James Ivory is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter who is best known for his collaborations with producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Together, they formed the independent film production company Merchant Ivory Productions, which produced some of the most acclaimed films of the 1980s and 1990s.
Here are some of the best James Ivory films:
A Room with a View (1985) – Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, this film is a romantic comedy-drama set in Edwardian England. It follows a young woman’s journey of self-discovery as she falls in love with a free-spirited man while on a trip to Florence.
The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay.
Howards End (1992) – Another adaptation of an E.M. Forster novel, this film is a complex and layered exploration of class, money, and morality in turn-of-the-century England.
The film features an all-star cast, including Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anthony Hopkins, and won three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Thompson.
The Remains of the Day (1993) – Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, this film tells the story of an English butler who reflects on his life and career as he travels to visit an old colleague.
The film explores themes of duty, loyalty, and regret, and features a stunning performance by Anthony Hopkins.
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Maurice (1987) – Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, this film is a groundbreaking love story about two men in early 20th century England.
The film explores themes of homosexuality and repressed desire in a time when such relationships were not accepted.
The film features a powerful performance by Hugh Grant and was praised for its sensitive and nuanced treatment of the subject matter.
Shakespeare Wallah (1965) – This film, one of Ivory’s early works, is a poignant and humorous exploration of the clash between traditional Indian culture and modern Western influences.
The film tells the story of a family of English actors who tour India performing Shakespeare plays. The film was praised for its beautiful cinematography and nuanced depiction of cultural differences.
Best James Ivory Films Introduction
Let’s take a look at the best James Ivory movies.
1. The Householder (1963)
“The Householder” is a film directed by Satyajit Ray, released in 1963. It is a comedy-drama film that follows the story of a young man named Prem, played by actor Shashi Kapoor, who is struggling to adjust to his new life as a husband and a member of the middle class.
Prem is a schoolteacher who lives with his wife, Indu, in a small apartment in Delhi. He feels trapped in his routine life and begins to have doubts about his marriage.
His mother, played by actress Durga Khote, visits him and suggests that he take on a more assertive role in his marriage.
As Prem tries to take charge of his life, he faces several challenges, including financial difficulties and a misunderstanding with his wife.
He also begins to develop feelings for a young woman named Neeta, played by actress Leela Naidu, who lives in his building.
Throughout the film, Satyajit Ray uses a lighthearted and humorous tone to explore the themes of love, marriage, and social expectations in Indian society.
The Householder was Ray’s first film in color and was praised for its performances and the director’s skillful portrayal of the characters’ emotions and inner conflicts.
2. Shakespeare-Wallah (1965)
“Shakespeare-Wallah” is a 1965 film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, who together would become one of the most successful filmmaking duos of all time.
The film is loosely based on the real-life experiences of the Merchant Ivory team, who traveled to India to make a series of films based on the works of William Shakespeare.
The film tells the story of a British theatrical troupe, the Buckingham Company, who travel to various cities in India to perform their repertoire of Shakespearean plays.
The troupe is led by the aging and idealistic Geoffrey Kendal (played by Geoffrey Kendal himself) and his wife, Laura (played by Laura Liddell), who is also an actress.
As the troupe travels through India, they encounter a variety of challenges and obstacles, including cultural differences, language barriers, and the changing tastes of their audiences.
Along the way, they also encounter a wealthy Indian family, the Roys, whose daughter, Lizzie (played by Shashi Kapoor’s wife, Jennifer Kendal), becomes romantically involved with one of the actors, Tony Buckingham (played by Shashi Kapoor).
“Shakespeare-Wallah” is considered a seminal film in the history of Indian cinema, as well as a landmark in the careers of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, and their collaborators.
The film is notable for its blend of English and Indian cultures, its sympathetic portrayal of the complexities of cross-cultural relationships, and its celebration of the enduring power of Shakespeare’s work.
3. Bombay Talkie (1970)
“Bombay Talkie” is a 1970 film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. The film is a romantic drama set in the Indian film industry, and tells the story of a British writer who travels to India and falls in love with a Bollywood actress.
Here are three reasons why you should watch “Bombay Talkie”:
A glimpse into the Indian film industry: “Bombay Talkie” offers a fascinating glimpse into the Indian film industry of the 1970s, exploring the culture, traditions, and glamorous lifestyle of Bollywood stars.
The film also features several Bollywood-style song and dance sequences, adding to the vibrant and colorful atmosphere.
Stellar performances: “Bombay Talkie” features stellar performances from its lead actors, Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal.
