E.M. Foster’s brilliant study of the clash of cultures begins when the widowed Lilia Herriton (Helen Mirren) is packed off to Italy in an effort to keep her out of mischief and perhaps to effect an improvement of her mind. Her suspicious English in-laws, however, are soon shocked to learn that she has done more than acquire a little culture – she has fallen in love with an impoverished Italian several years her junior.
Mrs Herriton (Barbara Jefford) dispatches her son, Philip (Rupert Graves) to the small Tuscan town of Monteriano to defend the family name and bring the defiant Lilia to her senses – but it is already too late. Lilia and Gino (Giovanni Guidelli), the handsome twenty-one-year old son of the local dentist, were married as soon as they knew Philip was on his way.
The tug-of-war which follows, first to bring Lilia home again and then to bring her baby back to England, becomes a struggle both comic and tragic. But for Philip and Lilia’s sister-in-law (Judy Davis) and for her friend Caroline (Helena Bonham Carter) the atmosphere of Italy works its inevitable magic. In true Forsterian style the prim and snobbish English are themselves transformed are arrive at a new awareness of a more passionate and heartfelt way of life.