E.M. Forster wrote “Maurice” in 1941 but we were not allowed to read it until 1971 when it was published posthumously. In 1987 the artistic director James Ivory brought it to the screen in a sumptuously photographed film and what a movie it is. Keeping in mind that 1987 was still relatively early for the advent of gay film, Ivory gave us a look into a world almost heretofore not seen on the silver screen. “Maurice” is set in Pre World War I England and tells of the coming of age of two men who met at Cambridge University and fall in love. Clive (Hugh Grant) and Maurice (James Wilby) face a struggle with their hearts in the confines of a rigid society and its moral hypocrisy. Clive eventually gives into society after he witnesses the treatment and social out casting endured by another gay student but Maurice struggles with his sexuality and chooses the more difficult but honest style of life. Ivory deals with his favorite theme of individuals who are in situations which are bound by the conventions of strictness and attempt to break free from them. The movie portrays convincingly the inner struggle of two young men coming to terms with their homosexuality at the time when to practice it was a crime,
The novel had been suppressed for 50 years because homosexuality was such a controversial topic and was published a year after the death of the author. Looking at it now, it seems rather tame compared to some f the other things we have.
Maurice is an earnest and friendly guy who meets Risley, an aristocrat and a genius and Clive, a student and devotee of Greek philosophy. They establish a platonic relationship to hide their inner feelings. As years pas they each choose to pursue their sexual orientations in their own ways. Risley is sent to prison for seducing a guard, Clive marries and Maurice seeks medical help to understand his feelings. The cure comes in admitting what and who he is and this happens when he has sex wit the gamekeeper at Clive’s estate and the two build a life together. The fact that they come from different backgroundsâ€”different social classes and educational backgrounds make this seems far-fetched and this underscores shallowness in the Character of Maurice. You must ask yourself if it is reasonable for Maurice to throw everything awa–”social standing and all that goes with it” for lust. Even with this hard to take ending, the movie is beautiful and is important as a marker in the history of gay cinema. Perhaps if the movie and the book had not dealt with social standing, the entire business would have been more palatable. As it stands now it seems to be contrived. Nonetheless, it should be seen and appreciated for what it does do and not be discounted for what it doesn’t.