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Maurice Metas

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Chapter 1: List of Metas and Information; Chapter 2: A non-spoiler discussion about Maurice; Chapter 3: Bisexuality in Maurice; Chapter 4: Anne Durham

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I discovered the novel and film Maurice as a university student. The story was pitched to me as “the main character is gay and it has a happy ending”. The main character is definitely gay, but the ending is more complicated. Perhaps more importantly it should have been pitched as, “Although some characters display homophobic attitudes the film itself is not homophobic. It is homophobia that the film condemns rather than being anything other than straight.” Even through I saw the film years after it came out that element was (and sadly still is) unusual.

If you do not want to be completely spoiled do NOT watch the original 1987 trailer. The new trailer for the remastered edition does not spoil the film but, practically erases Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves). I am going to try to find a balance for this non-spoiler review. I will be posting at least one spoiler related Maurice post in the future.

Set in Edwardian England, Maurice Hall (James Wilby) and Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) meet at Cambridge. The film really emphasizes the contrast and conflict between the two origins of western (and particularly British) society- Christianity and Ancient Greece and this conflict is particularly notable for their different views of love and physical relationships between men. Cambridge at the time was a male only school and during their student days we rarely see them interact with women outside of their families.

Clive comes from an aristocratic, conservative Christian background, but prior to meeting Maurice is already rejecting much of Christianity in favor of a more Grecian view of life. He has embraced the Grecian ideals of love between men, but still holds onto the Christian idea that relationships between men should remain non-sexual.

Maurice comes from a middle class background although I wish there had been more emphasis on the class difference between Clive and Maurice. Maurice is far more popular and athletic than Clive. He is originally taken aback by both Clive’s rejection of Christianity and openness to men loving men, but he quickly realizes that his feelings for Clive go beyond simple friendship. Maurice rejects Christianity and craves a physical relationship with Clive, but continues to struggle with his physical attraction to men.

There is a real beauty and intimacy in their relationship and a magic to their time at Cambridge. The chemistry between James Wilby and Hugh Grant is electric and you can feel the longing to not have to hide their feelings behind closed doors.

Both Clive and Maurice are dismissing of “the poor” treating those who work at the estate as if they do not have eyes and ears. This dismissal will have consequences.

A good adaptation not only stays true to the spirit of the story, but knows when to fix weaknesses. A sudden change Clive goes through in the book is better understood in the film by an event that leaves him understandably shaken. One of the film’s strengths is that the character’s actions make sense. The viewer may not always agree with the character, but they understand the characters behavior.

The undergrounds keeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves) enters the film slowly as a background character. He is in many ways the antithesis of intellectual and almost delicate Clive. He is “poor” and as Rupert Graves put it in the interview included on the DVD “earthy” and physical. He seems to have rejected Christianity with far more ease than Maurice and Clive. While he lacks some of Clive’s appeals he also lacks Clive’s weaknesses. As one of Clive’s long-term employees he is well-aware of the gossip about Clive and Maurice. In one of the less impressive elements of the adaptation Alec’s bisexuality is only vaguely hinted at in the aired version and the deleted scene that made it clear is not included in the remastered DVDs.

Maurice’s character journey is not only in terms of accepting his feelings and sexuality, but in terms of becoming less of a class snob. In the later parts of the film he makes choices that would have shocked the Maurice we see in the earlier parts of the film.

Maurice’s interactions with Alec and the connection between them are very different than the ones he had with Clive, but also very beautiful. Maurice’s authentic self has similarities to both Clive and Alec and ultimately he is choosing who he is willing to be as well as determining how he will relate to Clive and Alec.

A standout minor character is Wilcox, one of Clive’s servants, who is all-knowing and very willing to use his expressions, tone of voice, and word choices to convey snarkiness. I am leaving out another standout character who probably deserves their own post due to spoiler reasons.

The acting is exceptional. James Wilby is perfect as Maurice and handles the character’s journey with honesty and sensitivity. In the years since Maurice I have seen Hugh Grant dismissed as a lightweight, but he gives a great performance as Clive. Rupert Graves is appealing as Alec Scudder in a role that asks much of the actor. You do not feel you are watching actors give great performances, but as if you are seeing the characters. The roles are challenging- not because playing a gay or bisexual character is challenging-, but because of the characters’ journeys. Also, the film was released in 1987 when playing gay and bisexual characters was a career risk for actors.

The film crew did an excellent job with set designs, costuming, and music being particularly noteworthy.

Please note that the movie is rated R and includes an explicit scene.

The beginning of the film is slow and atmospheric and at times the film can feel choppy. Luckily, dates are shown on screen to help the viewer keep up with the passage of time. Despite these weakness it is a beautiful and uplifting film.

Maurice gets a happy ending, but not all of the characters stories end happily.

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In looking for films for my LGBTQ films reviews I have noticed that it is increasingly common to see films and TV shows pair a homosexual character with a bisexual character. I find this a welcome change considering the stereotype remains that people who say they are bisexual are either gay and still in denial or are really straight and just experimenting for attention. I fully acknowledge that there are bisexuals for whom that applies, but there are plenty of bisexuals who remain bisexual their entire lives.

In both the book and film Maurice paired a gay man with a bisexual one long at a time when LGBTQ representation was far less than it is today. Needless to say being anything other than straight was unacceptable to the larger presumed heterosexual community and bisexuals often found (and still find) themselves unwelcome in the LGBTQ community.

