A Room With a View | 1986
The perfect Merchant-Ivory drama from EM Forster’s novel, blessed with a wonderful camp sensibility – just look at the interspersed captions – and a clutch of priceless cameos.
The locations are divided between the romantic holiday in Florence, and the southeast of England.
‘Pensione Bertolini’ in Florence, where English-rosebud-abroad Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter) finds herself in a room without a view, was the Quisisana e Ponte Vecchio. It closed down in the 1990s, but has been renovated and reopened again as the Hotel degli Orafi, Lungarno degli Archibusieri 4 alongside the Arno. In the 19th century, the ancient building (parts date back to the 13th Century) became the Quisisana, which was popular amongst intellectuals and artists. It was virtually unchanged when the film was made, though there’s since been a major restoration.
Flouncy novelist Eleanor Lavish (Judi Dench) whisks mousy Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith) off to see the real Florence, starting at the statue of Grand Duke Ferdinand in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, while Lucy sets off to explore the sights alone. She’s hassled by locals at the monument to Dante in the Church of Santa Croce, Piazza Santa Croce 16 (unlike Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini who are buried here in Santa Croce, Dante Alighieri has only a monument – he was exiled to, and died in, Ravenna).
The bloody knife fight was filmed in the Piazza della Signoria – the site of the original ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ when in 1497 followers of religious fanatic Savonarola burned all their worldly possessions. The idea really took off, and a year later they burned Savonarola, too.
There’s a pretty fine selection of Florentine statuary seen here, including Cellini’s Perseus holding the head of Medusa and a copy of Michelangelo’s David. The huge fountain, in which the crowd tries to revive the knife victim, is Bartolommeo Ammannati’s 1565 Neptune Fountain. Judged to be somewhat less successful than its neighbours, it’s now known as Il Biancone – roughly, the Big White Lump.
Back in England, ‘Windy Corner’, the home of the Honeychurch family in ‘Summerstreet’, is a private home (that of film critic John Pym), Foxwold, Pipers Lane, Brasted Chart south of Brasted west of Sevenoaks in west Kent – not visible from the road. The lake where George Emerson (Julian Sands) goes skinny-dipping with Freddy (Rupert Graves) and the Reverend Beebe (Simon Callow), was created in the grounds here.
Lucy’s engagement party was filmed in the grounds of Emmetts Garden, a National Trust property just north of Ide Hill off New Road a couple of miles from Brasted, west of Sevenoaks in Kent. The five-acre garden, once densely wooded and, in spring, carpeted with bluebells, suffered heavily in the 1987 hurricane and is only slowly being restored to its former state.
It’s in London, at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, that Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis) invites the Emersons to ‘Summerstreet‘. The interior of the world famous art gallery doesn't feature in films too often – though Bond meets up with the new Q here in Skyfall.
The village of 'Summerstreet' turns out to be Chiddingstone, a street of Tudor houses off the Edenbridge-Tonbridge road, B2027, at Bough Beech, about 10 miles from Sevenoaks, Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells in Kent, and about five from Emmetts.
Here you can see the Reverend Beebe’s church, St Mary’s, opposite the row of houses. The sitting room, where Mr Emerson (Denholm Elliott) persuades Lucy to tell the truth, is a room in St Mary’s rectory, and the Emersons’ house is Chiddingstone Village Hall.
Back in London, the home of the two Miss Alans is 167 Queensgate, South Kensington, SW7. At the time of filming this was the home of the Soviet representative for Estonia, but it’s now a private residence.
For a glimpse of the real Victorian England, you can visit the ‘well appointed home’ of Cecil Vyse. It's the Linley Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Terrace, W8. Built for Punch cartoonist Edward Linley-Sambourne in the 1870s, this unique perfectly preserved late Victorian house is managed by the Victorian Society and open to the public. You can find it just north of High Street Kensington, and see it again, as Hugh Grant’s London pad, in the next Merchant-Ivory production, Maurice.