Howards End (1992)
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The ensemble cast is perhaps the best reason to see this film. Emma Thompson won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and deservedly so! This is her best performance and her best film, in my opinion. I loved watching the character development in her portrayal of Margaret Schlegel, as she transforms from an open-minded intellectual to a class-conscious social climber. What's remarkable is that we still feel for her greatly as she is going through this transition. She still remains a sympathetic character up until the very end when she slowly comes back to her senses.
Anthony Hopkins also gives one of his best performances as the cold and hypocritical Henry Wilcox. So many scenes shed different lights onto his character. The scene where he proposes to Margaret stands out in particular. There is plenty of erotic tension, but at the same time it almost feels like he is making some sort of impersonal business venture with her.
Vanessa Redgrave is a presence to behold as the fragile Ruth Wilcox. Her performance may be brief, but it leaves an indelible mark, particularly in later scenes when Margaret visits Howards End. Helena Bonham Carter should have gotten an Oscar nomination for her performance. She really has great depth and passion that is well-suited to her character. The rest of the supporting cast is superb. Even the minor characters like Nicola Duffet's Jackie Bast and Jemma Redgrave's stony-faced Evie Wilcox are noteworthy.
"Howards End" is one of the richest, most nuanced films I have seen. It is beautifully shot, well-acted, and exquisitely directed. It deserves to be considered a classic.
I recommend this film to anyone who loves Forster and who loves painterly cinematography. Also it is full of the finest performances by all of the actors involved.
I'm one of those relative rarities: a straight male that normally enjoys Merchant-Ivory productions. However, I disliked this movie on first viewing (several years ago). In retrospect, I can see that I was not reacting to the movie, but my intense dislike for Anthony Hopkins' character.
I watched it again the other night and was absolutely blown away by it. What a film! Emma Thompson won Best Actress for her performance, and she did her usual terrific job, but frankly I was more impressed by the performance of Helena Bonham Carter. The style of the film is magnificent.
This is a story (like most of E. M. Forster's) about the injustices of class distinctions. However, with a subtlety that I missed on my first viewing, this film is also about karma (what goes around - comes around) and a story of social progress. This film is set in a time when society is coming out of the Victorian age and into the Edwardian. You see contrasts of the past thinking with the progressive thinking all through the movie. A visual metaphor is repeated over and over: the turning of cranks, whether it be on a new-fangled morse code machine, a vintage car, or the wheels of a mighty locomotive. I believe that this represents both karma and progress, forces which Forster sees as unstoppable as the laws of nature.
This is an incredible story, and an incredible piece of film-making.
Likewise, `Howards End' relies heavily on British actors who have worked their way up through live theatre: it is here that you get the best interpretations, the best performances, admirably shown in so many films made on both sides of the Atlantic. If Vanessa Redgrave has long since been a legend among British actresses, Emma Thompson is no lesser performer, and as to the pedigree of Helena Bonham-Carter there can be no arguing. Anthony Hopkins is at least up to the mark in his always sober readings in these kinds of films.
The Bonham-Carter family were well known in the fashionable circles of 1930's London high-society life, for their extravagant soirées and philanthropic sponsoring of young artists, especially musicians, similarly to the Sitwell family from their Chelsea home. Thus it is hardly surprising that Helena Bonham-Carter finds these kinds of rôles admirably suited to her - A Room with a View, anything Shakespearean, among other select `comedies'. Prunella Scales is a grand old lady of theatre, cinema and television, and I can remember her offerings back in the late fifties-early sixties especially on radio programmes.
Beautifully filmed in mostly Oxfordshire and in several places in London, the film also has a few scenes on the coast, possibly Dorsetshire or more probably the south coast of Devon, surprisingly not included in IMDb's very detailed listing of locations. Richard Robbins' music seemed to be heavily influenced by Philip Glass at times, which seemed a misfit, though it was nice to hear a few snatches by Percy Grainger, as well as a version for four hands on the piano of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, possibly one of those tremendous transcriptions which Franz Liszt carried out.
The dialogues are mostly exquisitely delivered, with that peculiarly British panache and timing, though slightly spoiled in this recent re-viewing as there were some untimely cuts on the copy in question. However, the story holds its line and is faithful to E.M. Forster's original concept. He has long been one of the greatest of British novelists, with such works as `A Passage to India', `Where Angels Fear to Tread' and `A Room with a View' to his credit, for serious readers of real literature.