Kapoor delivers a charismatic and nuanced performance as the Bollywood superstar, while Kendal shines as the British writer who falls for him.
A unique blend of East and West: “Bombay Talkie” is a unique blend of East and West, with an international cast and crew working together to create a film that bridges cultures and traditions.
The film offers a fascinating exploration of the clash between Eastern and Western values, and the ways in which they can intersect and overlap.
Overall, “Bombay Talkie” is a charming and visually stunning film that offers a glimpse into the Indian film industry and a unique blend of East and West.
It is a must-watch for fans of romantic dramas, Bollywood cinema, and anyone interested in exploring different cultures and traditions.
4. Savages (1972)
“Savages” (1972) is a film directed by James Ivory and based on the novel “Savages” by the writer and anthropologist, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
The film tells the story of two anthropologists, played by Susan Blakely and Peter Straker, who venture into the jungles of South America to study an isolated tribe of indigenous people.
One of the notable characteristics of the film is its exploration of the clash between Western civilization and traditional cultures.
The film portrays the difficulties faced by the anthropologists as they attempt to understand and communicate with the indigenous people they are studying, and the tension that arises as their own Western values and assumptions are challenged.
Another characteristic of the film is its emphasis on visual storytelling. The film uses stunning visuals to depict the lush jungle setting and the indigenous people who inhabit it.
The camera often lingers on the natural beauty of the environment, as well as the intricate patterns and designs of the tribe’s clothing and artifacts.
Finally, the film also explores themes of love and betrayal, as the two anthropologists become romantically involved and their relationship is put to the test by the challenges they face in their work.
Overall, “Savages” is a thought-provoking and visually stunning film that explores complex themes and ideas with sensitivity and nuance.
It is a testament to James Ivory’s skill as a director, as well as to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s insightful and nuanced writing.
5. The Wild Party (1975)
“The Wild Party” is a musical film released in 1975, directed by James Ivory and written by Michael J. Weldon.
The film is an adaptation of the 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, which tells the story of a wild and debauched party in the Roaring Twenties.
The film stars James Coco and Raquel Welch as Jolly and Queenie, a vaudeville duo whose relationship becomes strained as they try to navigate their way through the party’s chaos.
The cast also includes Perry King, Tiffany Bolling, and Royal Dano.
“The Wild Party” features a lively jazz soundtrack and is known for its colorful costumes and sets that capture the vibrant and hedonistic atmosphere of the 1920s.
Despite its all-star cast and lavish production values, the film received mixed reviews upon its release and was a box office disappointment. However, it has since gained a cult following and is considered a unique and entertaining slice of 1970s cinema.
6. Autobiography of a Princess (1975)
“Autobiography of a Princess” is a film directed by Satyajit Ray, released in 1975. It is a drama film that follows the story of an elderly Indian princess named Sophia, played by actress Madhur Jaffrey, who reminisces about her past.
Sophia lives in a London apartment and is visited by a young Indian filmmaker, played by actor Saeed Jaffrey, who is interested in making a documentary about her life.
As Sophia shares her memories with the filmmaker, the film flashes back to scenes from her childhood and young adulthood in India.
The film explores Sophia’s privileged upbringing as a member of the Indian aristocracy, and her complicated relationships with her father and husband.
It also touches on broader themes of colonialism, nationalism, and cultural identity in India during the early 20th century.
As Sophia reflects on her past, she becomes increasingly aware of the stark contrast between her luxurious lifestyle and the poverty and suffering of the Indian people.
The film ends on a somber note as Sophia comes to terms with her own mortality and the legacy she will leave behind.
“Autobiography of a Princess” was praised for its intimate portrayal of a complex character and its exploration of India’s colonial history.
Satyajit Ray’s direction was lauded for its sensitivity and attention to detail, particularly in its depiction of Indian cultural traditions and the social and economic disparities of the time.
7. Roseland (1977)
“Roseland” is a 1977 film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, who together would become one of the most successful filmmaking duos of all time.
The film is an anthology of three stories set in New York City’s famed Roseland Ballroom, a dance hall that was once a popular destination for young people during the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s.
The first story, “The Waltz,” follows an elderly woman named May (played by Teresa Wright) as she reminisces about the love of her life, who she met at Roseland many years ago.
The second story, “The Hustle,” centers around a young woman named Marilyn (played by Joanna Merlin) who comes to Roseland to find a dance partner and ends up falling for a charming con artist (played by Christopher Walken).
The third and final story, “The Peabody,” is a lighthearted comedy about a middle-aged couple (played by Lilia Skala and Lou Jacobi) who come to Roseland to try and win a dance contest.
