Extract from Teacher's Commentary​

SEQUENCE 1
THE ROOMS
Let the film roll until Miss Catherine looks at herself in the mirror

The initial impression made by this film on the audience is one of gentility and of an age that is past. The Puccini aria adds to the gracefulness of the titles. We are given the two major settings for the action, Florence and England. The scene is set for a costume drama in a refined world of genteel taste. The fanciful nature of the figures in the titles suggests that the tone of the film will be light.

Puccini is associated with Florence. In the opera Gianni Schicchi, "O Mio Babbino Caro" is sung by Lauretta to her father. She is trying to ensure the happiness of herself and her young lover, Rinuccio. Eventually they overcome those who would thwart their love and look forward to a happy life together. The other aria used in this film, in the picnic sequence, "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" is from Puccini’s La Rondine. It is sung when a poet tells the story of Doretta, who refuses a king’s gold because it would not bring her true happiness. Not sure how to end the story, he takes advice from Magda, his hostess, who suggests a romantic ending, in which Doretta experiences all that she had expected of love when she is kissed by a handsome young student. Both of these arias reflect the situation that Lucy finds herself in this film. Society would impose its morals and etiquette on her, and have her restrain her natural impulses to a degree that would annihilate them altogether. She has in her a strong tendency to the romantic that has to be repressed in order to conform to the wishes of those around her. In a field of barley on the hills of Fiesole, outside Florence, she is kissed by George, and she cannot shake off the memory of that moment, even when she returns to England and is engaged to another. From the moment of her faint in the Piazza Signoria, George is convinced that something has happened between them. He moves as if to kiss Lucy, as they lean over the wall of the Lungarno. Lucy refuses to allow her feelings to emerge, and prattles on in a series of platitudes, worrying about the impropriety of a young girl being abroad in a city without a chaperone. Her emotional awakening will take her on a journey that will show her the foolishness of giving in to the wishes of others to the detriment of her own emotional life, and she, like Doretta will experience the full joys of love.

The use of shot-reverse-shot in the opening scene highlights the disappointment of the two ladies. The view from the window is anything but spectacular. The upward angle of the camera highlights this reaction as Charlotte, in particular, turns her nose up at this less than satisfactory arrangement by the Signora.

As they enter the dining room, the ladies are greeted with a silence and are subjected to close scrutiny by the other diners, Miss Lavish, in particular.

The latter continues from where she obviously left off, as the ladies entered, in a bombastic tone. She has very definite theories on how one should experience Italy. Not for her the safe visits advised by the tourist guides. She would experience the ‘real’ Italy.

Mr Emerson is not in the least interested in what she has to say. He himself is a free-thinker, as soon becomes clear, and would have much in common with Miss Lavish in her approach to travel, were there more substance behind her façade. He turns for diversion to a discussion of the ill effects of lemonade on the stomach of Miss Pole, at another table. Touching on so delicate a topic as this brings an embarrassed giggle from Miss Catherine Alan, and indicates the Mr Emerson is one to speak his mind with little regard for the social graces or polite conventions of the other residents of the Pensione Bertolini. He responds warmly to Miss Alan’s reference to the beautiful cornflowers of Monte Reggiano, though.

This disregard for stuffy conventions re-emerges when Mr Emerson realises that the ladies have been denied a view by the unsatisfactory arrangements of the Signora. He states his case for swapping rooms with a simple logic that needs no further persuasive argument, in the view of his son, George. Charlotte is so disturbed by this unaccustomed familiarity, and so bound up by conventions and etiquette, that she refuses her dessert of prunes, and leaves the table to recover herself.

Charlotte had not allowed Lucy to offer any opinion in the dining room. On the red chairs of the drawing room, though, she will express her emotions and be heard. She had deferred to Charlotte’s seniority in company at the table, but, in the drawing room, she speaks her disapproval of Charlotte’s handling of Mr Emerson’s offer. She is capable of seeing through the social gaucheness of Mr Emerson and recognising the inherent goodness of the offer of the rooms. The Miss Alans commiserate with the suffering Charlotte, but Miss Catherine, like Lucy, can recognise that something ‘indelicate’ can be ‘beautiful’. Mr Beebe, a civilised and enlightened man, comes to the rescue, seeing a compromise between the overly etiquette- conscious Charlotte and the naive Mr Emerson.

George relishes the opportunity to shock Charlotte further with his reference to his father taking a bath. Lucy has to suppress a smile of complicity at her cousin’s reaction to this tongue-in-cheek remark.

There is little in the behaviour of Charlotte in denying Lucy the bigger of the two rooms, on the grounds that it had been used by George, to suggest that she is anything other than a prig, with little experience of the ways of the world outside her own narrow, ‘civilised’ circle.

George again delights in puzzling Charlotte by re-entering his former room to put the picture, with his question mark on the back of it, the right way around. He had arranged his food to form the same figure in the dining room when Lucy was at his table. He is a quiet young man looking for answers, and failing to find them in the rigid confines of this class of English people.

Next morning we have a reprise of the opening shot as Lucy throws open the casements. She embraces the romance of Florence and its promise of life and adventure. The theme of openness and being open to experiences is behind this repetition in the action. There is a touch of irony in Charlotte’s remark that the better part of the day will be gone if Lucy does not seize the opportunity.

Miss Catherine Alan had enthused about cornflowers at table, and now the Emersons show how removed they are from the priggishness of Charlotte and take delight in decorating her room with this very flower, paying scant regard to the niceties of men being in women’s rooms and vice versa. These cornflowers and the colour blue become a recurring pattern in the imagery of the early part of the film. They constitute a leitmotif that is associated with romance and the freedom to express one’s emotions.