This film version maintains that seriousness for people interested in real play-acting.
These two Schlegel sisters played by Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter befriend the Wilcoxes, a family of newly rich plutocrats headed by Anthony Hopkins who seem to be a version of Lillian Hellman's the Hubbards lite. Their mother is the class of the family and she's played by Vanessa Redgrave who is in poor health.
While Bonham-Carter is rejected by Hopkins's son James Wilby as a suitable wife for marriage, Vanessa befriends Thompson finding her to be a kindred intellectual spirit in a house full of moneygrubbers. In fact before she dies she writes an unsigned note asking that a cottage that's in her family's name called Howards End be given to the Schlegel sisters. When Hopkins and the rest of the family find the note after she's dead it gets torn up and burned. Unsigned it has no probative value in any event.
But as fate would have it Thompson and Hopkins get into a relationship and they soon marry and she tries to polish some of the rough edges off him. Especially in regard to snobbery. Hopkins is the kind of man who wants no reminders of where he came from. Particularly with another of the Schlegel sisters friends, a young clerk named Leonard Bast played by Samuel West trying to make his way in the world as the Wilcoxes have.
Emma Thompson won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Howards End that year and the film also won Oscars for Art&Set Direction and for adapted screenplay. Though Thompson won the Oscar, my absolute favorite in this film is Susie Lindeman as Mrs. Dolly Bast. She's so incredibly common and obviously holding him back, you can't blame West for eventually getting involved with Bonham-Carter which leads to tragedy.
The team of Ismail Merchant producer and James Ivory director succeed again at bringing the look and manners of Edwardian England as seen by E.M. Forster to life. Who says they don't make literate films any more, whoever says that have them see Howards End.
Indeed, when Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave) left in her deathbed "Howard's End" to her new friend Margaret, the Wilcoxes couldn't believe she had all her mind, so they burnt the paper. Yet, a series of separate episodes converged to the final inheritance, making up for the first injustice. The French title might mislead by making think the film focuses on Margaret, while it's about a whole ensemble powerfully representing British classes circa 1910.
And as the original title suggests, the focus is "Howard's End" not the estate, but the symbol of the aristocracy's rural roots. The film fittingly opens with Ruth Wilcox wondering alone in the park, with this kind of intimate connection we feel in the places we grew up in. And the sadness that inhabits her heart is palpable. She's obviously misunderstood; since no Wilcox understands "Howard's End", too busy socializing and partying during that very night.
At the same night, Helen Shlegel, Margaret's sister, (Helena Bonham Carter) falls in love with the younger Wilcox son, but it wouldn't outlast the night. The opening incident is amusing, but like every detail in the film, not insignificant, it informs us that the Shlegels are of a German background from their father, they are well-educated middle-class bourgeois highly fond on arts and intellectuals. A few months later, to make up for the whole misunderstanding caused by her sister, Margaret finally meets Ruth Wilcox, in the neighboring house in London and a brief but poignant friendship begins.
Ruth discovers Margaret's social life, but also a woman of ideas, of artistic taste, not blinded by wealth like the Wilcoxes, so she can see the value of "Howard's End" And Margaret falls immediately in love with the house during a visit where she also catches the eye of Mr Wilcox, Anthony Hopkins as the shy, well-mannered but quite abrupt businessman, again a polar opposite to Emma Thompson's temperament (but isn't that what makes their interactions so irresistible?)
When Ruth Wilcox dies with her final wish, Mr Wilcox feels like he owes a gesture to Margaret, some help to find a house. They end up marrying each other, in probably the most awkward proposal from any film. Their union celebrates the constant symbiosis between the old aristocracy and the new enlightened bourgeoisie, but the portrait of the British classes would have been incomplete without lower people. And this is where the Basts enrich the film.
Sam West is Leonard Bast, a young and educated clerk, leaving with Jackie, a vulgarian we suspect to have a troubled past. Bast strikes as a taciturn, sickly and insecure man, and after another incident involving a lost umbrella, the Shlegel sisters grow rapidly fond on him, especially the fiery Helen. But victim of their good intentions, the sisters ask Mr Wilcox for advice: he suggests Bast leaves his company before the bankruptcy. Not only Bast leaves his job, but the previous company prospers and the second fires him. Bast, who was poor, ends up in a worse situation.
