In A Room with a View, Forster's didactic side is irrepressible and insistent on teaching that God is in the pleasures of the flesh, that religion errs when it banishes the body from the realm of the holy, and that the only correct response to desire is to act upon it.
"Passion is sanity," admonishes old Mr. Emerson, and "love is of the body. . . . Ah! for a little directness to liberate the soul!"
Mr. Emerson's words succeed in "robb[ing] the body of its taint," and his version of reality thereby prevails over that of poor, likable Reverend Mr. Beebe, who agrees to help Lucy because of his "belief in celibacy" and his determination that, by "plac[ing] [Lucy] out of danger until she could confirm her resolution of virginity," he is helping "not only Lucy, but religion also."
Mr. Beebe's soul shall not be liberated, not in A Room with a View.
Not when Lucy runs off with George Emerson after finally grasping "the holiness of direct desire." Sex with George in the loving context of matrimony is a sacred imperative to E.M. Forster.
To Merchant and Ivory, it's little more than an opportunity for an orgasm. Gone from the film's dialogue are Mr. Emerson's references to the holy-carnal. (Indeed, the film splits up his critical interview with Lucy, having Mr. Emerson spend half the time speaking to Lucy's spinster cousin, Charlotte, a prude on whom such a sermon would have been wasted.) Nor does the film include any inkling of Mr. Beebe's religious abstinence. As for "the holiness of direct desire," all we get is the genial approbation of sexual longing acknowledged and acted upon in a socially responsible way. In place of the ecstasy and rapture of Saint Theresa, we get Dr. Ruth. Superficially persuasive, perhaps, but not what Forster wrote.
In a moment of irony, the film includes a quote of something Forster did write: "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes." Possibly Merchant and Ivory felt that makers of costume dramas are exempted from this wisdom. To the contrary: new clothes often signal new values. And while it might seem easy to understand the cut of an Edwardian dress, it may be less difficult to comprehend that a modern, sexual-health marriage doesn't fit inside it.
(Image of Helena Bonham-Carter in the Merchant-Ivory film version of A Room with a View from Duke University's website)