The incomparable Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) shared a birthday with Jesus and was played by John Hurt in 1975’s The Naked Civil Servant, adapted from Crisp’s memoir of the same name.
The Queen of interwar Old Compton Street, he starred with Helen Mirren, among others, on the London stage before moving to the United States where his dinner parties became legendary. He played Queen Elizabeth I opposite Tilda Swinton in 1992’s Orlando and appeared as a party guest in a scene of the same year’s Philadelphia.
Imperiously disparaging about everything from AIDS (”a fad”) to Princess Diana (”vulgar”), he wrote a classic series of film reviews for Christopher Street magazine, some of which are reprinted here at Outrate. For more information, please visit the Quentin Crisp website, or purchase the anthology of Quentin Crisp film reviews, “How To Go To The Movies”, here.
Director: James Ivory
Stars: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves
Available on DVD - order here
I went with a representative cross section of the contributors to Christopher Street magazine to see Maurice (pronounced Morris by the English, to whom any word that sounds even faintly French is depraved). This is a surprisingly popular film. Even at the ten thirty showing, we were only able to sit together in good seats through the kindness of the management of the Paris cinema, who let us into the auditorium ahead of the mere mortals clamoring to get in. I only wish that in return for this courtesy, I could praise the film with more enthusiasm.
The trouble with a homosexual encounter is that by nature it does not provide its participants with the desired illusion of entering the jungle. A heterosexual man or woman mates with an alien, even hostile being - someone of the opposite gender. In happier times, in order to impart this sort of exciting clash to a homosexual engagement, one party acted cute or helpless or bitchy. These antics are frowned on by modern gay men. Now, in the hope of bestowing interest upon a union of two people of the same sex, it is necessary to cross boundaries of race or culture. In the England of 1913, before the irreparable breakdown of its social structure, differences of class were a great help in making sexual activities tolerable.
To the British aristocracy, the embodiment of the primitive male was the gamekeeper with a bloodstained rabbit in his hand. Maurice might be called Mr. Chatterley’s Lover.
Where I see class distinctions inflaming desire, Mr. Forster saw love conquering prejudices. His problem was that - at any rate in literature - he was not content with a bit of rough trade; he longed for eternal love. It is here that this story abandons all probability.
The narrative begins at Cambridge University, which has come to represent the life beautiful - a haven where ideas about “The Ideal State” float through the quadrangles, woven with adolescent longings for love. Clive (Hugh Grant) is the true aristocrat and Maurice (James Wilby) is his middle-class friend. They romp and kiss but do nothing worse, on the grounds that they might “regret it later”.
When they leave Cambridge, Clive returns to his family, his estate, and his marriage to some nice girl. Maurice takes to the stock exchange, with his inner life still seething. During a visit to Clive’s country house, he at last attracts the sexual interest of the gamekeeper (Rupert Graves), who climbs up a ladder to the guest’s bedroom. I thought this was taking the novelettish dream to its limit. It may have worked on the printed page, where reality can be kept at bay, but in a movie it is just going too far. This is partly the fault of casting Mr. Graves as the gamekeepr. He acts well but he is not a D.H. Lawrence man - not an overwhelming earthy presence who doesn’t care a damn about his job or the law or society. The actor is too pretty, too young for the part. When, later in the film, he turns up at Maurice’s office to blackmail him, he looks hardly different from all the other men in the place.
After much wrangling, parting, and reconciliation, we leave Clive, with his wife beside him, looking out of his bedroom window towards the boathouse in which Maurice and the gamekeeper are locked in a passionate embrace. hat are we supposed to infer will happen tomorrow? Will the lovers prance into the woods to start an idyllic sylvan life? We all know that this cannot be and this fundamentally is what makes Maurice an unsatisfactory film.
As we walked along Fifty-ninth Street after the show, Mr. Steele hung his head; he was the only one among us who had enjoyed the picture unreservedly. His reason for this quaint judgement was that it represented the triumph of the of true (though kinky) love over narrow-minded society. It does, but that’s not all that is wrong with it. In spite of some very good set pieces - the best of which is the village cricket match attended with pleasant condescension by the aristocracy and with uneasy earthiness by the local yokels - visually the film is without style. As other critics have pointed out, it is a collection of pretty picture postcards and, as a whole, the story is a series of failed efforts at communication. The blackmail scene is a perfect example of this; it appeared to convince neither the audience nor the actors participating in it.
I fear the the movie industry has recently become guilty of an undue reverence for Mr. Forster. A Passage to India suffered form the same defect. If the minor masterpieces of literature are to be used as movie material, it does their authors no service to preserve on the screen all their slow, rambling, detailed quality. Their film versions must be boldly - even ruthlessly - translated into something compact, visually coordinated, and animated by a passionate narrative drive.
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