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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 13:51 GMT
Merchant Ivory's novel ways
The Golden Bowl
The Golden Bowl: Merchant Ivory's most recent lavish adaptation
As Bafta grants film-makers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory a special fellowship, BBC News Online profiles the team behind award-winning classic literary adaptations such as A Room With a View.

In movie-making terms, the partnership of Merchant Ivory has become synonymous with a quality of period drama hard to surpass.

Their most notable films, A Room With a View, Howard's End, Remains of the Day and The Golden Bowl, are remembered as much for being visually sumptuous as rich in acting talent.


Merchant Ivory are amongst Britain's most prolific and respected film-makers

Simon Relph, Bafta chairman

They made stars of British actress Helena Bonham Carter and fuelled interest in the novels of EM Forster and Henry James - on which several are based.

They also earned Merchant and Ivory awards and accolades including two Baftas and six Oscars.

Their latest honour is to be granted a fellowship of Bafta, only the second time a film production team has been honoured in this way.
James Ivory
Ivory acts as the company's director

Bafta chairman Simon Relph said: "Merchant Ivory are amongst Britain's most prolific and respected film-makers and are much loved and appreciated by our community."

Mr Relph might have added that Merchant Ivory Productions is in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest partnership in independent cinema.

Trio

The Merchant Ivory team came together more than 30 years ago and have made more than 40 films.

While their most famous films centre of English characters Merchant and Ivory both hail from overseas.

What is more, this two-man outfit is in fact a collaboration of three, the third of which is a woman, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Merchant: Born in Bombay but lived most of his life in the West

Jhabvala, a Booker Prize-winning novelist and the company's screenwriter, was born in Germany but moved to India after marrying an Indian architect.

Merchant, who produces, was born in India while Ivory, the director, was born in the United States. Their first office was in London but they are now mostly based in New York.

Merchant Ivory Productions began in 1961 with the meeting of the two men - already working as film-makers - en route for the Cannes Film Festival.

They formed a partnership to make English-language features in India for the international market.

Cultures

Looking over Merchant Ivory's catalogue of work, the cultural diversity behind the company is evident in the range of locations and subject matter of its films.

It also becomes clear that the film-makers' skills and interests stretch beyond lavish English dramas.

The clash of cultures is the focus of early films such as Shakespeare Wallah, Heat and Dust - from Jhabvala's Booker Prize winner of the same name - and The Europeans.

A Room With a View
A Room With a View made a star of Helena Bonham Carter

India's past and present is explored in features such as The Householder, Bombay Talkie, and Autobiography of a Princess.

The conflicts and anomie of a modern urban life arise in Quartet, Roseland, and Slaves of New York.

And the struggle for self-discovery is central to The Bostonians, which - after The Europeans - was their second adaptation of a Henry James novel.

Their next literary adaptation was EM Forster's A Room with a View, set in the Florentine countryside and in the well-appointed homes of the English Edwardian upper classes.

Books

The visually stunning romance, starring Helena Bonham Carter, captured the world's attention and went on to win three Oscars.

It also began Merchant Ivory's three-film affair with Forster novels, including Maurice in 1987, starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.

The Remains of the Day
Hopkins and Thompson teamed up again for Remains of the Day

It was followed in 1992 by Howard's End, another triple Oscar-winner starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

Merchant Ivory reunited the two stars in 1993's The Remains of the Day. Based on Kazuo Ishiguro Booker Prize winner, it focus on the touching relationship between a middle-aged and upright butler and housekeeper in 1930s England.

In 2001, Merchant Ivory brought out their most glorious period piece to date, The Golden Bowl starring Uma Thurman.

It is based on James' novel about 19th Century aristocratic seduction and deceit set in Italy and England.

Upcoming releases, including Mystic Masseur from VS Naipaul's Nobel Prize-winning novel, building on Merchant Ivory's skills for adaptation.

Meanwhile, the film-makers' jet-setting between their offices in Bombay, London and Paris keeps their cosmopolitan influences strong.

See also:

07 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Merchant Ivory film outrage
11 Oct 01 | Arts
Naipaul: A singular talent
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