It might be tired if produced now, but the 1987 Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster's gay novel — published posthumously — was way ahead of its time.

From 1985 to 1993, the 800-pound gorilla of British costume dramas was the team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Under the Merchant Ivory banner, they adapted the E.M. Forster novels A Room With a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day to no small acclaim. Always lost in the shuffle was View’s immediate follow-up — and Merchant Ivory’s one Forster adaptation not scripted by Jhabvala — 1987’s Maurice. Maurice (James Wilby, in what might have been the Cary Elwes role if Elwes hadn’t been filming The Princess Bride) was a pre-war queerbot who first gets involved with the aristocratic Clive (Hugh Grant), and, after Clive dumps him, grizzled groundskeeper Alec (Rupert Graves).

It’s as handsomely mounted as any of its more beloved brethren, especially in a shiny new 4k restoration, but it’s no mystery why it was largely ignored back in the day. Forbidden love won all the awards when one of the lovers was culturally required to wear a corset, but mutual stubble-snuzzling made the prestige audience feel ooky. (Still does, to an extent.) Maurice would be somewhat tired if made today, but this VHS relic deserves credit for telling a story in the pre-woke era that stuffed shirts on both sides of the screen disapproved of.

Rated R.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.

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