time warp

Still swooning over ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’? Don’t miss this gay period romance that changed the game

Image Credit: ‘Maurice,’ Merchant-Ivory Productions

Steamy literary adaptation Lady Chatterly’s Lover continues to top Netflix‘s global streaming charts, which tells us one thing: The world is thirsty for some historical romance!

With that in mind, we recently took a trip down memory lane to, well, revisit 2008’s Brideshead Revisited, a period piece notable for bringing its source novel’s queer subtext to the forefront.

But, this week, we wanted to highlight a story from a similar point in history, one that wasn’t afraid to go all the way gay, so to speak.

Originally written in the 1910s, Maurice is a sweeping romance novel from esteemed author E.M. Forster (A Room With A View, Howards End), which wasn’t released until 1971—a year after the writer’s death.

As you can likely guess, Forster held off on publishing Maurice because of the way it candidly discussed homosexuality and man-on-man romance, not to mention the fact that he [SPOILER!] dared to give his gay protagonist a *gasp* happy ending.

Related: The 13 Most Heartbreaking, Romantic Gay Movie Kisses Ever

The novel tells the story of the eponymous young man, Maurice, who has his queer awakening while attending Cambridge, falling for his rich and handsome friend, Clive. The two eventually confess their feelings for one another and begin a passionate romance—albeit one that’s strictly above the belt, out of fear of being ostracized (or worse) at a time of strict social mores.

After their friend is reprimanded for soliciting sex from another man, the star-crossed lovers break things off, officially, and Clive soon marries a young woman. Heartbroken, Maurice struggles to come to terms with his sexuality, and at one point even attempts to hypnotize the gay away.

During one of his visits to Clive’s estate, Maurice eventually catches the eye of gamekeeper Scudder. After hearing that Maurice might be gay, Scudder makes a bold move and climbs into his bed one night, and let’s just say it goes better than you might expect!

The final stretch of the novel details the ups and downs of their clandestine affair. We won’t spoil all of the specifics here, but it’s certainly one of the most romantic and unabashedly gay love stories of its time.

Unlike Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Brideshead Revisited—both of which have been adapted multiple times—there’s really only been one major adaptation of Maurice to date, and that’s likely due to the fact that said adaptation is near perfect.

In 1987, celebrated writer-director James Ivory and his producing partner Ismail Merchant (who was also his domestic partner) brought Maurice to the big screen, following up their successful adaptation of Forster’s A Room With A View, which went on to win three Academy Awards with eight nominations.

Related: Netflix brings an infamously erotic novel to the screen—and doesn’t skimp on the male nudity

British actor James Wilby (Howards End, Gosford Park) starred in the title role, with Rupert Graves as Scudder, reuniting with the director after making his film debut in A Room With A View.

And, in the role of Clive, they cast a young Hugh Grant, who was largely unknown at the time, having starred in only one film prior. The actor’s long been recognized for his dashing good looks and gentlemanly charms, both of which are in full display in Maurice. It’s no surprise that, after this film’s success, he rose to international fame with a number of leading roles in rom-coms.

Image Credit: ‘Maurice,’ Merchant-Ivory Productions

Merchant and Ivory’s Maurice premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where it was warmly received—save for the few critics whose pans were clearly influenced by homophobia, intentional or otherwise. Still, many regarded how well-made the film was, praising Ivory’s direction, as well as the performances that made the careers of all three main actors.

It’s also worth noting that Maurice hit theaters at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late ’80s. With so few positive depictions of gay men in mainstream media at the time, it was truly a groundbreaking leap forward for representation. By not shying away from same-sex desire, gay male intimacy, or even full-frontal nudity, the film was provocative and downright revelatory.

Related: Before Stonewall: 9 must-see queer period pieces set in the mid-20th century

In 2020, a new audiobook of the novel was released, fittingly read by out actor Ben Whishaw (who, perhaps not coincidentally, also starred in 2008’s Brideshead Revisited), but one imagines it’s only a matter of time before another filmmaker decides to take a crack at adapting this seminal novel.

(Surely some producer is just waiting for Heartstopper‘s Kit Conner and/or Joe Locke to age into the roles, right?)

Still, it’s going to be hard to top the romantic masterpiece Merchant-Ivory created. 35 years later, queer audiences are still discovering—and swooning for—Maurice.

Maurice is now streaming for free on Tubi, and for subscribers of Kanopy. The film is also available for digital rental/purchase via Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTubeTV.

Related: The 10 best banned queer books worth adding to your library

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