A Room With a View



9-11 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4 (U.K.)

LONDON -- British writer Andrew Davies, who usually can be relied upon to bring a fresh, new approach to familiar material ("Vanity Fair," "Dr. Zhivago," "Bleak House") is strangely off form in a new version of E.M. Forster's "A Room With a View."

Airing Sunday on ITV1 and destined for PBS, it pales in comparison to the highly regarded Merchant-Ivory film from 1985 even though Davies has added bookends that place the love affair of Lucy Honeychurch in historical perspective.

The film begins in 1922 with Lucy (Elaine Cassidy) arriving at an Italian pensione with a view that is familiar from 10 years earlier, when she first encountered the man who would become the love of her life. A proper young woman, keen to evade fussy chaperone Charlotte Bartlett (Sophie Thompson), Lucy is surrounded by upper-middle-class British stereotypes when she meets the socialist Mr. Emerson (Timothy Spall) and his railway clerk son, George (Rafe Spall).

A stolen kiss and a declaration of love cause scandal, especially when the noisily flamboyant novelist Miss Lavish (Sinead Cusack) fans the flames. In Rome, a diffident young man named Cecil (Laurence Fox) woos her indifferently and she agrees to become engaged. That throws her family and friends into conniptions, and it will take some time before Lucy resolves her wandering passions.

Forster's novel deals with the crumbling manners of imperial society, contrasting polite expectations with the realities of human relationships. Homosexuality is implied but dealt with in a very decorous manner, and Davies does little to improve that.

Cassidy, who was so good in Atom Egoyan's "Felicia's Journey" and in the Channel Four series "Ghost Squad," does all she can with a weak script as Lucy ogles male statuary in Florence and faints on-demand. The male leads don't help. George should show some working-class gumption to account for Lucy's attraction, but Rafe Spall appears spineless and dull. Fox plays the androgynous Cecil, and while he looks the part, he adds very little spark to the role.

There are workmanlike performances from Timothy Spall (Rafe's father) as Mr. Emerson, Cusack as Miss Lavish and Elizabeth McGovern as Lucy's mother. But Thompson's Charlotte simply stammers, and Mark Williams sadly lacks the necessary sauce for the vicar Mr. Beebe.

The film lacks verve, and its location shots are tired. The best thing about the production, in fact, is some sprightly music from reliable French composer Gabriel Yared.

An IWC and WGBH Boston co-production
Executive producers: Sue Oriel, Rebecca Eaton
Producers: Eileen Quinn, Dave Edwards
Director: Nicholas Renton
Writer: Andrew Davies
Director of photography: Alan Almond
Production designer: Jim Grant
Music: Gabriel Yared
Costume designer: Frances Tempest
Editor: Kevin Lester
Lucy Honeychurch: Elaine Cassidy
George Emerson: Rafe Spall
Cecil Vyse: Laurence Fox
Mr. Emerson: Timothy Spall
Charlotte Bartlett: Sophie Thompson
Mr. Beebe: Mark Williams
Mrs. Honeychurch: Elizabeth McGovern
Freddy Honeychurch: Tag Stewart
Miss Lavish: Sinead Cusack
Mrs. Vyse: Christine Kavanagh
Mr. Eager: Timothy West
Paolo: Yari Gugliucci
Miss Alan: Sheila Reid
Fabio: Paolo Malco
Paolo's girlfriend: Alice Bachi