Helen can't accept Wilcox' lack of remorse and brings the ill fated Bast and his wife to the Wilcox daughter's wedding party. And while indulging herself to some punch drinking, Jackie recognizes Mr Wilcox and his "gay old habits". The dynamics of the film is constantly driven by incidents; it's all about the serene and honorable standard of the British upper classes, perturbed by wake-up calls. This one illustrates the pervert interactions between the rich and the poor, the same Wilcox who didn't shed a tear for Bast, for "the poor are the poor, and one's sorry for them" didn't care of abusing an underage woman.
Margaret forgives Wilcox, but Helen can't forgive herself to have caused Bast' descent to poverty, she stays close to him. So close that we're not surprised, a few months later, to find her pregnant, for the ultimate plot device that highlighted the British system's greatest sin: hypocrisy. Helen is in the same position than Jackie was because of Wilcox, yet Wilcox forbids her to stay in Howard's End. The rich demonstrates an incredible zeal when the poor degrade British values, while their noble status launder all their faults. Wilcox, no matter how well mannered and intentioned he is, wouldn't allow Helen to stay.
And while his marriage comes to a dead-end, a failure to communicate, it's like Ruth's own spectra commanded the irresponsible Charles, the most foolish thing to do. Enthralled by his new ownership, Charles confronts Bast, and inadvertently kills him, leaving his father in a desperate need of Margaret, more than ever. The loop is looped, and "Howard's End" reveals itself to be more than a story of inheritance and property, it's a magnificent Oscar-winning screenplay made of sumptuously interlocking stories that paint an insightful and incisive portrait of the British classes, their interactions, and perceptions. And the ending translates into a fictional story, the very future of Britain, an aristocratic house left to a bourgeois, and who's going to benefit of it? The son of a poor man.
"Howard's End" is not just a riveting story, carried by superb performances -Emma Thompson totally deserved her Oscar as the sweet, caring but strong-willed Margaret- it's also the magnificent epitaph of an old order, in the same intensity and human resonance than "Gone With the Wind", like only the Ivory-Merchant could have produced.
Speaking of them, I'm glad I watched it after "The Remains of the Day", for the magnificent chemistry between Hopkins and Thompsons, probably the defining on-screen duo of the 90's (both nominated 4 times in this very decade) made up for their previous inhibitions.
Story-wise, I preferred "The Remains Of The Day," but this was okay. It just didn't have the appealing characters "Remains" had and it was a little too soap opera for my tastes but the visuals made up for that, ...and the story, to be fair, was solid and involving.
It also had Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and those two make a great pair. I would never get tired of watching either of these great actors, especially when they are together.
If you like period pieces - this is 1910 Edwardian England - along with fabulous sets and scenery, a solid cast, and an involving story, you'll like this. If you are a fan of melodramas then you'll really, really like this!
There is far more than most films provide to digest. And the ideas put into play are far more interesting than other movies deign to investigate, and certainly better than other similar chatty, period Emma Thompson films (Sense and Sensibility) which are fatal to the life urge. It's also superior to Remains of the Day (also with Thompson and Hopkins). One can imagine a much more modern, intriguing film (not bogged down with politeness and high production values) with these ideas, but this is the film we've got; and it's fine.
At no point can you guess where the circumlocutions will take you. Howard's End is a knot tied back into itself a half dozen times. I find its complexity extremely pleasing. Suffice it to say, this is 'Final Destination' for the thoughtful set.
This isn't dull and overly quiet Edwardiania. "Unlike Greece, England has no true mythology" says Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) during the film. Yet Edwardian England and the literature it spawned is almost a 20th Century English mythology. Tony Pierce Roberts' cinematography finds no difficulty in making this one of the best adverts the English Tourist Board has had - whether on a Devon cliff-top or capturing the provincial charms of the Shropshire countryside or the film's recreation of lunch at Simpson's in the Strand and Christmas Shopping at Harrods.
