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E.M. Forster Comes to the Screen - Again

January 23, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ ″Gateway to the Continent,″ read the sign overhead, as Rupert Graves and Helena Bonham Carter disappeared into an Edwardian-era throng of bustles, corseted waists and bowler hats.

″Look at all these extras looking so desperately British,″ chuckled Jeffrey Taylor, executive producer of ″Where Angels Fear to Tread,″ the latest E.M. Forster novel to be made into a movie.

The stars and the extras, of course, were British, but of another time, far from the elegant world of the leisured classes that barely exists anymore outside of Forster’s books.

It was the final day of shooting on the $7.5 million-film, due to be released in the United States and Britain next spring. The afternoon’s task was the very first scene in which the Herriton family flocks to Charing Cross Station to wave the widowed Lilia off to Italy.

Helen Mirren (″The Mosquito Coast,″ ″The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover″) plays the impetuous Lilia, who marries an Italian, Gino (newcomer Giovanni Guidelli), 12 years her junior, only to die in childbirth.

Helena Bonham Carter, whose film roles include the acclaimed Forster adaptation ″A Room With a View,″ plays Lilia’s traveling companion, Caroline. Rupert Graves, another ″Room With a View″ alumnus, and Judy Davis, from ″A Passage to India,″ are Philip and Harriet, Lilia’s brother- and sister-in-law.

Two years ago, Taylor and producer Derek Granger had an art house hit with ″A Handful of Dust,″ adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s highly ironic 1934 novel.

That film’s director, Charles Sturridge, and Graves, one of its stars, were hired for the Forster project, an adaptation far from the glossy picture postcard style that some might expect.

″I know that the last thing Charles and I wanted to do was to create some lovely little artifact for export, like a tea caddy or a biscuit tin,″ said Granger, who also shares the screenplay credit with Tim Sullivan.

Earlier Forster novels-turned-films have come from the prolific collaboration of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory.

″A Room With a View″ won three 1985 Academy Awards and became one of the unexpected smash hits of that year. ″Maurice,″ the following year, was a more modest success. This spring, the duo plan to film Forster’s masterpiece, ″Howard’s End,″ with Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Bonham Carter.

Granger said his adaptation could not be more different in tone from the Merchant-Ivory ones.

″Angels,″ according to Granger, is Forster’s closest approach to the style of D.H. Lawrence.

″It’s got violence and passion and a great deal of comedy,″ he said. ″The audience should have quite a roller coaster ride, one hopes.″

″A Room With a View,″ he said, ″is fundamentally a much more romantic book. It’s got a prettier tone; it’s more symmetrical. It fulfills that formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl.″

This has ″a much tougher edge to it,″ said Jeffrey Taylor. ″It’s the British at their wonderful worst - stuck up and pompous, when they have no reason to be.″

During a break from filming, Graves pondered whether ″Angels″ constituted ″A Room With a View, Part Two.″

″It’s quite violent in this,″ said Graves, 27, sporting a mustache and speaking softly in fits of nervous energy.

″You’ve got dead babies, dead mothers and a heroine who dies halfway through. It’s much sharper, more modern.″

After playing Freddy Honeychurch in ″Room″ and Scudder, the amorous gamekeeper, in ″Maurice,″ Graves was reluctant at first to do a third Forster.

″I did think, ‘Hmmm. I’m not sure if I want to do another because people get obviously typecast, and that can be boring and dangerous.’

″But I needed the money,″ Graves said.

A second later, he turned serious: ″No, I didn’t need the money; I wanted to do it. It’s an intriguing part. There are so many ambiguities.″

Graves said he’s grown as an actor since his film debut in ″Room With a View.″ Since then, he’s appeared regularly on the London stage - at the National Theater in John Ford’s classic ″ ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore″ and opposite Redgrave in a new play, ″A Madhouse in Goa,″ among others.

″Well, it (‘Room’) was my first film, and I kind of blushed every time I talked to anybody who was famous, like Maggie Smith,″ he said, dropping his voice to utter a shy, ″Oh, hello Maggie″ by way of demonstration.

″In this one, I don’t feel that anymore.″

So why does he continue to get cast in these roles, when his offstage demeanor suggests somebody much more of the late 20th century?

″I think it’s because my name is Rupert,″ he laughed.

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