Merchant Ivory Productions

Merchant Ivory Productions is a film company founded in 1961 by producer Ismail Merchant (1936–2005) and director James Ivory (b. 1928). Merchant and Ivory were a couple from 1961 until Merchant's death in 2005. During their time together they made 44 films. The films were for the most part produced by Merchant and directed by Ivory, and 23 of them were scripted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927–2013) in some capacity. The films were often based upon novels or short stories, particularly the work of Henry James, E. M. Forster, and Jhabvala herself.

Merchant Ivory Productions
FounderIsmail Merchant
James Ivory

The initial goal of the company was "to make English-language films in India aimed at the international market." The style of Merchant Ivory films set and photographed in India became iconic. The company also went on to make films in the United Kingdom and America.

Some actors and producers associated with Merchant Ivory include Maggie Smith, Leela Naidu, Madhur Jaffrey, Aparna Sen, Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal, Hugh Grant, James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow, Anthony Hopkins, Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha Richardson, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter.

Of this collaboration, Merchant once commented: "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!"[1]

The expression "Merchant–Ivory film" has made its way into common parlance, to denote a particular genre of film rather than the actual production company. While 1965's Shakespeare Wallah put this genre on the international map,[2] its heyday was the 1980s and 1990s with such films as A Room with a View (1985) and Howards End (1992). A typical "Merchant–Ivory film" would be a period piece set in the early 20th century, usually in Edwardian England, featuring lavish sets and top British actors portraying genteel characters who suffer from disillusionment and tragic entanglements. Also, the main theme often surrounds a house. Houses take on a particular importance in many Merchant Ivory films.[3][4]


Merchant Ivory Productions was founded in 1961 by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory[5] in India to produce English language films.[6]

After early, modest successes with films such as The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah and Bombay Talkie, Merchant and Ivory suffered a lean period during the 1970s. Films such as Jane Austen in Manhattan and The Wild Party failed to find an audience. Their fortunes revived dramatically in 1979 when they made an adaptation of Henry James's novel The Europeans. Their film Heat and Dust (1983) was an art-house hit in Europe, particularly in England. However, it was not until their work together on A Room with a View (1985) that they broke out from the art house into broader success.

Around 1990, they moved their productions to England and the United States. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala became their frequent collaborating writer.[6] Major film studio sought them out with Disney signing Merchant Ivory Productions in 1991 to a three year distribution deal.[7][8]

In October 2015, Cohen Media Group acquired the Merchant Ivory brand and library, 21 films and 9 documentaries including worldwide distribution, for restoration and rerelease as a part of the Cohen Film Collection. Ivory would be creative director on the films' restoration, re-release and promotion.[6]


