A painstakingly produced period piece, this Edwardian drama centers around the title character Maurice (pronounced "Morris") Hall (James Wilby), an Edwardian-era fancy lad who finds himself smitten with a schoolmate during his days at college in Cambridge (though this is of course notoriously against the law in England at the time). At first, he's smitten with Clive (Hugh Grant in his first major film role) but after seeing what happens to a friend of theirs (Mark Tandy) when he's busted for homosexuality and sentenced to hard labor in prison, they both attempt to mend their ways. Clive gets married, Maurice attempts hypnosis. This seems to "cure" Clive -- well enough, anyway -- but Maurice still can't shake it. Eventually he winds up shacking up with the much lower-class gamekeeper at the country estate.
If all this sounds a little fey, it's because the film does have a certain ethereal quality, but it's surprisingly accessible to even the manliest of men. That's because -- wisely, I'd say -- Ivory keeps the focus on the "keeping up of appearances," on the development of relationships, and on the society of 1910s England. Between hunting outings and parlor games, there are some deep conversations and important questions about how society is unable to trump human nature. Wilby, Grant, and their compatriots play it perfectly -- just like you'd imagine fay men in the 1910s would act when trying to play straight.
Made during the heyday of Merchant-Ivory's golden years, which began with A Room with a View in 1985 and ended with The Remains of the Day in 1993 (yes, you have to excise Slaves of New York from your memory), Maurice gives us the duo on a high. It's not their greatest work but it's definitely a winner. It's easy to quibble over some faults -- too long and a little lost in the beginning -- but ultimately it keeps us engaged and reasonably entertained (if a big depressed).
Run time: 140 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th September 1987
Distributed by: Lorimar Home Video
Production compaines: Film Four International, Merchant Ivory Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: James Ivory
Producer: Ismail Merchant
Starring: James Wilby as Maurice Hall, Hugh Grant as Clive Durham, Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder, Denholm Elliott as Doctor Barry, Simon Callow as Mr. Ducie, Billie Whitelaw as Mrs. Hall, Barry Foster as Dean Cornwallis, Judy Parfitt as Mrs. Durham, Phoebe Nicholls as Anne Durham, Patrick Godfrey as Simcox, Mark Tandy as Risley, Ben Kingsley as Lasker-Jones