Ismail Merchant (below), born and educated in Bombay, went to the U.S. to earn an MBA from New York University. He met James Ivory in 1961 at a New York City screening of Ivory’s film about Indian art miniatures, and the two became instant friends. Merchant recalled, “Some people meet and part ways, others bond together on a lifelong stream. I guess you could call our relationship destiny.”
Ivory was born in California and educated at the University of Oregon before attending the University of Southern California Film School. He wrote, photographed, and produced “Venice: Theme and Variations”, as a thesis film for his degree in cinema. This film was named by The New York Times as one of the ten best documentaries of 1957.
There is no arguing with success. While their first film premiered in 1963, their first real commercial winner was The Europeans, adapted from the Henry James novel. A Room with a View (1985), based on the book by E. M. Forster, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three; it won many other awards at home and in the U.K. and Italy.
Maurice (1987) – pronounced Morris – received a Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, Best Film Score for Richard Robbins and Best Actor Awards for co-stars James Wilby and Hugh Grant (seen in photo above).
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) was adapted from novels by Evan S. Connell; it received an Oscar nomination and awards from the New York Film Critics Circle.
Ivory directed another Forster-adapted film, Howards End (1992), and it was nominated for nine Academy awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three; the film also won Best Picture at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, as well as awards for Best Picture, Best Actress for Emma Thompson and Best Director for Ivory from the National Board of Review; the Directors Guild of America gave its D.W. Griffith award, its highest honor, to Ivory for this film.
The Remains of the Day (1993), was in turn was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, who co-starred in Howard’s End, were reunited in working in this film.
Taking a break from filming historical novels, Merchant Ivory Productions had a success with Le Divorce (2003), which Jhabvala adapted from the 1997 novel by Diane Hohnson; despite tepid reviews, the film grossed $13 million on a budget of $3 million. The final Merchant-Ivory film was The White Countess (2005).
MAURICE (1987) deals with the subject of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society; the novel by E. M. Forster was so scandalous that it was not published until after Forster’s death. This clip features scenes of Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder, a gameskeeper, who climbs a ladder into the bedroom (and bed) of Maurice, portrayed by James Wilby. Their sex scene begins at the 7:15 timing mark. Both actors are straight men, so don’t get your hopes up.