At 93, the Merchant Ivory director – and oldest ever Oscar winner – reflects on enduring love, delighting in his sexuality and defying film-making expectations
James Ivory’s movies revel in the elegance of the swan and simultaneously show how frantically its feet are paddling beneath the water. In the films for which he is best known – 1985’s A Room With a View, 1987’s Maurice, 1992’s Howards End and 1993’s The Remains of the Day, a fraction of his output – we see the effort put into making those rooms look so beautiful; the human cost of controlling your emotions. Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) pretending to clean his spectacles after Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) breaks their engagement in A Room With a View; Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) looking at Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) as she takes the book out of his hand: Ivory knows that an ocean of emotions can be contained in the smallest gesture.
Ivory, 93, spends most of his time in his 6,000-sq ft home in the Hudson Valley, but when he’s in Manhattan, he stays in the Upper East Side apartment he’s had for the past half-century. He shared it with his partner, Ismail Merchant, who produced his movies, while Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote most of them, lived downstairs. But Merchant died in 2005 and Jhabvala died in 2013, so now it is just Ivory on his own. When he welcomes me inside on an unseasonably warm October day, he is chipper and bright: “This weather is wonderful, it’s like Los Angeles,” he smiles. He is, as usual, very busy.