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Ismail Merchant and James Ivory

Ismail Merchant and James Ivory

For five decades, the name Merchant Ivory has been an imprimatur signaling a certain type of quality cinema: literate, sumptuous, classical. But the more than fifty films made by the production team named for Ismail Merchant and James Ivory are distinguished by more than just their glossiness: multivalent, morally complex, and inquisitive, these works, shot all over the world (from Delhi to Paris to New England), are stories of class and of social change, of cultures divided and clashing. Merchant and Ivory (born in Bombay and Berkeley, respectively) met in 1961 and became partners in life and in work shortly thereafter; their company was founded with the idea of making English-language features (directed by Ivory, produced by Merchant) in India for the international market. These first films include The Householder (1963), based on the book by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the adaptation herself and instantly became an integral part of the company, and Shakespeare Wallah (1965). Soon, Merchant Ivory was shooting films in England, the United States, and elsewhere. Over the years, they have adapted novels by such writers as Henry James, E. M. Forster, and Kazuo Ishiguro into sophisticated works in their own right—their multiple-Oscar-winning Howards End (1992) is often considered their artistic pinnacle. Merchant died in 2005, but Ivory has kept the company going; The City of Your Final Destination, released in 2010, was the first “posthumous” Merchant Ivory film.