“Roseland” is notable for its nostalgic and romantic portrayal of a bygone era, as well as its use of real-life dancers from the Roseland Ballroom to bring authenticity to its dance scenes.
The film also features a memorable score by composer and jazz musician, Tommy Flanagan.
While it may not be as well-known as some of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant’s other films, “Roseland” remains a charming and entertaining ode to the joys of dance and the enduring spirit of love.
8. The Europeans (1979)
“The Europeans” (1979) is a film directed by James Ivory and is not related to Abel Gance. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Henry James and is set in 19th-century New England.
It tells the story of two wealthy European siblings who come to visit their American cousins and the cultural clash that arises between them.
The film features an impressive cast, including Lee Remick, Robin Ellis, and Lisa Eichhorn. It was noted for its attention to period detail and its exploration of themes such as cultural identity, class, and social conventions.
“The Europeans” was well-received by critics and audiences and is considered to be one of James Ivory’s most successful films. It is also a notable entry in the genre of costume dramas, which continues to be popular in cinema today.
9. Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980)
“Jane Austen in Manhattan” is a 1980 film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant.
The film is a romantic drama that explores the rivalry between two New York theater directors as they compete to stage a newly discovered play by Jane Austen.
Here are three reasons why you should watch “Jane Austen in Manhattan”:
An exploration of Jane Austen’s legacy: “Jane Austen in Manhattan” offers a fascinating exploration of Jane Austen’s legacy and the enduring popularity of her work.
The film delves into the cultural significance of Austen’s writing and the ways in which her work continues to resonate with audiences today.
A behind-the-scenes look at the theater industry: The film offers a behind-the-scenes look at the theater industry, exploring the intense competition and creative struggles that go into staging a successful production.
It also features several captivating performances of Austen’s play, adding to the film’s charm and authenticity.
A talented cast and crew: “Jane Austen in Manhattan” features a talented cast and crew, including Anne Baxter, Robert Powell, and Sean Young.
The film is directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, who were known for their critically acclaimed collaborations on films such as “A Room with a View” and “Howards End.”
Overall, “Jane Austen in Manhattan” is a charming and engaging film that offers a unique perspective on Jane Austen’s legacy and the theater industry.
It is a must-watch for fans of romantic dramas, theater, and anyone interested in exploring the cultural significance of Jane Austen’s work.
10. Quartet (1981)
“Quartet” is a 1981 film directed by James Ivory and based on the novel of the same name by Jean Rhys. The film tells the story of a group of British expatriates living in Paris in the 1920s, and their complicated relationships with each other.
One of the notable characteristics of the film is its exploration of the themes of love and desire.
The characters are all involved in complex romantic relationships, and the film delves into the emotional dynamics of these relationships with sensitivity and nuance.
The film also explores the tension between the characters’ desire for love and companionship and their desire for independence and freedom.
Another characteristic of the film is its attention to detail and its evocative recreation of the 1920s Parisian setting.
The film uses lush visuals and intricate period costumes to transport the viewer back in time, and the attention to detail helps to create a rich and immersive atmosphere.
Finally, the film is notable for its strong ensemble cast, which includes Maggie Smith, Isabelle Adjani, and Anthony Higgins.
The actors deliver nuanced and powerful performances that help to bring the complex characters and relationships to life on screen.
Overall, “Quartet” is a thoughtful and emotionally complex film that explores the themes of love, desire, and independence with sensitivity and nuance.
Its attention to detail and strong performances make it a memorable and rewarding viewing experience.
11. Heat and Dust (1983)
“Heat and Dust” is a British drama film released in 1983, directed by James Ivory and written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
The film is based on Jhabvala’s own novel of the same name and tells the parallel stories of two women living in India at different times.
The film stars Julie Christie as Anne, a young British woman who travels to India in the 1920s to uncover the truth about her great aunt Olivia’s scandalous affair with an Indian prince.
Greta Scacchi plays Olivia, whose story is told through flashbacks to the 1920s when she too fell in love with an Indian prince (played by Shashi Kapoor).
“Heat and Dust” is praised for its beautiful cinematography and attention to detail in recreating the lush, exotic landscape of India.
The film explores themes of cultural identity, colonialism, and forbidden love, as well as the clash between traditional Indian culture and British colonialism. The performances of Christie, Scacchi, and Kapoor are also widely praised.
The film was a critical and commercial success, winning numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
It is often cited as one of Ivory’s most accomplished films, and a classic of the Merchant Ivory Productions catalog.
