Who would not want to read the memoirs of the surviving half of the legendary filmmaking couple Ismail Merchant and James Ivory? Their works – many of which involved collaboration with the screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – not only span half a century but also, in the 1980s and early 1990s, came to define a certain English cinema aesthetic and type of self-regard. The films may have seemed in tune with many aspects of the social conservatism that emerged at the time, but they also, in their questioning of hierarchy and status, contested many others.
Since the death of the younger of the pair, the Indian-born Merchant, in 2005 at the age of sixty-eight, Ivory has made a relatively small number of films, which have had smaller releases and less impact than those made by Merchant Ivory at its peak. But the Oscar he won in 2018 for his screenplay for Call Me by Your Name, based on André Aciman’s novel of the same title, shows that Ivory’s traditional approach to storytelling and the careful theatricality deployed to realise it remain appealing to many in the film industry. It will surprise some, however, to learn from the account given here that Ivory’s collaboration on Call Me by Your Name with the Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino was no picnic, and that Ivory was originally employed not only as screenwriter but as co-director too.
Ivory’s memoir suggests that the ease with which he and Merchant worked together was not matched in other collaborations. He rails against Guadagnino and Call Me by Your Name’s French producer, Emilie Georges, for unceremoniously dumping him as co-director after one day on set and records how he came