Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Julian Sands Tragically Sought a Hike with a View

Last January, L.A. radio stations announced that English actor Julian Sands had gone missing. A seasoned hiker, the sixty-five-year-old Sands had set out for a solo excursion near Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. In a year marked by massive amounts of snow in Southern California, the search for Sands was repeatedly delayed. But eventually scores of volunteers hit the trail, looking for any trace of the missing actor. It was not until June that his remains were discovered and identified.

 The sad news of Sands’ demise led me to return to his breakthrough role, as handsome young George Emerson in 1985’s A Room with a View. This screen adaptation of a work by E.M. Forster set the standard for the cinematic transformations of major novels, through the collaboration of James Ivory (director), Ismail Merchant (producer), and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (writer). This longstanding team, specializing in sumptuous, intelligent costume dramas, was once a powerful force in the movie industry, particularly in the last two decades of the 20th century. As Merchant put it, “It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory . . . I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!”

 A Room with a View captures  the elegant yet repressive mores of Edwardian England, circa 1908. Its opening scenes are set in Florence, Italy, where a group of well-endowed  English travelers gather over dinner at a local pensione. The youngest of them, newcomer Lucy Honeychurch (Helen Bonham Carter), laments that her room lacks the promised view of the River Arno. Whimsical Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) volunteers that he and his son will gladly swap rooms, but Lucy’s stuffy guardian, cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith), is reluctant to do anything unseemly.

 Throughout the film, Lucy is torn between the wish to obey social norms and a youthful eagerness to experience life in the raw. Her chance to elude her chaperone’s supervision comes when she visits the basilica of Santa Croce, only to find herself steps away from a violent stabbing. She faints, but is rescued by Mr. Emerson’s strapping blond son (Sands), a young man nearly bursting with a strongly romantic temperament. From this point forward, George Emerson finds moments to express his ardor for Lucy. This upends her Florentine sojourn: Charlotte whisks her back to her family’s country estate, where she tries hard to resume the life of a demure young English lady.

 Quickly there’s an engagement to Cecil Vyse, a supercilious English intellectual (Daniel Day-Lewis), who looks with disdain on anything that might smack of impropriety. (He haughtily scorns a delightful scene of Lucy’s brother and others cavorting in the buff in a neighborhood pond.) But inevitably Lucy will discover the need to rethink her choice of a husband. The film’s ecstatically happy ending provides love, rapturous kisses, and of course a room with a view.

 Sands’ character is presented on-screen as something of a conundrum, even to his loving father. Saved by family wealth from the need to choose a profession, he seems to live to revel in beauty in all its forms. His lust for life is distinctive, especially when he’s placed among his more prosaic countrymen. Obviously, a man is more than the sum of the characters he plays on screen. Still, it’s easy to imagine George Emerson’s life being suddenly snuffed out on a solo hike into the wilderness. I hope that Sands enjoyed a wonderful view before he died.






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