Eugenia Young, an extremely intelligent and refined American expatriate who, along with her artist brother, has recently returned to her New England family for opportunistic gain.
G W E Friedrich
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Best Costume Design
The film, based on James's 1878 novel but set in 1850, details the return of a brother and sister to the stuffy New England household of their dour uncle. After years living abroad, the two siblings--Eugenia, now a baroness bent on divorcing her husband, and Felix, a bohemian painter--are seen as worldly and sophisticated by their impressionable young cousin Gertrude and as wicked hedonists by their uncle. Their arrival sets off a conflict between Old World and New that ends, characteristically for a Merchant Ivory film, in happiness for some and disillusionment for others.
Ivory had read some of the novels of Henry James back in college at the University of Southern California in the mid-1950s, but it was Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Ivory's German-born co-writer since The Householder (1963) who drew his attention back to the author as a possible source for movie material. "I thought Jim had quite a lot in common with Henry James," she told the New York Times in 2010. "The elegance, for one thing; nobility, for another; extreme attention to people and relationships and the slow and patient way that Jim has, and that Henry James has." She gave Ivory in 1966, telling him James was, in a way, writing for him. Ivory liked the book, and a few years later, the two began to develop the screenplay.
Financing The Europeans did not come easily, however, especially since Merchant-Ivory, although already critically acclaimed for such films as Bombay Talkie (1970) and Roseland (1977), were not yet the bankable international successes they would become after A Room with a View (1985). Bolstered by a recommendation from Henry James biographer Leon Edel, they applied to the National Endowment for the Humanities for partial funding but were turned down when the review panel deemed the book to be one of James's poorest novels. When it became obvious they would get no support from any American source, they turned to England's National Film Finance Corporation. A major commitment from that group then brought in other investors, including a West German television company, but the last-minute withdrawal of one important backer forced Merchant to scramble for funds just as principle photography was beginning. In the end, The Europeans cost about $700,00 to make, and the team was rewarded with their first significant hit both in the U.S. and abroad.
The film was shot on location in New England, partly in Salem, in autumn 1978. The art director, Jeremiah Rusconi, had never worked on a film before. He was a friend of Ivory's who restored old houses, picked by the director because of his familiarity with the style of American period homes. Although he received a British Academy Award nomination for his work, Rusconi has only done one other film, another Merchant Ivory production, Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980).
The Europeans was the second movie on which composer Richard Robbins collaborated with the Merchant Ivory team, and the first for which he handled the music, having acted as Ismail Merchant's assistant on Roseland (1977). Although he received his first motion picture credit for original music, he received particular praise for choosing existing music and arranging it to fit the themes, action, and characters within each scene, including works by Clara Schumann (which he had envisioned even before shooting began) and Stephen Foster. He also played a small uncredited bit in the film, as did Ivory. Robbins has worked on 17 films directed by James Ivory, and received Academy Award nominations for his scoring of two of them: Howard's End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993). He also scored three pictures directed by Ismail Merchant, and three others Merchant produced.
Lee Remick was the first choice for the role of Eugenia, but she initially turned it down. It was then offered to Lynn Redgrave, who decided against it in favor of another project. Remick reportedly called only a month before shooting and agreed to do the role. Despite Remick's considerable skills and presence, many reviews singled out Lisa Eichhorn for her work as Gertrude, the New England girl who throws over her stuffy fiance in favor of the artistic European-raised brother.
The Europeans was nominated for a Best Costume Design Oscar, Best Foreign Film in the Golden Globes, Palme d'or (for James Ivory) at the Cannes Film Festival, and three BAFTA (British) Awards for Costume Design, Production Design, and Supporting Actress (Eichhorn).