HOWARD'S END revolves around the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter). Helen is an early feminist, full of early Socialist concern for the mild-mannered clerk Leonard Bast (Sam West). They meet when Helen accidentally brings home his umbrella from a music lecture; and it is the Schlegels' well-intended advice about changing jobs which leads to Bast becoming unemployed.
Margaret befriends the slow and elderly Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), owner of a country house called Howard's End. She is the wife of Henry (Anthony Hopkins), a dry businessman who is full of the dry Victorian moral rectitude which is starting to look stifling and pallid in the Liberal England of 1910. When Ruth dies, she leaves the house to Margaret - but Henry and the family refuse to acknowledge it as legitimate bequest and do not inform Margaret. Henry marries Margaret.
Bast is the outsider is eventually connects the Schlegels and the Wilcoxs - his wife is a former lover of Henry's and Bast eventually gets Helen pregnant.
HOWARD'S END is not only superbly plotted as a screenplay (from the E.M. Forster novel), but the characters also seem alive to the period, and therefore modern within the film's context. This is helped by the blessed casting of Emma Thompson, a standout amongst excellence and who brings the air of believability to the good-natured Margaret. And also Anthony Hopkins, who is allowed a humane tear towards the end when he realises that his son Charles (James Wilby) will be charged with Bast's manslaughter.
The film is not to everyone's taste, but it's a far more substantial and interesting film than the previous Merchant-Ivory-Forster film A ROOM WITH A VIEW.
Now mind you I'm not saying this is a hard film to watch, it is not. It's extremely easy to watch, and very enjoyable - if you like people (or at least the idea of liking people). If you don't like people, you probably won't like this or any period piece. This movie actually has something to say, which is easy to miss. Meaning if you stay on the surface of it, it's very easy to take for granted - looking at the lovely and missing the principles and truths on display. Attention is something you have to Pay, and some are simply not willing to do that. They feel the price of the ticket should have covered it.
If you love excellence then you'll love this film, because it it is filled with excellence. It's not fast paced like a thriller, but not a single moment of the film is wasted. All the transitions from scene to scene are seamless, and every scene is full. The language here is the language of relationships. With one of the stronger underlying themes being that of the Biblical law of reaping what you sow, and accountability for one's actions.
Pay special attention to where the film begins and the offense (morally) that occurs there, where the film ends - and who is given what would have been theirs (at least in part) had the right thing been done instead of the offense, and the way that it all comes about. Which is part of what causes you to not notice it. Believe me, it is so subtle pretty nearly everyone misses it. In an almost altruistic sense the story comes full circle by ending exactly where it began. Watch how the inanimate objects of an umbrella, a sword, and a house participate in the flow of events, and thereby the direction of lives. This is probably the most nuanced film you'll ever see, and it is a masterpiece . . .
Confusion over an umbrella leads a young man teetering on the edge of social and financial obscurity, into an altogether different world beyond his dreams. In a fatalistic manner the feminine household of the Schlegels full of art and literature collides with the masculine and commercial house of Wilcox, ultimately making neither easy bedfellows nor a home for the other. In his desire to better himself through literature, Leonard Bast (Samuel West) inadvertently stumbles into this world and ends up developing an unwise relationship with the waywardly enchanting Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham-Carter). It is after all Helen in the original story who discusses death with Leonard and adapts Michelangelo with the prophetic "Death destroys a man; the idea of Death saves him". Some familiar chords are struck here with the 'sense and sensibility' of Jane Austen's Dashwood sisters in the novel of that phrase, when Helen censures Margaret (Emma Thompson) for her betrothal to all that the younger sister deems cold and stifling. The comparison is further illuminated by Thompson's portrayal of the restrained elder sister in Ang Lee's masterful film of Austen's novel three years later. The double standards of male behaviour are realised at the wedding of Margaret and Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) as the inebriated gatecrasher, Mrs Bast (Nicola Duffett), recognises the gentleman groom from her former life, whilst he in turn will not have the unwed and expectant Helen stay at the empty `Howard's End'. The arrogance and bigotry of the Wilcoxs and the interference of the Schlegels for their disadvantaged friend eventually conspire in his demise.
