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A young turn-of-the-century Englishman (James Wilby) struggles with his unconsummated love for his best friend and classmate (Hugh Grant, in his first leading role), in Merchant Ivory's sensitive adaptation of E.M. Forster's posthumously published novel.
Merchant Ivory's adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1914 novel (which was suppressed until after the author's death in 1970) was highly honoured at the Venice Film Festival, where Ivory shared the Silver Lion with Ermanno Olmi and stars James Wilby and Hugh Grant (in his first leading role) were jointly awarded the Best Actor prize. Maurice (Wilby) is a young middle-class man who falls in love with his best friend at Cambridge, Clive Durham (Grant), who returns his love but insists on keeping their relationship platonic, claiming that any physical consummation of their passion would cheapen them. When Clive marries a naïve rich girl under pressure from his mother, Maurice is devastated and falls into a deep cycle of depression. Ignorant of the affections of a clandestine suitor, gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), Maurice pursues hypnosis and even visits a family physician in a futile attempt to "cure" himself of the feelings that his world insists are unnatural. A powerful, pained and candid look at homosexual desire in a particularly unforgiving time and place, Maurice ultimately celebrates the love that can flourish when a person rejects the judgments and constrictions of an intolerant and inhibited society — a stark contrast to the decidedly more pessimistic outlook of The Bostonians.