4 Best Movies to Watch by Simon Callow

Staff & contributors

With Howards End, the magic trio of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala converted yet another turn-of-the-19th-century EM Forster novel into exquisite cinematic form. Ravishingly shot and performed to career-best heights by many of its cast, Howards End loses nothing of the elegance we expect from a period drama, and yet it also feels thoroughly modern. The film charts the tragic entwining of three families: the progressive and intellectual middle-class Schlegel sisters, the much more traditionally minded and wealthier Wilcox family, and the Basts, a down-on-their-luck working-class couple. It’s the liberally minded Schlegels who cross the class divide of 1910 London to bring these two distant social circles so close to each other, but it’s the old-world values of the Wilcoxes that make that meeting a tragic one. Simmering with rich emotion and crackling with class politics, Howards End is the crowning glory of the Merchant Ivory powerhouse and the rare perfect period drama.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Ross Magenty, Allie Byrne, Anne Lambton, Anthony Hopkins, Barbara Hicks, Brian Lipson, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Emma Thompson, Gerald Paris, Helena Bonham Carter, James Ivory, James Wilby, Jemma Redgrave, Jo Kendall, Joseph Bennett, Margery Mason, Mark Payton, Mark Tandy, Mary McWilliams, Nicola Duffett, Patricia Lawrence, Peter Cellier, Prunella Scales, Sally Geoghegan, Samuel West, Simon Callow, Susie Lindeman, Vanessa Redgrave

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

It’s bold to make a film about a legendary icon of cinema, but it’s even bolder to make one about Orson Welles. Best known for making Citizen Kane (universally agreed upon as one of the best movies ever made), Orson Welles is the renegade filmmaker whose works and techniques form the foundation of modern narrative filmmaking today. In his eyes, he asserts that the best films are made by accident. However, armed with archival footage and interviews with those closest to Welles, director Morgan Neville dares to question one of cinema’s biggest geniuses by examining the production of his last unfinished film, the Hollywood satire The Other Side of the Wind. While Welles was undeniably genius - able to inscrutably visualize a film without scripts - it’s easy to see how his tendency to stoke conflict for art could be so self-destructive. This film presents Welles as he is - both a cinema maverick and also an overly demanding artistic tyrant.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alan Cumming, Andrés Vicente Gómez, Cameron Mitchell, Cybill Shepherd, Danny Huston, Dennis Hopper, Frank Marshall, Gary Graver, George Stevens Jr., Henry Jaglom, Jeanne Moreau, John Huston, Joseph Cotten, Joseph McBride, Keith Baxter, Michael Fitzgerald, Neil Canton, Norman Foster, Oja Kodar, Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Jason, Rich Little, Robert Random, Simon Callow

Director: Morgan Neville

Rating: TV-MA

A Room with a View is downright beautiful. Amidst the impressionistic scenery of Florence’s and England’s countrysides, paired with iconic classical opera, some of Britain’s best actors bare the feelings of their snobbish, upper-class characters in stylish and historically-accurate costumes. But all of these elements aren’t just silly decorations. Like the novel it’s based on, the characters’ refined and respectable veneer, and their insistence on propriety, is a front that hides the feelings stirring in their gut, particularly that of the lovers George Emerson (Julian Sands) and Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter). Inevitably, these feelings can’t be contained– they can only be examined. And when Emerson earnestly declares his love, it’s so powerful to be seen as one’s self rather than as decoration.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amanda Walker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Fabia Drake, Helena Bonham Carter, Isabella Celani, James Wilby, Joan Henley, Judi Dench, Julian Sands, Kitty Aldridge, Luigi Di Fiore, Maggie Smith, Matyelok Gibbs, Mia Fothergill, Patricia Lawrence, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Cellier, Peter Munt, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: Not Rated

In this romantic drama, James Ivory adapts E.M. Forster's novel Maurice. Set in the early 20th century, Maurice Hall befriends Clive Durham while studying at Cambridge. Clive is rich, handsome, endlessly charming—and in love with Maurice. The two’s relationship blossoms quietly as they steal intimate moments in lush pastures and empty hallways. Fans of Call Me By Your Name will recognize some of the most tender and tense scenes, wherein Clive and Maurice lie together in the grass, surrounded only by weeds and flowers, as if they were the only two lovers left in the world. 

But their love story is stunted and complicated by notions of class and etiquette in an oppressive, conservative England. This is a coming-of-age story in which Maurice must ask himself not only who he is, but also who he wants to become, and how to live an earnest, honest life in the light.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alan Foss, Alan Whybrow, Arthur Whybrow, Barry Foster, Ben Kingsley, Billie Whitelaw, Breffni McKenna, Catherine Rabett, Christopher Hunter, Denholm Elliott, Harriet Thorpe, Helena Bonham Carter, Helena Michell, Hugh Grant, James Wilby, Jean-Marc Barr, John Elmes, Judy Parfitt, Julian Wadham, Kitty Aldridge, Maria Britneva, Mark Payton, Mark Tandy, Matthew Sim, Michael Jenn, Miles Richardson, Olwen Griffiths, Orlando Wells, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Eyre, Philip Fox, Phillada Sewell, Phoebe Nicholls, Richard Warner, Rupert Graves, Serena Gordon, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: R