Opinions have changed within the last hundred years. Before, we lived in a society that if you weren't a straight white male, you weren't going to get very far in life. Granted, that's still somewhat a situation nowadays but the amount of bigotry has lessened considerably.
Such opinions on homosexuality have altered since the days of Stonewall and days before. Indeed, people have become more open (pun not intended) on the matter in recent years. But even before this was no longer a taboo, people like Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal were daring enough to write about it. (Strictly writing. They had limitations back then unsurprisingly.)
E.M. Forster was one of several names to focus on homosexuality in their work. For Forster, it was in the form of Maurice, which surely would have sparked outrage had it been published in the era it was written in. (Forster wrote it after Howards End but it wasn't published until 1971, a year after his death.) The scandal that would have ensued aside, it's a quiet yet deeply moving piece of literature.
James Ivory's film keeps the spirit of Forster's novel very much alive (albeit there are a few minor tweaks here and there). Like the other Ivory-directed Forster adaptations (A Room with a View and Howards End), it displays a defiant nature beneath the genteel veneer. And seeing as how the film was made in a more liberal time than Forster's, it allows Ivory to depict what Forster could merely allude to.
So which of the two is better? Both Forster's novel and Ivory's film are achingly beautiful pieces of work and neither have a weak point. So again, it's hard to determine which is the victor. Then again, there is another choice...
What's worth checking out?: Both.