books to film

The book versus the movie: Should you read EM Forster’s ‘Maurice’ or watch the James Ivory version?

In a new series that compares books with their screen adaptations, we revisit the movie based on the gay-themed EM Forster novel.

The Merchant-Ivory film Maurice was released in 1987, a mere 16 years after the publication of the novel on which it was based. The writer, EM Forster, had finished writing the novel in 1913, but took no interest in publishing the work. It was finally published after his death in 1970.

The reason for Forster’s squeamishness was the novel’s subject matter: the struggle of a middle class English man with homosexuality. Maurice Hall is a fatherless boy who grows up with his mother and two sisters, attends the best schools and Cambridge, and becomes a stock broker. At a time when homosexuality was still a crime in England – the novel alludes on more than one occasion to Oscar Wilde’s trial – Forster presents Maurice’s condition as tragic but ultimately redemptive.

Maurice and another Cambridge student, Clive Durham, fall in love and spend a blissful three years in one another’s company until Clive decides to marry and live the “proper” life. This unhinges Maurice who undergoes abundant grief, tries to “cure” himself, and ultimately finds love in a gamekeeper, Alec Scudder.

In the film version, directed by James Ivory, James Wilby plays Maurice, Hugh Grant Clive, and Rupert Graves Scudder. As with most Merchant-Ivory films set at the turn of the century, Maurice explores a genteel British aristocracy that is only gingerly aware of its imminent demise. This is particularly true for Clive, who owns a giant estate in Penge, and is being groomed to become a politician like his late father.

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Maurice (1987).

The screenplay was written by Kit Hesketh-Harvey who, for the purposes of cinema, left out much of the philosophy underpinning the novel. As a modernist, Forster gives the reader rich insights into his characters’ motivations. This is especially the case with Maurice, whose initiation into same-sex love is triggered by Clive’s open wooing of him.

The novel devotes a substantial part to the two men’s Cambridge years, where Maurice loses his faith and discovers his sexuality not just in the arms of Clive but in the words of the Greeks, especially Plato. The university as a place for unexplored ideas is a seductive theme that the novel amply reproduces.

Much of this is greatly condensed in the film, so that Wilby’s Maurice can come across as a bumbling fool who cannot reconcile his Christian faith with his latent desires. It is perhaps silly to expect an interior medium like the novel to translate faithfully to the screen, but the richness of Forster’s descriptions sits uneasily with a medium that can only be driven by plot.

This is particularly annoying when the pruning is overdone. By the novel’s end, Maurice has suffered such soul-crushing loneliness that his caution at cavorting with a gamekeeper must bleed into his desire for companionship. A misunderstanding over Scudder’s intentions ensues between Maurice and him in the London museum.

In the book this is resolved with the sort of violent emotional intensity that is deservedly cathartic. In the film, however, the bad blood is explored only on the surface, giving no allowance to Maurice’s twisted feelings and leaching the scene of poignancy.

James Wilby (left) and Hugh Grant in Maurice (1987).
James Wilby (left) and Hugh Grant in Maurice (1987).

On the other hand, there is also the liberty that the screenwriter has taken with events in the novel, a necessity borne out of its weaknesses. Clive undergoes a sudden transformation during a vacation in Greece from where he returns determined to marry. For a novel that issues lucid depictions of its characters’ inner lives, this change of heart seems forced, certainly in light of what Clive and Maurice share.

The film takes a more straightforward approach. Risley, a Cambridge acquaintance of Clive and Maurice, gets arrested on charges of “gross indecency”, the same law that sent Wilde to jail. Clive is shown to turn irredeemably after this event, and Grant has several scenes that encapsulate the ruinous effects on Clive of the scandal that Risley is caught up in.

Indeed, there are some things only the moving image can achieve. In the book, Clive’s revelation of his plan to break up with Maurice is a tragic scene, but not one that is unexpected, given Forster’s detailed build-up.

In the film, however, the scene guts the unaware viewer. Wilby’s passionate “I am done for” captures a painful intensity rarely reached otherwise.

Ultimately, the book and the film work as complements. The book is an expansive look into the moral and social codes that kept homosexuality beyond the pale. It is a brilliant dive into the private torments of a class of people whose lives were marked by shame. The happy ending is a benediction that, while unreal, seems only justified.

The film has its own successes, narrating a gay love story that crosses barriers of class and time while refraining from all sentimentality. It shares this quality with Forster’s book, whose clear-eyed prose gives the subject matter greater heft.

The Merchant-Ivory team made many other films, all capturing, with a sureness of touch, the inspirations and impulses of English society. Yet, Maurice remains a seminal work, a brave precursor to imminent social and cinematic revolutions.

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An interview with the cast of Maurice.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.