There really isn’t evidence to support the argument that Maurice is bisexual. He always expected to marry a woman because that was what was expected of him, but his casket wedding dream to a woman really made it clear that he has no attraction to woman. It wasn’t a specific woman he was rejecting and he could have conjured up his ideal woman (whether or not that woman would be one he could realistically find in real life). He was rejecting the very idea of marrying a woman considering marrying a woman to be like dying. If he inspired real life gay men to not pretend to be interested in a woman to be socially acceptable it saved these gay men from spending their lives living a lie and trapped in a loveless marriage and saved the women they would have married from being married to a man who had no interest in them.

I have seen people argue that Clive Durham was bisexual, but I would argue that he was a gay man giving into the pressure to conform and marry a woman. In real life straight and bisexual men marry the wrong woman without it meaning anything about their sexuality. However, in literature and film when we see Clive having a romantic if not sexual relationship with Maurice only to decide he should be straight and end up in a miserable marriage and no indication that he has an attraction to any other woman it argues for him being gay. The fact that he still wants Maurice as a partner in all but sexually (which he thinks is immoral which is different than not desiring it) also argues in favor of him being a gay man. Clive’s story is a tragic one and one that has been repeated far too many times in cultures where being anything other than straight means losing one’s social status.

Alec Scudder is bisexual in the book, but sadly the film erased the scene that made it blatantly clear. You do get a hint of it when they have to ring twice for the (female) maid and he arrives shortly afterwards in a manner that suggests that the two were making out, but it is not something that everyone will catch on first viewing. I love the remastered edition, but it is a shame that it did not include the deleted scene that clearly showed Alec’s bisexuality.

The argument is frequently made that if one is bisexual then one can automatically be happy in a straight relationship. This is a misunderstanding of what bisexuality means. Bisexuality means you can be attracted to and fall in love with a man or a woman. Alec was attracted to and fell in love with Maurice. Maurice is a man. Alec could not simply replace what he felt for Maurice with a woman. If he had never met Maurice maybe he would have ended up with a woman. But he did meet Maurice and Maurice was the person he wanted to be with for the rest of his life.

Maurice for his part shows no sign of caring that Alec is bisexual. There is no biphobia as there so often is in modern stories and real life. Maurice had loved Clive. He would have been with Clive for life if Clive had been willing to take the risk. Clive was not willing to take the risk and Alec was willing to take it. The fact that Alec had sex before and Maurice had loved before Alec does not cheapen the attraction and love they feel for each other.

Maurice could not have been happy with any woman and had the strength to take the risks involved in being with Alec. Alec could have decided to play it safe and gotten on the boat hoping to find a woman who would appeal to him as much as Maurice. He had the strength to take a risk and stay with no guarantee that Maurice would also be willing to take the risk. Maurice and Alec get their happy ending because of their bravery.

In the end Maurice is an mlm story with a happy ending. It was written at a time when even E.M. Forster wondered if it was possible. It was published at a time when it seemed unlikely. The film was made at a time when the idea of a long-term mlm couple was something many people didn’t think existed. Today we have choices if we want a story about a gay man and a bisexual man who get their happy ending, but that doesn’t mean that Maurice isn’t worth reading and watching.

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When I first saw Maurice I judged Anne Durham unfairly. Certainly her introduction makes her appear a bit silly as she wants to talk to Maurice and then has nothing to say. It is understandable if you stop to think about it, but it is not the most impressive introduction. It was not really Anne herself that I disliked. It was what she symbolized, but what she symbolizes really is not her fault.

In the society she lived in it would be unreasonable to argue that she should have realized that her fiancé and then husband is gay. From all indications he pursued her. He speaks highly of her. He wants his friends to meet her. He compliments her uncanny insight. He seeks her out. As viewers who see his past- both his religious upbringing and expected responsibilities and role contrasted against his obvious love for Maurice and past glorification of love between men- we can see that he is suppressing his real self in being with her.

Anne is a perfectly nice woman. She is comfortable with Maurice being around and apologizes to him for Clive being busy with his duties. When Maurice makes a harsh classist comment she reproaches him for it. She has a sense of humor even if her joke after the rain starts coming through the roof falls flat. She comforts Clive even when she doesn’t understand why she is comforting him.

One can argue she is as much a victim of the expectation that men should marry women as Clive. Clive consciously chose to suppress his attraction to men and marry a woman. She married a seemingly nice, attentive man only to find herself married to a man who will never truly be attracted to her or love her. When they were courting it is likely he did not push for them to have sex. In courting this might have seemed to be a virtue to her. Once they were married I got the impression they probably have sex, but there is not indication that it is particularly satisfying sex. When we see them in bed there is a very obvious emotional and physical distance between them and it does not speak of real physical comfort and desire.

I sometimes see it argued that forcing gay men to be in relationships with women benefits women, but Anne is an excellent example of why this is not the case. Certainly she has economic comforts that come with Clive’s social, economic, and political status. But she has an empty marriage. The scene at the end is absolutely heartbreaking not just for Clive, but for her. Deep down Clive knows the cause of the problem. I am not convinced that Anne knows why her marriage is so empty. She only knows that there is a distance between her and husband and a distance that will remain for their entire marriage.