12. The Bostonians (1984)
“The Bostonians” is a film directed by James Ivory, released in 1984. It is a romantic drama based on the novel of the same name by Henry James.
The film is set in 19th century Boston and follows the story of Olive Chancellor, played by actress Vanessa Redgrave, a wealthy feminist who becomes infatuated with Verena Tarrant, played by actress Madeleine Potter, a young woman with a talent for public speaking.
Olive sees Verena as a symbol of the feminist movement and tries to convince her to leave her conservative family and join her cause.
However, Verena’s affections are divided between Olive and Basil Ransom, played by actor Christopher Reeve, a charming southern lawyer who opposes Olive’s radical ideas.
As Verena becomes increasingly torn between Olive and Basil, the three characters are forced to confront their conflicting desires and beliefs.
The film explores themes of love, gender roles, and the tensions between tradition and progress in 19th century America.
“The Bostonians” was praised for its elegant and nuanced portrayal of the novel’s complex characters and themes.
The performances of Redgrave, Reeve, and Potter were widely acclaimed, as was the film’s evocative depiction of 19th century Boston and its society.
13. A Room with a View (1985)
“A Room with a View” is a 1985 film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, who together would become one of the most successful filmmaking duos of all time.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster and tells the story of a young Englishwoman named Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham Carter) who travels to Florence, Italy with her older cousin Charlotte Bartlett (played by Maggie Smith) in the early 20th century.
While in Florence, Lucy meets a free-spirited young man named George Emerson (played by Julian Sands), and the two fall in love.
However, Lucy’s strict and traditional upbringing, as well as the interference of her cousin and other well-meaning acquaintances, threaten to keep the couple apart.
“A Room with a View” is known for its lush cinematography, gorgeous costumes, and stunning performances by its ensemble cast. It also explores themes of social class, gender roles, and the struggle between tradition and personal freedom.
The film was a critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards and establishing James Ivory and Ismail Merchant as major figures in the world of independent cinema. “A Room with a View” remains a beloved and enduring classic of romantic drama.
14. Maurice (1987)
Yes, “Maurice” (1987) is a film directed by James Ivory. It is based on the novel of the same name by E. M. Forster and tells the story of a young man named Maurice (played by James Wilby) who struggles with his homosexuality in early 20th-century England.
The film features an impressive cast, including Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, and Denholm Elliott. It was noted for its sensitive portrayal of same-sex relationships at a time when such depictions were rare in mainstream cinema.
“Maurice” was well-received by critics and audiences alike and has since become a cult classic in the LGBTQ+ community.
It is also notable for its exploration of themes such as class, repression, and identity, which are common in Forster’s work.
15. Slaves of New York (1989)
“Slaves of New York” is a 1989 film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. The film is a romantic drama that follows the lives of struggling artists and designers living in New York City in the late 1980s.
Here are three reasons why you should watch “Slaves of New York”:
A glimpse into the New York art scene: “Slaves of New York” offers a fascinating glimpse into the New York art scene of the late 1980s, exploring the struggles and triumphs of struggling artists and designers as they try to make a name for themselves in the competitive world of art.
A strong cast and compelling performances: The film features a strong cast, including Bernadette Peters, Adam Coleman Howard, and Steve Buscemi, who deliver compelling performances as they navigate the ups and downs of life in New York City.
A moving exploration of love and relationships: At its core, “Slaves of New York” is a moving exploration of love and relationships, capturing the joys and sorrows of falling in love, breaking up, and everything in between.
The film’s intimate and honest portrayal of love and relationships resonates with audiences, making it a timeless classic.
Overall, “Slaves of New York” is a captivating and poignant film that offers a unique perspective on the New York art scene and the challenges of love and relationships.
It is a must-watch for fans of romantic dramas, independent cinema, and anyone interested in exploring the complexities of love and human relationships.
16. Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990)
“Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” is a 1990 film directed by James Ivory and based on the novels “Mr. Bridge” and “Mrs. Bridge” by Evan S. Connell.
The film tells the story of a well-to-do couple, played by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, living in Kansas City during the 1930s and 1940s.
One of the notable characteristics of the film is its focus on character development. The film portrays the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Bridge in great detail, exploring their relationships with each other, their children, and their community.
The characters are portrayed with depth and nuance, and the film delves into their inner lives to reveal their hopes, fears, and desires.
Another characteristic of the film is its attention to period detail. The film uses exquisite period costumes and sets to transport the viewer back in time, and the attention to detail helps to create a rich and immersive atmosphere.
