From the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, the partnership of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala produced a series of widely lauded literary adaptations. There were times when Merchant Ivory films were unfairly derided as Oscar bait, but in recent years, their critical reputation has soared. The legacy of the brand is even undergoing something of a revival, with Ivory winning an Oscar this year for his screenplay for Call Me by Your Name and Jhabvala being saluted this week with a career retrospective at the Quad in New York. Now Merchant Ivory aficionados have yet more to celebrate: Ivory, who will be appearing at select screenings at the Quad to discuss Jhabvala's work, has signed on to adapt her last short story, and Alexander Payne will be directing.
Jhabvala’s story “The Judge’s Will” appeared in the March 25, 2013 issue of the New Yorker, one week before she died. Later that year, Payne (Election, Downsizing) acquired the rights to the story of an ailing judge who tells his young wife that he wants his mistress taken care of after he’s gone. According to Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr., Payne has approached Ivory with the idea of shifting the setting from Delhi to Chicago, and Ivory tells Fleming that Jhabvala would have approved. “It’s a universal enough premise,” he says. “The family, needing to take care of the mistress, to worry about her, that seems a very Ruth way of looking at things.”
For more on the lives and working relationship of Merchant, Ivory, and Jhabvala, see Fariha Róisín’s appreciation at Hazlitt, where she notes that Merchant, who died in 2005, once told the Times of London: “It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory. I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!”
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