Director: James Ivory
Producer: Ismail Merchant
Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by Henry James
Cinematography: Larry Pizer
Editing: Humphrey Dixon
Art Direction: Jeremiah Rusconi
Original Music: Richard Robbins
Cast: Lee Remick (Eugenia Young), Robin Ellis (Robert Acton), Wesley Addy (Mr. Wentworth), Tim Choate (Clifford), Lisa Eichhorn (Gertrude), Tim Woodward (Felix Young).
by Rob Nixon
James, a native New Yorker who died a British subject, frequently explored the push and pull between American and Continental culture in his writings, and these concerns are at The Europeans' core. The story is set in the outreaches of Boston in the 1840s, and deals with the well-to-do Wentworth clan, whose patriarch (Wesley Addy) ensures that the family hews to a drab Yankee gentility. His daughter Gertrude (Lisa Eichhorn) feels a vague dissatisfaction with her lot in life, up to and including a tepid and very proper courtship by the local clergyman, Mr. Brand (Norman Snow).
Into this very staid universe comes a very distracting influence, worldly cousins of the Wentworths who have seen the best and worst that life abroad has to offer, and now show up on the family's doorstep. The beautiful Eugenie (Lee Remick), her marriage to a count all but formally over, is reduced to having to beg for whatever aid is available. Her brother Felix (Tim Woodward) is a gentlemanly bohemian with little prospects beyond what his gifts as an artist can bring. Mr. Wentworth graciously, if cautiously, opens his household to these relations, while dryly forewarning his brood about the dangerous notions that they harbor.
The cousins' insinuation into the lives of the Wentworths and their community drives The Europeans from there on out. Gertrude becomes taken with the charming, aesthetic Felix, and both are faced with the twin challenges of re-routing Mr. Snow's affections and gaining the unimpressed Mr. Wentworth's approval. Eugenie, for her part, flirts with the Wentworths' handsome, eligible neighbor Robert Acton (Robin Ellis). As much as he would like to reciprocate, Acton finds the artifices of her attentions more off-putting then enticing.
Considering that the budget of the Massachusetts/New Hampshire location shooting came in at a cost of only $700,000, the amount of the painstaking period detail in the film's costumes and sets becomes all the more striking. Cinematographer Larry Pizer rendered those details vividly, and did no less with the beautiful autumn tones of the film's exteriors. Merchant and Ivory's perennial screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, did a skillful job of transferring James' social observance and dry humor from page to screen, just as she would go on to do for the team's adaptations of The Bostonians (1984) and The Golden Bowl (2001).
The very able cast properly underplays the material, with the radiant Remick doing some of the most delicate work of her career, and Addy often wryly amusing as the impossibly stolid father. Note must be made of the contributions of composer Richard Robbins, who underscored the culture clashes of the narrative by juxtaposing Schumann, Schubert and Verdi with Stephen Foster quadrilles.
Criterion turned in its usual impeccable job in crafting the package. The mastering was done from a new digital transfer that does justice to the vibrancy of Pizer's autumnal vistas, and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The extras include 15 minutes of new interviews with Ivory, Merchant, Jhabvala, and Robbins. Amongst its revelations, Ivory discloses that while James' story was set over a spring and summer, the availability of cast and financing dictated a fall shoot. Also included is Sweet Sounds (1976), a 29-minute short directed by Robbins under Merchant/Ivory's aegis that follows the young students at New York's Mannes College of Music. Further, the disc offers the film's original theatrical trailer, as well as those for Criterion's other recent Merchant/Ivory releases, The Bostonians and Maurice (1987).
For more information about The Europeans, visit Home Vision. To order The Europeans, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jay S. Steinberg
The United Kingdom
Released in United States 1979
Released in United States June 15, 1990
Re-released in United States on Video October 24, 2000
Shown at New York Film Festival September-October 1979.
Formerly distributed in USA on video by Connoisseur Video and later by Vestron Video.
Released in United States 1979
Released in United States 1979 (Shown at New York Film Festival September-October 1979.)
Released in United States June 15, 1990 (Shown as part of the series "The Films of Merchant Ivory" Los Angeles, June 15, 1990.)
Re-released in United States on Video October 24, 2000
Released in USA on video.