Compiled works from Merchant Ivory Productions

YearTitleScreenwriterOther notes
1963The Householder[6]Ruth Prawer Jhabvalascreenplay, adapted from the novel by Jhabvala
1965Shakespeare Wallah[6]Ruth Prawer Jhabvalascreenplay
1969The GuruRuth Prawer Jhabvalascreenplay
The Night of Counting the YearsShadi Abdel Salamwritten and directed by Shadi Abdel Salam
1970Bombay TalkieRuth Prawer Jhabvalascreenplay
1972SavagesGeorge W. S. Trow and Michael O'Donoghuewritten by
1975The Wild PartyWalter Marksbased on a poem by Joseph Moncure March
Autobiography of a PrincessRuth Prawer Jhabvalawritten by
1977RoselandRuth Prawer Jhabvalastory and screenplay
1978Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's PicturesRuth Prawer JhabvalaTV (story)
1979The Five Forty-EightTerrence McNallybased on the story by John Cheever
The EuropeansRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on the novel by Henry James
1980Jane Austen in ManhattanRuth Prawer Jhabvalawritten by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1981QuartetRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on the novel by Jean Rhys
1983The Courtesans of BombayIsmail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer JhabvalaTV feature; directed by Ismail Merchant
Heat and DustRuth Prawer Jhabvala[7]based on the novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1984The BostoniansRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on the novel by Henry James
1985A Room with a ViewRuth Prawer Jhabvala[7]based on the novel by E. M. Forster
1986My Little GirlConnie Kaisermanoriginal; directed by Kaiserman
1987MauriceJames Ivory & Kit Hesketh-Harveybased on the novel by E. M. Forster
1988The DeceiversMichael Hirstbased on the novel by John Masters
The Perfect MurderH. R. F. Keating and Zafar Haibased on the novel by Keating
1989Slaves of New YorkTama Janowitzbased on collection of stories by Janowitz
1990Mr. & Mrs. BridgeRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on novels by Evan S. Connell
1991The Ballad of the Sad CafeMichael Hirstplay by Edward Albee
(based on novel by Carson McCullers)
directed by Simon Callow
Street Musicians of Bombaydirected by Richard Robbins
1992Howards EndRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on the novel by E. M. Forster; nominated for nine Academy Awards winning three[6]
1993In CustodyShahrukh Husain and Anita Desaibased on the novel by Desai
directed by Ismail Merchant
The Remains of the DayRuth Prawer Jhabvala[7]based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
1995Feast of JulyChristopher Neamebased on a novel by H. E. Bates
Jefferson in ParisRuth Prawer Jhabvalawritten by J. T. Hyndman
1996The ProprietorJean-Marie Besset and George W. S. Trowdirected by Ismail Merchant
Surviving PicassoRuth Prawer Jhabvalascreenplay (based on the book by Arianna Huffington)
1998Side StreetsTony Gerber, Lynn Nottagedirected by Tony Gerber
A Soldier's Daughter Never CriesRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on the novel by Kaylie Jones
1999Cotton MaryAlexandra Vietsdirected by Ismail Merchant
2000The Golden BowlRuth Prawer Jhabvalabased on the novel by Henry James
2001The Mystic MasseurCaryl Phillipsbased on a novel by V. S. Naipaul
2002Merci Docteur ReyAndrew Litvackdirected by Andrew Litvack
2003Le DivorceRuth Prawer Jhabvala & James Ivorybased on the novel by Diane Johnson
2005HeightsAmy Foxdirected by Chris Terrio
The White CountessKazuo Ishiguroscreenplay
2007Before the RainsCathy Rabindirected by Santosh Sivan
2009The City of Your Final DestinationRuth Prawer Jhabvalascreenplay (based on book by Peter Cameron)
2017Call Me by Your NameJames Ivorybased on the novel by André Aciman, directed by Luca Guadagnino
2020Make the Wiseguys WeepRic Menello, Neil Jesuelebased on a book by David Evanier


  1. "Ismail Merchant" Archived 21 November 2008 at, The Times, 26 May 2005.
  2. Kaur, Harmanpreet. "The Wandering Company: Merchant-Ivory Productions and Post-Colonial Cinema" Archived 10 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Projectorhead Film Magazine, 10 January 2013.
  3. LaSalle, Mick. "Merchant-Ivory's final film a refined delight. Naturally" Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, San Francisco Chronicle, 13 January 2006.
  4. Ebert, Roger. "Ismail Merchant: In Memory" Archived 16 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine, 26 May 2005.
  5. Fristoe, Roger. "Introduction to 50 Years of Merchant Ivory". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 26 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  6. McNary, Dave (12 October 2015). "'Howards End,' Merchant Ivory Library Bought by Cohen Media Group". Variety. Archived from the original on 15 April 2017. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  7. "Ismail Merchant". Telegraph Obituaries. 25 May 2005. Archived from the original on 21 January 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  8. "Disney Buys Miramax In Leap Toward Industry Lead -- 60 Movies A Year Goal For Studio". Seattle Times. AP. 1 May 1993. Archived from the original on 13 April 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2019.

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