The British Film Institute (BFI)’s new Blu-ray release of James Ivory’s film Maurice (1987), starring Hugh Grant, James Wilby and Rupert Graves, includes a newly commissioned audio commentary by Professor Claire Monk (Balliol 1983).
A scholar of British cinema and its cultural, political and reception contexts, Claire Monk is Professor of Film and Film Culture in the Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI) at De Montfort University. She is particularly known in her field as an expert on ‘heritage’ period films since the 1980s, and for her role in shifting the terms of debate around these (which, in the context of the Thatcher era’s culture wars, became highly polarised) to raise questions of gender, sexuality, cultural value, and actual (rather than conjectured) audience reception. Her recent work explores fan practices around the films alongside the more traditional film-history methods of archival production studies.
Within these interests, Professor Monk is an authority on the films of James Ivory and the Merchant Ivory Productions partnership, including their renowned literary adaptations from the novels of E.M. Forster. Of these, Maurice – adapted from Forster’s posthumously published, and initially denigrated, gay novel in the mid-1980s, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis – remained for many years the most underrated and least-known, but is today recognised as ‘a landmark film as important as any in the history of gay cinema’ (BFI, 2018).
Her role in the BFI’s new Blu-ray edition of Maurice draws on 20 years of evolving scholarship, during which she has written about the complexities of the film’s reception, both at the time of its release and as still unfolding in the 21st century. In 2016, she enjoyed the additional (and revelatory) opportunity of researching in James Ivory’s production archives at the University of Oregon. The film’s journey towards the BFI release began in 2017 when Maurice was digitally restored for it 30th anniversary by the Cohen Media Group in the USA. The restoration premiered at the 2017 Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival), followed by a US big-screen release, then Cohen’s release of the restoration on US Blu-ray in Autumn 2017, and was eventually released in UK cinemas by the BFI in 2018.
The BFI’s 2019 Blu-ray release brings the new restoration, Maurice’s deleted scenes, and the film itself to UK Blu-ray for the very first time. As well as Claire Monk’s full-film commentary, the edition’s extras include her new commentary on the deleted scenes, and a booklet including an interview by her with the lead actor, James Wilby (which was also part of Cohen’s US release).
Professor Monk describes the release as ‘a very special release of a very special film which (for complex reasons) has been a long time coming home to the UK’; and, she says, ‘I’m thrilled, and beyond proud, that quite a few of the extras are by me!’
You can read more about Professor Monk’s work in this 2013 interview.