James Wilby

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Young Maurice Hall (James Wilby) is instructed in the facts of life by his well-intentioned teacher (Simon Callow), who warns the fatherless child never to speak of it to his mother or sisters. The boy says that he will never marry; the teacher promises that he will.

Years later, Maurice is at Cambridge, silent, prudish, inexperienced, adhering to his teacher’s wisdom, until he finds himself falling in love with the young aristocrat, Clive Durham (Hugh Grant). When they realize that their affection is mutual, Maurice loses direction as a scholar, skips classes and chapel. He is "sent down" with no hope of return unless he apologizes, which he refuses to do. For his part, Clive acknowledges the powerful sexual feelings, but will not act on them, conscious of the ruin that will befall him and his family if the relations are discovered. He hopes for a life managing his family estate and a career in politics. Platonic love between men is best, he says.

Middle-class Maurice goes into banking and earns a respectable living without a degree. Clive completes his studies and assumes the family estate, but when he decides to marry a woman whom he met in Greece, Maurice is devastated at his own loss and at the monstrous lie that Clive is willing to live.

Perhaps, Maurice wonders, the "love that dare not speak its name" is a disease. He seeks medical advice from the old family friend Dr. Barry (Denholm Elliott) who misunderstands his problem as venereal infection, which he cheerfully offers to treat; however, when Maurice bravely persists by confessing his unnatural longings--on which he still has yet to act--the doctor responds with anger and revulsion. Maurice then consults a sympathetic hypnotist (Ben Kingsley) who tries to cure him; finding the patient resistant, he suggests emigration to a country more accepting of his "kind."

A frequent guest in the strange Durham household, Maurice likes Clive’s vapid wife, sensing without certainty that the marriage is celibate. He falls in love with their gamekeeper, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), a deeply intelligent rustic, bound to quit domestic service and Old England for Argentina. Smitten with passion, they conduct a one-night affair. Simultaneously, however, they are wracked with fear: Maurice fully expects Alec to blackmail him; Alec fully expects Maurice to reject him for not being a gentleman. Society makes it nearly impossible for them to trust each other.

Maurice confronts Clive to say goodbye, choosing identity over social approbation, education, wealth, and privilege.

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The film opens with a bird's-eye sweep over the frieze of a post-engagement battlefield--mud, strewn with bodies and shards of machinery, all iron grey and relieved only by rare patches of crimson blood. Psychiatrist William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) treats shell-shocked soldiers in the converted Craiglockhart Manor. He is obliged to admit the poet and decorated war hero, Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), because his military superiors prefer to label the much-loved Sassoon's public criticism of the war as insanity rather than treason. Rivers is supposed to "cure" the very sane poet of his anti-war sentiments.

At the hospital, Sassoon meets another poet, Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce), equally horrified by the war although he, like Sassoon, believes himself not to be a pacifist. A secondary plot is devoted to the mute officer Billy Pryor (Jonny Lee Miller) who recovers his speech, his memories, and a small portion of his self-respect through the patience of his doctor and his lover, Sarah (Tanya Allen). Vignettes of other personal horrors and the brutal psychological wounds they have caused are presented with riveting flashbacks to the ugly trenches. Sassoon, Owen, and Pryor return to active service. The film closes with a dismal scene of Owen's dead body lying in a trench.

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