In the next scene Lucy is dressed in cool blue while the composition is bathed in the passionate reds of the drawing room, as she plays Beethoven on the piano. Mr Beebe is enthralled by the performance, and intrigued that one as self-controlled as Lucy can give herself to the exhilaration of a Beethoven piece. Lucy reveals that her mother does not approve of such indulgences, because of the way his music affects her temperament. Miss Catherine can relate to the playing and the romance that it promises. Herself and Lucy bump into each other in the doorway and one has the sense that they may be reflections of each other at either end of the spectrum of life’s course. When Miss Catherine looks in the mirror, she sees the flowers in her hair, a sight that strikes Mr Beebe as being somewhat incongruous. We also see a bunch of red flowers that match the furniture of the room and suggest passion.

Lucy’s independence of mind and willingness to try new experiences is indicated in her intention of taking a walk unchaperoned.

Extract from Student's Guide: 

STAGE ONE

SEQUENCE 1
THE ROOMS
Read the following questions and then let the film roll until Miss Catherine looks at herself in the mirror

What expectations have you of this film after the title sequence? How does the music add to these expectations? How would you describe the style of the titles?

Find out what you can about the aria “O Mio Babbino Caro”, from Gianni Schicchi, by Puccini.

What is the first action of the film? Why are the two ladies disappointed? What are your first impressions of Charlotte? How are these impressions formed?

How are the ladies received when they enter the dining room? Give specific examples. How would you describe the atmosphere in the room?

How should a tourist see Italy, according to Miss Lavish? What do George and Mr Emerson think of her speech about Italian culture?

Why does Miss Catherine Alan giggle as Mr Emerson talks to Miss Pole? Why did he address her in the first place?

What fascinated Miss Alan most about Monte Reggiano? How does Mr Emerson respond to her? . . . to Miss Lavish?

Why does Charlotte refuse the offer of Mr Emerson? Why does he make the offer? What do you think of the offer? How does George regard it? What aspects of Mr Emerson’s personality make him different from the others in the Bertolini?

In the drawing room Lucy speaks up for herself. Why did she not do so in the dining room? What is her opinion of Charlotte’s behaviour? What did the Miss Alans think of the behaviour of Mr Emerson? Are they of one mind? How is the situation resolved? What kind of a man is Mr Beebe? Is Lucy happy with his handling of the affair? Is Charlotte?

Why does George refer to his father having a bath? How does Charlotte respond to this answer? How does Lucy treat it?

Why does Charlotte take the larger room? Do you agree that she is a “woman of the world”? What impressions of her have you formed in these opening scenes?

Why does George return to the room after the ladies have moved in? What kind of a character is he? What is Lucy’s first action next morning when she rises from bed? Why would a director or screenwriter have action repeated in this way? What do you think of the view of Florence?

Why are the Emersons in the Miss Alans’ room? What does Miss Catherine think of this act of kindness? What kind of people are the Emersons?

Freeze the frame as Mr Beebe says “It will be very exciting for us and for her!” What are the main colours in the composition? Does the colour scheme connect with anything else in the sequence?

Why does Mrs Honeychurch not like Lucy to play Beethoven? What surprises Mr Beebe about Lucy’s decision to go out for a walk? What does this indicate about Lucy’s personality?

How does Miss Catherine describe Lucy’s music? What have herself and Lucy in common? What does she see in the mirror? What did she see in the doorway as she entered the room? What might the colours red and blue stand for?

STAGE TWO
Re-reading in a prescribed mode
ORDINARY & HIGHER LEVELS - COMPARATIVE MODES:
SOCIAL SETTING/CULTURAL CONTEXT

This mode refers to the world of the text:
- what kind of people live in this world?
- what sense of place is built up and how is this achieved?
- in what period of history is it set (time)?
To re-read the film in this mode you should choose a number of key moments - scenes or sequences that feature the world that Lucy lived in. You need to examine the power structures, attitude and values, rituals and customs of the people who inhabit this world. There are two worlds presented to us in this film - the common-sense world of England and its strict class structure and manners, and the romantic world of Italy and all the art and romance associated with it.

* Compare and contrast the two worlds in this film under various headings, e.g. people, wealth/poverty, manners, lifestyle, buildings etc.

* Make a list of the characters you would associate with the terms ‘England’ and ‘Italy’, as they are used above.

* Make note of the people that move between the two worlds. Ask yourself how do they do this and why. What effect has each world on them?

* Make a selection of five key moments or groups of scenes, that feature the different aspects of these two worlds.

* Consult the notes you wrote in your Response Journal for the scenes you have chosen.

* Now answer all the questions in Stage One that relate to the social setting in these scenes.

* People:
For each of the worlds ask yourself additional questions like:
Who has power in this in society, in the family?
How is this power used?
What values do the people of this world see as important?
What is the role of religion in this world?
Is there a class system operating in this world? How does it show itself?
What is the attitude of the characters in this scene to work and leisure?
What is it like to be a child, a woman, a man in this world?
What rituals and customs have the people in each world?
- How do they behave when they gather together?
- How do they dress?
- How do they behave towards each other?
* Place:
What effect has the setting on people’s behaviour in this scene? Important locations for this mode are:
- Summer Street and Windy Corner, the Honeychurch’s house
- The Sacred Lake
- Florence and the Piazza Signoria
- Mrs Vyse’s home
* Time:
In the key moments you have chosen what indications are there of the period in which the action is set?
* Imagery:
How is the mise en scène, camera, sound and editing used to get the world of the film across to us?
How are we, the audience, positioned by the camerawork and sound to view the people of this world?
Does the setting work on a symbolic level in this sequence?
Do any of the props take on a symbolic role in this scene?
How is the lighting used in this scene?