While the going was good, though, it was very good. Beginning in the late 1970s, Merchant-Ivory became the gold standard for stately, well-spoken costume drama, quite often set in refined country houses surrounded by vast expanses of lawn and garden. Merchant and director Ivory were artistic partners (40 films) and life partners, but their relationship was immeasurably enhanced by writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote many of the screenplays. "It's a strange marriage," Merchant once observed. "I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American . . . a three-headed monster."
Detractors saw their films as pretentious pseudo-lit: At an early screening of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino ordered anyone who liked The Remains of the Day to "get the fuck out of here." But the huge audiences who embraced Merchant-Ivory's polished literacy, good manners, and devotion to high craft continue to mourn the great producer's passing.