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.


Superb acting and a splendid set evoke class-ridden England just prior to World War I. This is the second of three Forster novels filmed by the Merchant and Ivory team. It seems astonishing that Lady Chatterley's Lover, written in 1928, came fourteen years after Forster's Maurice, inviting speculation on how much D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence may have known of Forster's unpublished novel.

The now discredited disease concept of homosexuality was still relatively new, and patients had worked with doctors to build it. The attempts by the anxious Maurice to "cure" himself with medical help are credible responses in that time and place. The idea that fatherless lads were more susceptible to the "disease" is reflected here: both Maurice and Clive and their chattering sisters, are raised by domineering mothers who maintain respectable, common purpose, despite the social gulf separating them.

The tension of self discovery plays on a literary background of Greek homoeroticism--glorified in academe, criminalized in practice--and it describes the torment of homosexual youth, both then and now, within a society dominated by heterosexuality. Maurice’s family cannot comprehend his refusal to apologize to the Cambridge professors as anything other than willful self-destructiveness, destined to arrest his upward mobility. The association with Alec destabilizes his middle-class existence and pulls him downward.

But in choosing Alec, Maurice places sexual fulfillment above hollow idealism, honesty above condoned lies, and love above social class. In the eyes of his family and friends, the last choice is the greatest crime. And breaking that taboo makes it easier to break all the others.

Perhaps the least credible part of this superb film is its optimistic ending, tempered to poignancy for the audience, if not the characters (or the novelist at the time of writing), by the carnage of the looming war that will claim too many glorious men and flatten the upper class.


Based on the 1914 novel by E.M. Forster, published posthumously in 1971.

Primary Source

DVD Merchant Ivory Collection, The Criterion Collection, Home Vision Entertainment