Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread (Charles Sturridge, 1991) from the novel by Forster; Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Rupert Graves, Helen Mirren, Giovanni Guidelli

Roger Ebert 1992:
E. M. Forster, who did not want any of his novels made into films, would be astonished, no doubt, at the recent Forster movie industry. ... They're all mixtures of the romantic, the atmospheric, and the contemporary; it's fun to observe the folkways of his Edwardian characters, the settings are seductive, and then there's always a twist somewhere near the end that comes uncomfortably close to the way we live now.
Foster was an outsider, a homosexual who did not address that subject in the novels published during his lifetime, and probably stopped writing novels when he found he could no longer ignore such a central aspect of his life. Maurice, which was about homosexuals, was published posthumously. Most of his novels, however, address the alienation he must have felt; his most important characters are strangers in strange lands.
His starting place is the complacent, self-contained world of the Edwardian upper-middle and upper classes. Not royalty, but English people who know who they are, who their families are, and where their money will come from with little effort of their own.
Into these worlds venture outsiders - by class, race, income or ideology - who are first rejected by the English, and then end up changing them in ways that could not have been anticipated. ...
Where Angels Fear to Tread, directed by Charles Sturridge, is rather unconvincing as a story and a movie; Forster had not yet learned to bury his themes completely within the action of a novel, as he does so brilliantly in Howards End. There are also some problems with the casting - especially that of Giovanni Guidelli, who never seems like a real character and is sometimes dangerously close to being a comic Italian. The tug-of-war over the baby is uncomfortably melodramatic, and the whole closing sequence of the movie seems written, not lived.
There are some good things, especially Mirren's widow, tasting passion and love for the first time, and Davis' sister, a prototype for all those dreadnought British spinsters for whom false pride is a virtue, not a sin.

Rita Kempley, Washington Post, 1992:
The hushed, Moroccan-bound reverence of Charles Sturridge's Where Angels Fear to Tread tells us that we have once again arrived in Lord Upthestairs-Downthestairs Allthestairs' wood-paneled library for a knowing contemplation of British literature. Sturridge's faithful adaptation of E.M. Forster's tastefully reproachful first novel reminds us that the English do not travel well in balmier climes, as they are unable to leave their tea-sipping, emotionally parsimonious ways behind.
Sturridge, who also directed the adaptations of Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust, seems less like a driven director than an impersonal subtitler. He takes no liberties with the material; he merely translates the story from page to screen. On the whole, it's rather like reading without the effort of holding the book. For many, this will do quite nicely, thank you. Others will find it all too stranglingly Anglophilic, which is perhaps the point.

GG 2021:
I see the same things in the film the two American critics see, but value them differently. De gustibus non est disputandem — but I shall dispute nevertheless.
Unlike Kempley, I was delighted to watch a film that so closely followed a novel I had just read again and admired. I remembered a good deal of the dialogue that was in the same words that Forster wrote himself. Why should it not be so? The novel is the reason for the film's existence.
Giovanni Guidelli was not miscast as Gino, imho. I happened to have read Ebert's contention before watching the film and was not looking forward to the performance - but found Giudelli to be rather underdoing it if anything. Forster wrote the character as being 'sometimes dangerously close to being a comic Italian'. I think it comes partly from his rather romantic view of Italians: he didn't live there for any length of time, so his view was that of a visitor — and partly from the ideology that he later stated as 'only connect'. Gino is a man who lives in all parts of his being (including the 'beast' and the 'monk') rather than repressing some, as the English characters do. That is why both Philip and Caroline admire - indeed love - him. Forster has to put in quite a bit of work to show such a range of emotional response in his single representative Italian character, and may perhaps have overdone it - but that's not the fault of the film's director, Charles Sturridge. And, yes, the 'tug-of-war over the baby is ... melodramatic, and the whole closing sequence of the movie seems written, not lived', but that's for the very good reason that it was written. It's fiction, Roger, not documentary.
One thing I did have a problem with is that the conversation with Italians (especially Gino) in the novel is understood to be conducted in the Italian language, tho Forster kindly translates it for us. As it's a novel, not a film script, he has the space to make 'editorial' comments about the differences between communicating in the different languages, but the film, having an allowance of fewer words, can only gesture at it by having bits of dialogue spoken in Italian.

References and Links

IMDb page.


Garry Gillard | New: 17 October, 2021 | Now: 18 October, 2021