Besides being made in the same year, “A Room with a View” and “My Beautiful Launderette” have nothing in common. Nothing, that is, except Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis has gained incredible recognition in the acting and film community and is most likely to take home the Oscar for Best Actor this Sunday for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” He is known for his intense style of method acting where he will not break character, even off camera, which can amuse and sometimes annoy fellow crewmembers. His method seems to work, however, as he has taken home numerous awards for his roles and can be extremely selective. The 1985 films, “A Room with a View” and “My Beautiful Launderette” were some of his first and show not only the range of Day-Lewis but also the range of the 1980s.
“A Room with a View” is the story of a young lady in the early 1900s who goes to Italy and falls in love. The story sounds simple, but the cast and writing is impeccable and creates a film worth watching. Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) travels with her aunt (Maggie Smith) and ends up meeting people that her elders would not consider “proper” but that she feels a strange pull towards. After coming home, she is surprised to find that the Emersons, a father and son whom she met in Italy, have leased a home close to hers. The son is of particular interest as he kissed her in a field in Italy but she refuses to accept her attraction to him as he would not be approved of by her society. Therefore, she accepts the proposal of Cecil Vyse, none other than Day-Lewis. Vyse is an uptight, upper class Englishman who “has no profession” and spends his days indoors reading books or outdoors watching people have fun. Monacle-wearing with a highbrow English accent, Cecil is everything that George Emerson isn’t. Spoiler alert, in the end Lucy decides to dump Cecil and be with George; however, it never feels like wholly her decision. She decides to marry Cecil because
her family will approve and she decides to marry George because George tells her how she should feel about him and about life. In fact, when breaking up with Cecil, Lucy uses George’s speech word for word. So, rather than being a film about free love, it is a film about restricted love and how love is restricted in different ways.
Day-Lewis’ character in “A Room with a View” represents this restrictedness of society, always shown in contrast with the skinny-dipping, tennis playing, passionate George. Cut to “My Beautiful Launderette,” where Day-Lewis becomes a blond, cockney, gay hooligan who owns a launderette with his lover. “My Beautiful Launderette” is the story of British Indians who are struggling over money and societal norms. It is also a story about two lovers. It is also a story about marriage, and also drugs and the law. Frankly, it is a story that doesn’t quite know what it’s about. Omar decides to ignore his ill father’s wishes for him to go to college and instead buys a launderette that he believes he can make wonderful. After getting the money to spruce it up from selling drugs for his uncle, he opens his business and is an immediate success. At the same time, his other uncle wants him to marry his daughter and he agrees, which makes Johnny (Day-Lewis), the co-owner of the Launderette, jealous. The two have a falling out over multiple things at the same time that Omar has to get the money to pay back his uncle and that his other uncle’s affair is over. Like I said, it’s a movie about a lot of things at once. Without really a beginning or an end, the movie has a strange fluidity and rawness that is both attractive and disconcerting. It’s a strange movie to watch and it makes you feel strange afterwards.
Day-Lewis received acknowledgement for both of these supporting roles and it’s clear why, as each character was fully developed, believable and entertaining. Not only that, they truly supported the story and did exactly what a supporting character should, which is a credit to both the writing and the acting of the two stories. It truly shows Day-Lewis’ amazing versatility, jumping from two starkly contrasting roles in the same year and performing well enough to win awards for each. It’s no wonder that he succeeded with “Lincoln” having now practiced his craft for over 40 years and having started off so strong. So watch “A Room with a View” because it’s excellent, and though “My Beautiful Launderette” isn’t for everyone, if you want to see a great performance it can be worth it. If you have the time, you should watch them together, keeping in mind the brilliant support that Day-Lewis brings to each.