It is possible to draw a parallel of Charles Wilcox's attack on Leonard Bast with Jordan's culture of "crimes of honour" with the killing in August 2002 of a pregnant and unmarried woman by her brother, after being encouraged by family and friends, and of the stabbing of a daughter by her father as detailed in Norma Khouri's `Forbidden Love', a fate that befalls some 5000 women a year. How can it be that these abominable acts are a product of a society that is governed by harsh, inhumane religious rules? What twisted sense of perspective says it is right to destroy two lives to address a bizarre sense of shame arising from a naturalistic occurrence where `correct' protocols were not followed? The sad conclusion has to be drawn that though the rest of us suffer from his devastation, Primeval Man lives untouched by evolution and is in no danger of extinction.
Vanessa Redgrave is touchingly charming as the naïve Mrs Wilcox who bequeaths her beloved Howard's End to Miss Schlegel, though in none too an official manner which leads to the plot's convolutions. Incidentally the actress has recently received a Tony for the Broadway revival of `Long Day's Journey into Night', and contributed her considerable thoughts on `Anthony and Cleopatra' for Faber's excellent `Actors on Shakespeare' series published in June of last year. Thompson's superlative performance justly earned her an Oscar, yet perhaps the greatest of her career are to be found in her unrequited housekeeper in `Remains of the Day' in 1993, and in her exceptional tour de force as the blue-stocking dying of cancer in Mike Nichols' brilliant if uncomfortable `Wit' in 1999. Hopkins is awesome as the shrewd businessman unable to connect with people, whilst Joseph Bennett as Paul, Jemma Redgrave as Evie, James Wilby (a veteran from other Forster adaptations) as Charles, and Susie Lindeman (`Lilian's Story' and recently onstage in `Hammerklavier') his twittering wife Dolly are all perfectly too ghastly as the detestable offspring. Bonham-Carter improves on her Lucy Honeychurch in the earlier `Room with a View' to provide the disruptive free spirit of Helen that so changes every life she comes into contact with, whilst West's Leonard is a memorable study of the downtrodden that the gods have determined to destroy. The film also garnered Oscars for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for her screenplay, and Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whitakker for art direction, whilst Richard Robbins and Tony Pierce-Roberts were nominated for original music and best cinematography. The same production team collaborated in the following year's admirable `Remains of the Day' that frustratingly missed out at the Oscar and Bafta awards.
The overarching theme for E M Forster, as etched onto the title page of the Penguin edition, is "Only connect." and the skilled filmmakers have succeeded splendidly in this adaptation in spanning the bridge to connect the viewer to the characters in their distant world.
Ultimately, this film allows us to take a peek into the lives of certain people and watch events unfold and *happen* to them. We are watching something *happen*, not simply a movie or screenplay unfolding.
There are many other great things about this film as well, but the feeling stated above is what many (if not most) movies fail to achieve, and with that fail to achieve "greatness".
Beyond the great acting and directorial execution we are treated to, the audience also gets a chance with this film to explore class, values, and the interplay of characters that differ in many ways, but come together via certain events.
There isn't much more to say. The fact is that if you want a character drama, with this film you have it. If you want an exploration of what's "right", this film explores that. Income inequality? That as well. And of course, the ultimate discussion here is societal privilege.
It is even more amazing that the novel that the film is based on was written in 1910.
The book tells the story of three Edwardian families, the Wilcoxes, the Schlegels and the Basts. Although Leonard Bast and his wife Jacky are from a working-class background, there is not much difference in socio- economic terms between the other two families, both part of the well-to- do bourgeoisie. There is, however, a big difference in their outlooks. The cultured, artistic and intellectual Schlegels, of German extraction, represent "old money". (Forster borrowed their surname from the Schlegel brothers, German writers and philosophers). The Wilcoxes, by contrast, represent "new money". The father of the family, Henry, is a self-made businessman, and he and his three children are far more interested in business and making money than they are in culture or the arts.
The Howards End of the title is the Wilcoxes' family home, a large farmhouse belonging to Henry's wife Ruth, who is more in sympathy with the artistic outlook of the Schegels than the rest of her family. She becomes a close friend of Margaret, the oldest of the three Schlegel siblings. In the meantime Margaret's younger sister, Helen, has befriended Leonard Bast, a clerk in an insurance company, who shares her reverence for high culture. (They meet at a lecture on Beethoven). The story then follows the complications arising from these two friendships.
This film was the last entry in the cinema's great Forster cycle of the eighties and early nineties, a period which saw filmed versions of five of his six novels. It was the third adaptation of a Forster novel by Merchant Ivory Productions, following "A Room with a View" and "Maurice". In my view it is, together with "A Room with a View", the best film of the Forster cycle, for a number of reasons.
The first is that the Merchant-Ivory style of film-making, with its meticulous concern for period detail and its gentle, unhurried method of story-telling, seems admirably suited to the works of Forster. David Lean's grand epic manner was never an ideal match for "A Passage to India", a novel which, although it deals with political questions, concentrates on intimate personal relationships rather than the great historical events which formed the subject-matter of Lean's other late works. Charles Sturridge tried to imitate the Merchant-Ivory method in "Where Angels Fear to Tread", but could never quite bring it off.
The second is the remarkable number of great performances which James Ivory was able to elicit from his cast. The film only won one acting Oscar, Emma Thompson for "Best Actress", but there were a number of other acting contributions of equal quality. Anthony Hopkins was perhaps not going to win a second Oscar so soon after "The Silence of the Lambs" the previous year, but to my mind he deserved "Best Actor" far more than Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman". (Whether he deserved it more than Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven" is perhaps another matter). Hopkins succeeds well in his difficult task of bringing out the two sides of Henry's personality. On the one hand he is arrogant, snobbish and autocratic, but on the other Hopkins needs to imply a hidden, more likable side to him if the audience is to accept him as Margaret's husband. (The two marry after Ruth's death).
Helena Bonham Carter was well-known around this period for her acting in period dramas; she had appeared in two earlier Forster adaptations, "A Room with a View", and "Where Angels Fear to Tread". There is a nice contrast between her Helen- passionate, impetuous and rash- and Thompson's calmer, more measured Margaret. Helen has a strong social conscience which Margaret seems to lack, and at first comes across as the more sympathetic of the two sisters, yet Helen's well-intentioned interventions in other people's lives can have disastrous unintended consequences. As for Thompson, she gives an object lesson in the art of portraying a quiet, reserved character without making her dull or uninteresting. Thompson and Hopkins were to act together in another Merchant-Ivory drama the following year, "The Remains of the Day".
Other excellent performances come from Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox, James Wilby as Henry and Ruth's pompous, overbearing older son Charles and Samuel West as Leonard Bast. Bast is a tragic figure- he is clearly highly knowledgeable and intelligent, but because of his humble social origins is unable to put his intelligence to good use and is patronised and mistreated by those who consider themselves his social betters. He is also held back by his wife who shares neither his intelligence nor his aspirations.
The third reason why the film works so well is the way in which it brings out the themes of the excellent novel on which it is based and makes them relevant to the 1990s (without ever labouring the point). The story might be set in the 1910s, yet its themes of the contrasting values of business and culture, of unemployment, of wealth and poverty, are still relevant even today. Henry Wilcox might be a figure from the Edwardian era, yet in 1992 his values would have seemed very familiar to those who had just lived through the boom years of the "greed is good" eighties. Leonard Bast recalls those who lost their jobs when that boom turned to bust. Even Helen, the woolly but well-meaning member of the liberal Guardian- reading classes, is a familiar figure to modern viewers. British heritage cinema, and the work of Merchant-Ivory in particular, is sometimes criticised as a mere exercise in sentimental nostalgia, with no relevance to modern times. "Howard's End" serves as the best possible refutation of that sort of criticism. 9/10
The acting too, is good (especially Helena Bonham Carter as 'Helen' and Sam West as 'Leonard Baast'), but that is about the end of it. "Howard's End" fails to impress in any other way. Although adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (from a marvelous novel), the film is not well-balanced, or evenly scripted. We never have time to absorb any of Forster's wonderful characters. Director James Ivory also fails to move the film in any direction quickly enough. Still, it's a good looking picture.
Saturday, May 30, 1992 - Hoyts Forest Hill Chase
Many period pieces face the problem of pacing and appear to be more cardboardlike and contrived. But, Ivory really took good care and put a lot of heart into it. He skillfully balances all the ingredients. He must have loved the book to have his screenwriter, Jhabvala, adapt an excellent screenplay. Irrelevant subplots are carefully avoided and the characters are very well-etched. Howards End itself is a character and the house that was chosen to 'play' the title role is breathtaking. One can easily understand why Ruth Wilcox was attached to it and why the Schlegel sisters fall in love with it. The relationships are so wonderfully portrayed. The closeness between the Schlegel sisters and brother finely contrasts that between the Wilcoxs and also that between the Basts. While class distinction is an important theme, clichés and caricatures are cleverly avoided. The dialogues are sharp, witty, poetic and clever. The entire film has a very romantic appeal to it. And, to top it all, Richard Robbins's score is mesmerizing.
With such a great cast like a snobbish but ambivalent Anthony Hopkins, a fragile and desperate Vanessa Redgrave, a fiery Helena Bonham Carter, a naive Sam West, a gentle motherly Prunella Scales and a host of brilliant supporting actors 'Howards end' shines. However, it is the phenomenal Emma Thompson who carries and owns the film. Without a doubt, this is one of her best works. She's been one of my favourite actress nd i always expect nothing short of greatness from her. Yet, she still managed to surprise me and blew me away with a natural, nuanced and fantastic performance.
I truly don't think there's enough words for me to describe 'Howard's End'. One must watch it to believe and I'm pretty sure that even those who dislike period pieces will change their mind after watching this masterpiece.
If the plot isn't coherent, neither are the characters. I *still* don't understand a lot of the characters' motivations. Why was Wilcox such an obnoxious, stubborn fool about letting Helen stay one night in the house? When Meg has clearly and superbly delineated his hypocrisy, it just bounces right off of him. He doesn't concede the point, he doesn't deny the point, he just ignores it. That was just a weird way to behave. If nothing else, it paints the guy as a complete, irredeemable jerk. So the movie seems to strike a triumphant note when Meg finally tells him she's leaving him. That was the kind of wonderful moment which made it seem like the film was going somewhere. But then, *poof*, nothing comes of it, she's still with him and kissing him at the end. Huh? She ultimately makes no sense as a character, one can never see what she sees in this jerk, or why she constantly kowtows to him, despite being a strong enough character with everybody else. Then there's the brother, Tippy or Flippy or whatever his name was. Why? Why is he in this movie? He does NOTHING. He adds nothing, does nothing, says almost nothing, he's more a piece of the set than a character. Someone else here also pointed that out. And speaking of props-rather-than-characters, there was Jackie. The first thing I noticed at the end of the film was that she was given NO resolution. So ultimately, she, as a character, went nowhere and amounted to nothing. You could have entirely omitted her and nothing would've been any different. It was also pointed out, very appropriately, the way that Helen's character is slapdash. There's the whole big deal about her stealing umbrellas, then that utterly disappears. Comes off as pretty contrived. And what about the whole original thing with her having the aborted affair with young Wilcox? That too went nowhere and amounted to nothing.
And, by the way, I waited half the movie for the family-history tidbit about the original Mrs. Wilcox having a brother or uncle or someone who asked for that other woman's hand and was rejected-- I waited half the movie for that to become relevant, trying to figure out who that might've been and how they tied in. Answer? Went nowhere, meant nothing, just another irrelevant detail. This movie was a complete soup of irrelevant details.
Yes, the performances were fine (given what the actors had to work with). Yes, the sets and costumes and all provide a fine period recreation. And the music was quite good (but more about that in a minute). For those three things I gave it three stars instead of one. But the fact is, at the end of the movie I find myself frustrated and cheated. There was no real plot, and, in the end, there wasn't a single character in the movie that I *liked*. I had liked Meg for almost the whole movie, but when she went back with The Jerk at the end, that was just too much for me.
And finally, let's talk about the music. I was enraptured when they did the bit with the Beethoven fifth (some of the finest, most moving music ever written). Especially when the naked piano version from the lecture hall morphs into the full, powerful orchestral score. I was excited, thinking, "Excellent! They're using the wonderful 3rd movement as a leitmotif! This'll be great!" But no, as with all else in this film, it means nothing and goes nowhere. It comes back exactly once, and only as a concrete flashback, when Umbrella Man is dreaming of the day he met Helen. What did it signify? Nothing. Just the concrete event.
In short, this film did a great deal to raise my expectations and hopes and extremely little to actually fulfill them.
Encounters on occasion with Thompson brings Hopkins' sudden proposal, perhaps out of loneliness, maybe out of guilt, but within time, growing into love. Carter and Thompson's friendship with a struggling clerk (Samuel West) causes all sorts of issues, especially when West's common wife (Nicola Duffett) comes to a wedding, gets drunk, and reveals a past with Hopkins. This becomes a story then, not only of a family deception, but the ties that bind all mankind, either through obligation, unexpected human interaction or in Hopkins and Duffett's case, a brief lust that tears away at him because of the differences in their social standing. West struggles, not only to try and find a new position after his suddenly ends, but with his feelings for Carter as well and his disgust in his marriage to Duffett. The so-called polite upper class becomes murderous in a shocking twist towards the end, and this explodes into many questions of what exactly is good breeding, and who has it.
Powerful performances by a magnificent cast gives this family drama a mesmerizing feel, just as dramatic as all six seasons of "Downton Abbey" whittled down to two and a half hours. There are comic bits here and there that prevent the film from becoming too staid, and the set-up of gentle matriarch Vanessa Redgrave making you care about what happens to her will require the need of Kleenex near by as her light fades and the story moves into new directions. Hopkins, playing a very conflicted man, shows all the human dimensions that makes this character very real, whether grieving over a wife he really didn't spend too much time caring about it seems in life, facing his own ordeal as an adulterer, or unable to forgive himself, both for cheating, keeping the truth away from Thompson and lastly, realizing what a bunch of greedy, selfish offspring he's raised. Prunella Scales is very funny in a small part as Carter and Thompson's no nonsense aunt.
Carter and Thompson are wonderfully cast as sisters, and while Thompson has the meatier part, Carter is impressive as well. She's moved on from "A Room With a View" to showing here all the tricks she'll later pull out in her character parts in Tim Burton movies. Thompson, deservedly winning an Oscar, is an actress of such gifts, and from the moment you meet her, she's somebody you'll want as a friend as much as Redgrave did. She faces tragedy with such dignity, being independent and resourceful, yet willing to stand by her man no matter how bad things become because she sees the truths that most humans are blind to. It's the writing surrounding these characters that make "Howard's End" a joy to revisit, and while the country home may not be immense like Downton Abbey, you can see why Redgrave adored it and would only want to see it in the hands of somebody she knew would treasure it like she did.
The Oscar-winning screenplay here is based on a novel by E.M. Forster. Even though I haven't read the book, the story itself is impressive, and it seems like Ruth Prawer Jhabvala took full advantage of it, making the movie extremely believable and understandable. Of course that are maybe parts of the book missing, but the overall effect is great. It's one of those movies that you don't want for it to end, it could easily have another hour. That's why I find the ending very unsatisfactory, since it doesn't explain what happened to some of the main characters, and a few things are just weird. The script has also a few flaws, but they doesn't tear up the whole experience.
There's really nothing to talk about the acting in this movie. Only that its's absolutely marvelous. The cast features names like Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave and Helena Bonham Carter, and they are all great. There are also not so well-known names that do a nice job, but they don't obfuscate the glow of these stars. It seems like an acting contest, where everyone is a winner, especially the audience, that is able to witness one of the best overall cast in movie's history. Everything here feels so real and natural.
This excellent acting and story really sets the mood, but it wouldn't work with a weak director. A thing that James Ivory absolutely isn't. In order to direct this great cast and conduct this incredible script, James Ivory never lefts the audience feel bored or with that feeling that the movie never ends. There are some really intelligent angles and shots here, some of which you'd never seen before. That's right, James Ivory got to be original in 1992 (!).
Every other aspect of this movie is perfect. The set-decoration and art- direction put you into that period in history, and the photography, along with the soundtrack composed by an original music score and well- known classic songs, the mood here couldn't be better.
Overral, this movie is an incredible adaption. The excellent script, along with a perfect acting and incredible direction, set-decoration and art-direction, makes this movie the perfect representation of Victorian England.
I didn't care for some of the turns that this film took, but this movie just pulls you in with all of their relationship with one another as well as the atmosphere of the film. Overall, this film has a great cast and an entertaining story interwoven with drama. A great watch.