Sunday, January 29, 2012

Maurice and Wilbury Park

Wilbury House

Wilbury House, the house where Maurice was filmed, later called Wilbury Park. Have you seen the film? If not, this Merchant & Ivory movie is like their many others: amazing for the interiors. 

What you see above, are the original plans for the earliest example of a Neo-Palladian house in England before it was renovated to that below. I haven't been able to find any pictures of the interior (it is a private house after all), though there are a few at a site of the firm that recently renovated it.

Wilbury Park 

Here is Wilbury Park as it was during the making of the movie. It's renovated self is below. 

The folly that appeared in the poster for the movie. It looks like it may been renovated as well.

For gay men of a certain age, the film adaption of E.M. Forster's novel Maurice was nothing short of extraordinary when it opened in New York in September of 1987. I still remember how I felt when I left the Paris Theatre on 58th Street, walking past the Plaza Hotel in the late afternoon sun on my way to Columbus Circle, Penn Station, and the train to New Jersey where I was living at the time: giddy with heart bursting. Who would have thought that an unabashedly romantic film about love between men could be made? One that had a happy ending! 

I had read the article Maurice becomes a movie  in the NYTimes a year before the movie had its New York premiere (excellent review of the movie here), anxiously awaiting the film's arrival having already read Forster's novel. The thing that stuck out in the Times piece, beside the jolly anticipation of another wonderful movie by Merchant & Ivory, was the word "homosexual."

Historically speaking, the word has had a clinical and negative connotation, especially as the Religious Right is concerned. The NYTimes called Maurice a "homosexual love story," rather than a 'love story between two men,' a subtle, yet profound difference. However, the Times had its own coming out experience a year later when it began using the word 'gay' instead. Why? It realized, along with the American Psychological Association, that the word 'homosexual' was being used is a derogatory manner. To it's credit, the paper established guidelines about the usage of both words with the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

Forster's novel was published posthumously in 1970, only a year after the Stonewall Riots. The first person to lay eyes on it in America was Christopher Isherwood, perhaps most famous for writing the play I am a Camera, which became the source for the movie Cabaret with Liza Minnelli. Forster had mentored Isherwood, so it was natural that the manuscript should come to him. If Isherwood's life was more extroverted than Forster's in terms of relationship, Forster's sexual inhibition was poured into Maurice, creating a work which yearns for the experience his student lived (Isherwood had a serious relationship with a man while in Berlin in his 20's, then met the great love of his life when he was in his early 40's and his partner 18, remaining together until Isherwood's death). Forster didn't quite have Isherwood's freedom, being a product of his time, place and circumstance, his mother's negative influence being a major factor.

E.M. Forster 

There were others, however, who helped reveal Forster's nature to himself, perhaps the most important figures being Edward Carpenter and his boyfriend, George Merrill, the former touching Forster in the small of his back which Forster later recounted as a mystical experience.

For more detail on the matter, I can recommend A Great Unrecorded History by Wendy Moffat.

If shame kept Forster from publishing his novel in his lifetime, he would be pleased at its profound reach and effect once it saw the light of day. Reading the novel before seeing the movie didn't lessen the impact of the latter at all. Yes- there are minor changes, but as the review in the link above notes, there are subtle and powerful things in the movie - because it is a movie- that give it great power. That it was also produced during the first dark decade of the AID's crisis should not be forgotten. It was life-changing for a kid like me who spent his adolescence and young adulthood in conservative religious confines where being gay was anathema. You see: seeing people like you in love is magical. 

Everything about Maurice is rather wonderful; the men, musical score, story and ending, interiors and atmosphere. I have been enamoured of English Country House Style ever since. 

The blog Maurice, Clive, Alec awaits those who can't get enough.