Finally, the film is notable for its strong performances, particularly from Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The actors deliver nuanced and powerful performances that help to bring the complex characters and relationships to life on screen.
Overall, “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” is a thoughtful and emotionally complex film that explores the themes of marriage, family, and identity with sensitivity and nuance.
Its attention to character development and period detail, as well as its strong performances, make it a memorable and rewarding viewing experience.
17. Howards End (1992)
“Howards End” is a British drama film released in 1992, directed by James Ivory and based on the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster.
The film stars Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, and Vanessa Redgrave, and tells the story of two families from different social classes in Edwardian England.
The film follows the lives of the intellectual and idealistic Schlegel sisters, Margaret (Emma Thompson) and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter), who become involved with the wealthy and conservative Wilcox family.
When the matriarch of the Wilcox family, Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave), dies, she bequeaths her family home, Howards End, to Margaret, which sets off a chain of events that tests the relationships and values of both families.
“Howards End” is praised for its stunning cinematography, costume design, and attention to period detail, as well as its insightful exploration of class, social norms, and cultural clashes.
The performances of the cast, particularly Thompson and Redgrave, are widely acclaimed, and the film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Thompson.
The film is regarded as one of Ivory’s greatest achievements, and a classic of the Merchant Ivory Productions catalog.
It is also considered one of the best literary adaptations in film history, capturing the essence of Forster’s novel and bringing it to life on screen.
3 Characteristics of James Ivory Films
James Ivory is a renowned film director known for his collaborations with producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Here are three characteristics commonly associated with James Ivory’s films:
Literary Adaptations: Many of Ivory’s films are based on literary works, often from classic or modern authors.
Ivory is known for his careful attention to detail in adapting these works, staying true to the source material while bringing it to life on the screen.
Some of his notable literary adaptations include E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View” and “Howards End,” and Henry James’ “The Bostonians.”
Attention to Character: Ivory’s films are often characterized by their focus on character development and interpersonal relationships.
His characters are complex, often grappling with personal conflicts and social conventions. Ivory allows these characters room to breathe and develop, exploring their inner worlds and motivations.
Historical and Cultural Context: Ivory’s films often explore historical and cultural contexts, immersing the viewer in a particular time and place.
He pays attention to details of dress, language, and setting, creating a richly textured and immersive experience for the viewer. Whether he’s exploring 19th century England or modern-day India, Ivory’s films transport the audience to another world.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch James Ivory Films
Here are three reasons why you should watch films directed by James Ivory:
Masterful storytelling: James Ivory is known for his skillful storytelling, creating complex and nuanced characters and exploring themes such as social class, gender, and culture clashes. His films are often based on classic literature and feature rich dialogue and intricate plots.
Visual elegance: James Ivory’s films are renowned for their visual elegance, with stunning cinematography, beautiful sets, and sumptuous costumes. Whether it’s the sweeping landscapes of “A Room with a View” or the opulent interiors of “The Remains of the Day,” Ivory’s films are a feast for the eyes.
Superb ensemble casts: James Ivory has worked with some of the most talented actors in the business, including Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Maggie Smith. His films feature outstanding performances, often resulting in critical acclaim and awards recognition.
Overall, watching James Ivory’s films is an experience in artful storytelling, breathtaking visuals, and superb acting. His films are both entertaining and thought-provoking, making them a must-see for lovers of cinema.
Best James Ivory Films – Wrapping Up
In summary, James Ivory is a highly respected filmmaker who has made a significant contribution to cinema. Some of his most notable films include:
“A Room with a View” (1985) – a romantic drama based on the novel by E. M. Forster, which explores themes of class, love, and individuality in Edwardian England.
“Maurice” (1987) – a period drama based on the novel by E. M. Forster, which depicts a young man’s struggles with his homosexuality in early 20th-century England.
“Howards End” (1992) – a drama based on the novel by E. M. Forster, which examines class and social relations in Edwardian England.
“The Remains of the Day” (1993) – a drama based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, which explores themes of regret, duty, and repression in pre-World War II England.
“Call Me by Your Name” (2017) – a coming-of-age drama set in 1980s Italy, which depicts the romantic relationship between a 17-year-old boy and a visiting American scholar.
James Ivory’s films are known for their attention to detail, exquisite cinematography, and nuanced performances.
His work often explores themes of love, identity, and social conventions, and his adaptations of classic literature have been particularly well-received. Ivory’s films have won numerous awards and have left an indelible mark on the history of cinema.
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