A structural overview of
A Room with a View (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, 1985).
Without any doubt, this is one of the finest literary adaptations and a timeless romantic movie.
The film launched the careers of actors Daniel Day Lewis and Helena Bonham Carter, while it was a first major hit in a string of successful adaptations written by James Ivory’s scribe of choice Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
The film formed the inspiration for my university thesis about film translation and subtitling back in 1988. For that purpose I had to view it dozens of times (on VHS). But it couldn’t stop me from watching it many times again over the twenty years that have since past.
SEQ. A: The English – Boredom and bickering about a view
00.00 Titles: Cast of Characters. Lucy Honeychurch, Charlotte et al.
02.30 Florence. Lucy & Charlotte unhappy: room without a view.
03.30 Charlotte complains over dinner. The Emersons stir the pot.
04.00 George is after Lucy. His dad offers room w/ view: vision within!
06.30 Charlotte affronted: how to deal with these people?!
07.00 Sisters Allan: Tactless, Kindness / Delicate, Beautiful.
09.00 Rooms changed. George leaves question mark for Lucy.
10.00 Father & son Emerson put cornflowers on sisters’ beds.
12.00 Lucy at piano. Beebe: if she would live as she plays: exciting…
13.00 Charlotte and Eleanor go out together.
SEQ. B: The Italians – A call to adventure in Florence
14.00 Santa Croce Boredom. Emerson tells Lucy about George’s mind.
17.00 Ch. & Eleanor: physical sensation, smells, alleys. Adventure!
21.30 Lucy sees fight, blood. She faints; George catches her.
22.30 Her photos are blooded. The man is dead. George offers help.
25.00 By Arno, George: “Something happened to me. And you.”
27.00 (Out to see a view) Priest makes girl descend. Romance!
30.30 George in tree. He is declaring the ‘eternal yes’, father says.
31.30 Charlotte & Eleanor send Lucy away so they can gossip.
33.00 Lucy looking for George. He kisses her, while Charlotte watches.
ACT 2a: Lucy resisting George
SEQ. C: Leaving George and leaving Italy.
35.30 Leaving back for Florence in a storm. George is walking.
37.30 Charlotte: How to silence George? Promises: “Silent as the grave.”
39.30 Charlotte negotiates refund at the hotel.
40.30 George arrives back at the hotel.
SEQ. D: Officially engaged – Living a lie
41.30 (Home) Lucy has accepted Cecil Vyse’s marriage proposal.
44.00 Beebe about Lucy: “One day music and life will mingle.”
44.30 (Officially Engaged) News shocks Beebe in front of Cecil.
46.00 Lucy & Cecil walking, he is snobbish, elitist about Beebe.
47.00 By lake: Cecil’s first kiss, clumsy, Lucy thinks of George.
ACT 2b: Lucy resisting Cecil
SEQ. E: Looking for new tenants – The Emersons
50.00 Lucy writes to the Allans for tenants.
51.00 Lucy plays to audience, Cecil takes credit for her culture.
52.30 Cecil and mum talk about Lucy & preparing her for London.
53.00 Cecil patronises her, then kisses her.
54.00 Tennis, Beebe reads letter; Freddy about new tenants ‘Emersons’.
56.00 Cecil tells about new tenants, he met them at gallery, Italian art.
58.00 Lucy mad at Cecil, calls him “disloyal”, he patronises her again.
SEQ. F: The Emersons are in town – The pot is boiling
58.30 Freddy & Beebe go to the Emersons: come and bathe!
60.30 George about coincidence & fate, Italy. The men bathe.
62.30 Cecil, Lucy and mum pass by, seeing the bathing scene.
65.00 Freddy at piano, Charlotte’s letter: she is coming over.
66.30 Mum complains about Cecil’s attitude.
68.00 Freddy raves about George.
69.00 Mum & Lucy: Charlotte will be arriving.
70.00 Charlotte meets George at station.
71.30 Charlotte arrives, chaos about cab fare.
73.30 Lucy & Charlotte: ‘no other source’, have you spoken to HIM?
SEQ. G: Cecil reads Lavish – Pandora’s Box opens
74.30 Cecil reads out loud from ‘Under a loggia’ by Eleanor Lavish.
76.00 Lucy and George recognise passage about kiss in Florence.
79.00 Lucy runs off, mad. George follows her and kisses her again.
80.00 Lucy challenges Charlotte. Coincidence! Eleanor no friend.
81.00 (Lying to George) Lucy orders her out, George declares his love.
84.30 (Lying to C.) breakup with Cecil “because he didn’t play tennis.”
87.30 Cecil seems to take it well.
SEQ. H: Planning Escape to Greece
88.30 The Sisters Allan: letter to Lucy, raving about about Athens.
90.00 Freddy tells Mr. Beebe. Cecil: Greece is not for our little lot.
91.00 Charlotte, mum, Lucy; Beebe takes Minnie to the Beehive.
91.30 (Lying to Beebe, mum, Freddy, servants) Lucy plays piano.
92.30 Lucy: I must go away, Constantinopel, Athens…
93.00 Lucy to Charlotte: Help me, I must go to Greece.
94.00 Lucy & Freddy, he plays piano.
94.30 Charlotte talks to mum, Lucy has a plan. Go to Greece with her.
95.30 Emersons preparing to leave. George: ugly house anyway.
96.30 George leaves, his dad is sad.
SEQ. I: No more lies – Speaking up
97.00 Lucy and Allans about Cecil and travel.
97.30 Lucy and Mum: Glad! why not announce it?
98.00 Allans: Didn’t look like a future bride; she lacked radiance.
99.30 Emerson tells Charlotte George loves her, reason for move.
100.0 Charlotte: Lucy not marrying. Emerson: Time for speaking out!
101.0 Mum: why Greece? Mum hurt.
102.0 They see the moving. Mum: pity for the Emersons.
103.0 (Lying to Mr. Emerson) He pushes her to confession.
106.0 Lucy runs out: “Wait! Lucy has got something to tell us.”
SEQ. J: Aftermath
107.0 Charlotte reads Lucy’s letter from Florence
107.3 V.O. Dinner at pensione: “We have a view”.
108.0 Lucy reads letter from Freddy, with George in room with view.
108.3 The End
NOTES ON THE STORY STRUCTURE
The film stays relatively close to the original novel and I believe this may be the reason why the turning points are not all where you would expect them. But perhaps I’m just not seeing it right. Please compare notes and comment.
Much like Rose in Titanic, Lucy longs for adventure in her ordinary life. The inciting incident occurs quite late in the film (25mins) when she is alone with George for the first time, under emotional circumstances. The meaning of the moment is emphasised when George says “Something happened to me. And you.”
George kisses Lucy in the Tuscan flower fields, a moment that feels very much like a second Inciting Incident. But it marks Lucy’s decision to resist him, and the end of Act One.
The conservative English upper-class mores, an abstract antagonist in Act One, is incarnated in the character of Cecil Vyse from Act Two.
Cecil’s kiss (at 47mins) marks the Mid Point and the moment Lucy realises she will never be happy with this man and the values he represents. The flashback to George’s kiss underscores her change of heart: from this point onwards she is no longer committed to Cecil. She will be moving apart from Cecil until the final breakup, which marks the end of Act Two.
It is tempting to see the talk about “going to Greece” as a Road Back Home sequence, or break into Act Three, in which Lucy finally confronts her true feelings and admits her love for George.