September 28, 1987 12:00 PM

Only the best films create a world so richly textured in ideas, feelings and characters that the viewer freely gives way to the spell. Maurice—literate, passionate, impeccably acted and directed—is such a film. Following their triumphant adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel A Room With a View, producer Is mail Merchant and director James Ivory have again mined the work of the English master, who died in 1970 at 91. Forster, a homosexual, wrote Maurice, dealing with love between men, in 1914, when homosexuality was a criminal offense in Great Britain. The book was not published until a year after his death. Without sensationalizing, Ivory adds the erotic brush strokes that the reticent Forster could not, while unflinchingly preserving the heat of Forster’s anger at social repression. Love comes to ordinary, middle-class Maurice Hall (James Wilby) at Cambridge in the person of snobbish, intellectual Give Durham (Hugh Grant). At first Maurice is horrified at Clive’s overtures. Then, accepting his own nature, an aroused Maurice must cope with Clive’s platonic view of love that, except for a few chaste kisses, leaves out the body. Later, when Clive becomes a lawyer with political ambitions, he declares himself “normal” and marries. A confused and inconsolable Maurice, now a stockbroker, also tries to change. But his visits to the family doctor (Denholm Elliott) and a charlatan hypnotist (Ben Kingsley) prove futile. One night Maurice finds physical release with Clive’s gamekeeper, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), and with it the resolve to begin a new life with Scudder away from the social and sexual prejudices of his time. As in the novel, the happy ending for Maurice and his lusty, lower-class lover seems more contrived than convincing. But, Forster explained shortly before his death, “I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever….” Ivory and co-screenwriter Kit Hesketh-Harvey know that Forster’s plea for tolerance hasn’t dated. They have turned a curiosity of a book into a marvel of a movie and made a fervent prayer of Forster’s original dedication: “To a happier year.” (R)

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