I didn't realize until I saw this version that the 1985 film is so self-consciously stylistic that it ends up being too clever for its own good. In the original, the intonation by the actors is so stilted that the dialogue feels like a series of non sequiturs. Every shot screams, "Look! Look at this gorgeous cinematography!" There isn't much chemistry between the two romantic leads, Daniel Day Lewis reduces Cecil to a tedious cartoon character, and Denholm Elliott overdoes his accent. Julian Sands, though interesting, seems more like a brother from another planet than a thoughtful subversive. In the Merchant-Ivory version, the story and the characters get buried under a layer of heavily vaselined romanticism.
Through this bittersweet remake, I finally saw the story and felt I better understood what Forster was trying to say in his book. You see the Emersons' working-class roots and how they stick out among the more genteel travelers in Florence. You get to really see Cecil as a good but flawed human being. And, most importantly, you see Lucy as a sweet but unsure girl growing into a bright young woman in spite of herself.
Director Renton keeps a light touch and doesn't spend any more time than is necessary on any part of the story. You see a dinner party, you hear a rough voice cut through the chatter, you see Charlotte put on the spot. That's the point of that scene, and it does its job with no extra fanfare. There is no inordinate amount of time spent on playing up some tennis game or skinnydipping episode. No one is allowed to chew the scenery.
As a result, I felt moved by the passion between Lucy and George in a way that I didn't when watching the original. I felt the pain caused by their predicament. The scenes between Lucy and George were more emotionally charged, especially when Lucy has her epiphany. In the 1985 version, every scene between the two leads feels like little more than comic relief.
And yes, I liked the ending in this version. It added gravity to the story and helped me feel the depth of Lucy's love for George. Kudos to Andrew Davies, Nicholas Renton, and especially to Rafe Spall and the beautiful Elaine Cassidy. They all did a brilliant job in bringing a terrific story to life. By the end of this version, I had forgotten all about the original and fell in love with these characters all over again.