Maurice [1987]

The second of the three Merchant/Ivory films adapting E.M. Forster novels (between A Room with a View and Howard's End), Maurice deals with a theme few period pieces dare mention--a young man's struggle with his homosexuality. It's not just a gay coming-of-age story, however. The hero wrestles with British class society as much as his personal and sexual identity. The film opens on a stormy, windswept beach, as an older man awkwardly instructs young, fatherless Maurice Hall (James Wilby) in the "sacred mysteries" of sex. The same turbulent, wordless struggle with passion lasts throughout this slowly evolving, beautifully filmed story. Novelist E.M. Forster's brainy, British melodrama hinges on choice and compulsion, as the pensive hero falls for two completely different men. First comes frail, suppressed Clive (Hugh Grant), who wants nothing more than classical Platonic harmony... and a straight lifestyle. (Grant's performance is so convincing, one wonders how he ever became a heterosexual sex symbol.) After Clive's wedding, Maurice turns to hypnosis to cure his unspeakable longings. Unfortunately, his "cure" is interrupted by Clive's lustful, brooding, barely literate gamekeeper Scudder (Rupert Graves), a worker more at home gutting rabbits than discussing the classics. Maurice's love for a "social inferior" forces him to confront his illicit desire and his ingrained class snobbery. --Grant Balfour

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