None of these “improvements” would matter much if the acting were up to the 1985 level, but where Ivory’s ensemble was imaginative, playful, generous, and more than a little mannered, Renton’s group are uniformly pinched, pedestrian, small-scale, and dull. Cassidy is every bit as whiny as she was in Kirsten Sheridan’s 2001 Disco Pigs; she’d make a better impression if Renton had let her smile more often. Rafe Spall’s bland, blank George has none of Julian Sands’s energy, sexual or otherwise; Laurence Fox is a decent Cecil but no Daniel Day-Lewis. Sophie Thompson turns Charlotte into a silly, simpering cross between her Mary Musgrove (the 1995 Amanda Root Persuasion) and her Miss Bates (the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow Emma); it’s painful to contemplate after Maggie Smith’s complex fussbudget. And Judi Dench’s Eleanor Lavish is ever so much more, well, lavish than Sinéad Cusack’s. Timothy Spall, in the Denholm Elliott role, rises to an impassioned interrogation of Lucy in Mr. Beebe’s study after a sleepy start, and Mark Williams as Mr. Beebe himself is plausible enough.
Still, there’s no light in the piazza. As Lucy faces the truth, Mr. Emerson tells her, “Now it is all dark. Now Beauty and Passion seem never to have existed. I know. But remember the mountains over Florence and the view.” This is a dour, dark, sensible Room with a View, all Surrey and no mountains. Mr. Emerson would not approve. Neither, I’m sure, would Forster.
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