James Ivory has been responsible for some of the more critically-acclaimed, and commercially successful, British films of recent years. But the "Merchant-Ivory film" has become almost an entirely predictable event: a gentle trawl through middle-class mores, with some sumptuous scenery, pretty costumes and a recognisable repertory company - from the much-lauded Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins and Simon Callow to the perennially-typecast Helena Bonham-Carter and Rupert Graves.
Such is the success of the formula, that other British period films seem to seamlessly blend into the Merchant-Ivory canon: Charles Sturridge's A Handful of Dust; Pat O'Connor's A Month in the Country, and Richard Attenborough's Shadowlands all have familiar faces and literary landscapes. As if to rescue American-born Ivory - not to mention his Indian-born collaborator Ismail Merchant and their Polish/German/ Jewish stalwart screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - from the quintessentially English mire, the Institut Francais has chosen him as one of their featured artists for its January-February film season.
The classic English adaptations are on offer - Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning study of emotional repression, The Remains of the Day, and his Forster trilogy A Room With a View, Maurice, and Howards End. But the French connection is on view too: Quartet, an adaptation of a Jean Rhys novel set in 1920s Paris, and starring Isabelle Adjani and Maggie Smith; the disappointing Jefferson in Paris, with Nick Nolte and Greta Scacchi, and the recently-released Surviving Picasso, with that man Hopkins in the title role. The season begins this Wednesday with a screening of Shakespeare-Wallah, an early Ivory tale of a troupe of English travelling players in India, with Felicity Kendal.
However, if that's too much like encasing your upper-lip in cement, the other artist in focus during the Institut's current season may be an antidote: the actor who was "Monsieur France", Jean Gabin. Highlights include the film noirs of his 1930s doom- laden heyday - Pepe le Moko, La Bete Humaine, and Le Quai des Brumes - as well as later gems such as Jean Renoir's French CanCan.
Institut Francais, 17 Queensberry Place, London, SW7 (0171-838 2146), from Wed to 28 Feb.Reuse content