—remains as vivid and stirring today as it was on initial release.

    For the San Francisco Bay Times, I recently spoke with James Ivory and Wilby during separate interviews about making Maurice.

    Gary M. Kramer: James, Maurice was one of the first overtly queer films you and Ismail Merchant made. What took you so long to make a gay film, and why was this one so important to do?

    James Ivory:
    Well, there are queer films, and then there are films with queers in them. Our films have had a lot of queer characters. Sometimes they were a little part, and sometimes, like in The Bostonians, a large part. The real reason I did Maurice was, after making A Room with a View, I decided to re-read all of Forster’s books. I read Maurice when it was published in the early 1970s. I liked it, but after Room, I thought it was the same story—about muddled young people who are forced by the society they are in to live a lie. I thought Maurice was the other side of the coin from Room. It sprang to life in my mind. Room was an enormous success, so we could do anything we wanted. I thought: let’s do this. Nobody said we shouldn’t do it, or we should think twice about the subject matter.

    Gary M. Kramer: James, what can you say about taking a role like Maurice? Did you have concerns back in the day about playing gay at a time when actors largely resisted playing queer roles?

    James Wilby: Not for a minute. As an actor, you take on the role and you don’t worry about political contents. I played the role. At the time, I was a nobody. It put me on the map and was a greatest experience. I got to be part of the Merchant-Ivory team. It was an amazing thing to have happened: a great role. He happens to be gay, but who gives a s–t? I’ve gone on and played other gay roles. 

    Gary M. Kramer: The film is considered a classic of queer cinema. Did it seem so at the time?

    James Ivory: Oh, many people have come up to me and said how important Maurice was for them, how it changed their lives. I’m glad it had that positive effect. It might have had the other effect. It came out at the height of the AIDS crisis.

    Gary M. Kramer: The film came out the same year Clause 28 was enacted. Were there concerns?

    James Wilby: It didn’t worry me at all. It was only a moderate success here, in the U.K., where, dare I say it, the gay press was sort of mealy-mouthed about it. James Ivory couldn’t understand it. They couldn’t embrace it because of the political climate at time. It was very successful in New York and San Francisco and in France and Italy. We did a publicity tour of 6–7 cities in the U.S. I went up to say something after a screening in San Francisco, and when I said I had a wife, the whole audience booed.

    Gary M. Kramer: The film’s sex scene is considerably romantic and erotic. Did you feel the film was too bold at the time, or did you use restraint?

    James Ivory: There was more nudity, but those scenes weren’t strong enough, so we dropped them. The sex was depicted as much as we could go. We didn’t want to make an X-rated movie. I would be a little hesitant to ask the actors to really perform, and I don’t think they would have; all three of the guys were straight. I did what I could, and hoped that was enough. I was so lucky those guys were willing to go along to the point they did.

    James Wilby: We don’t see Maurice and Scudder bugger each other, but it’s implied. You do see them naked. I think Ivory got it right. If it had been overt, it would have done more damage than good at the time. Forster doesn’t dwell on the sex act in his book, so that’s accurate. I find it more erotic when you don’t see a sex scene.

    Gary M. Kramer: What are your thoughts about the film 30 years later?

    James Ivory: I’ve seen it several times over the years and it’s always held up. It seems truthful and real. And it is romantic, of course, which is why women like it. It has so many female fans—especially women who were young girls the first time It came out. It’s not just a film that was attractive to gay men. When it came out in Japan, it was a craze for young women.

    © 2017 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer