Howards End is E.M. Forster's beautifully subtle story of the crisscrossing paths of the privileged and those they disdain--and of a remarkable pair of women who can see beyond class distinctions. Dramatic and tragic, but ... more »also surprisingly funny, this James Ivory film focuses on a pair of unmarried sisters (Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar, and Helena Bonham Carter) who befriend a poor young clerk (Sam West) and, without meaning to, ruin his life. Meanwhile, Thompson also makes the acquaintance of a dying neighbor (Vanessa Redgrave), who leaves her a family home in her will--which her husband (Anthony Hopkins) destroys. But, ironically, he meets and falls in love with Thompson, even as their paths once more intersect with the increasingly miserable young clerk. Nuanced acting, gorgeous but muted cinematography, and a beautifully economical script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, which also won an Oscar. --Marshall Fine« less
This was a very strange movie for me. I am not sure what I was expecting.
I have never read the book, so perhaps it would make more sense to me if it did. The events in the story just don't seem to be really connected, and there is not much romance in it. (A little yes, but not really a feel good kind of movie)
However, if you are a fan of Emma Thompson, you will like this movie.
0 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Superb adaptation of Forster's masterpiece.
Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 02/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most of us connect the notion of "home" or "childhood home" with one particular place, that innocent paradise we have since had to give up and keep searching for forever after. In Ruth Wilcox's world, Howards End is that place; the countryside house where she was born, where her family often returns to spend their vacations, and which, everyone assumes, will pass on to her children when she is dead.
And it is through Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave)'s eyes that we first see Howards End; approaching the house after an evening walk through her beloved meadow, her long dress trailing in the grass, as she goes nearer, we see the open windows letting out warm light from inside, and hear the voices and laughter from the family's dinner table. And while Mrs. Wilcox returns to join her family's company, two others are leaving the house and its serene world: Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter) and Paul Wilcox, embarking on a passionate romance which is not even to survive the next morning - not before, however, Helen has informed her sister Margaret (Emma Thompson) that she and Paul are "in love," and thus set in motion the first of a series of confusing and controversial meetings between their families.
While both families belong to the middle class, they are nevertheless separated by several layers of society and politics - the Wilcox, led by pater familias/businessman Henry (Anthony Hopkins), rich, conservative and without any sympathy whatsoever for those less fortunate than themselves ("It's all part of the battle of life ... The poor are poor; one is sorry for them, but there it is," Henry Wilcox once comments); the Schlegels, on the other hand, with just enough income to lead a comfortable life, brought up by their Aunt Juley (Prunella Scales), supporting suffrage (women's right to vote) and surrounding themselves with actors, "blue-stockings" (feminists), intellectuals and other members of the avantgarde. Further complexity is added when Helen brings to the Schlegel home Leonard Bast (Samuel West), a poor but idealistic young clerk who loves music, literature and astronomy - and with him, his working class wife Jacky (Nicola Duffett), the embarrassment of having to interact with her, and the even more embarrassing revelation she has in store for Henry Wilcox; eventually leaving her disillusioned husband to comment that "books aren't real," and that in fact they and music "are for the rich so they don't feel bad after dinner."
An allegory on the question who will ultimately inherit England - the likes of the Wilcox, the Schlegels, or the Basts - E.M. Forster's novel on which this movie is based is a masterpiece of social study and character study alike: with empathy and a fine eye for detail, Forster brings his protagonists and their environment to life, and James Ivory matches his accomplishment in this screen realization, finding the perfect cast and production design (Luciana Arrighi) to reproduce the novel's Edwardian society; although he superstitiously declined the offer to film at Forster's boyhood home Rooks Nest, the model for the fictional Howards End. The movie brings together many of Britain's best-known actors, all trained in the English school which, as Anthony Hopkins once explained, unlike Lee Strasberg's Method Acting, is primarily based on restraint: there are no outbursts of emotion, self-control reigns supreme, and even a simple word like "yes" is reduced even further to "hmm," leaving it to the actor's intonation alone to convey the word's (or sound's) deeper meaning in a given context. And yet, vocal intonation, looks and little gestures often speak louder than dramatic actions ever could, and they are as essential to the movie's sense of authenticity as are production design, cinematography (Tony Pierce-Roberts), soundtrack (Richard Robbins) and the selection of the movie's non-scored music: excerpts from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a favorite with the "educated" Edwardian middle class, and pieces by period composers Andre Derain and Percy Grainger.
The story centers around Margaret (Meg) Schlegel, who is "filled with ... a profound vivacity, a continual and sincere response to all that she encounter[s] in her path through life," as Forster described her, and portrayed to perfection by Emma Thompson. Meg's friendship with Ruth Wilcox brings the families back together after Helen's near-scandalous episode with Paul; and the two women become so close that Ruth eventually decides to give Meg "something worth [her] friendship" - none other than Howards End, a wish that has her panicking family scramble ungentlemanly for every reason in the book to invalidate the codicil setting forth that bestowal, from its lacking date and signature to the testatrix's state of mind, the ambiguity of the writing's content, the question why Meg should want the house in the first place since she already has one, and the fact that the writing is only in pencil, which "never counts," as Dolly, wife of the Wilcox' elder son Charles is quick to point out, only to be reprimanded by her father in law "from out of his fortress" (Forster) not to "interfere with what you do not understand." And so it is that Meg will only see the house (and be instantly mistaken for Ruth because she has "her way of walking around the house," as the housekeeper explains) when she and her siblings have to look for a new home and Henry Wilcox, who has started to court her after Ruth's death, suggests that the Schlegel's furniture be temporarily stored there - a fateful decision. And while Meg and Henry slowly and painfully learn to adjust to each other, the complexity of their families' relations, and their interactions with the Basts, finally come crashing down on them in a dramatic conclusion.
Howards End deservedly won 1992's Academy Awards for Best Actress (Thompson), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction; and it was also nominated in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design categories. Unfortunately, its subtle tones have recently been muted somewhat by the louder sounds now filling movie theaters. I for one, however, will take this sublime movie over any summer action flick anytime.
Also recommended: Great Novels and Short Stories of E. M. Forster E. M. Forster: A Life (A Harvest Book) The Remains of the Day (Special Edition) Shadowlands A Room with a View (Two-Disc Special Edition) Where Angels Fear to Tread The Wings of the Dove Brideshead Revisited (25th Anniversary Collector's Edition) Gosford Park Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition)"
Absolutely Poignant & Brilliant!
anna-joelle | Malaysia | 11/19/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is a must-watch for everyone who loves meaningful dramas. The cast is first-rate, the acting brilliant all round. Emma Thompson gave a definitely Oscar-worthy portrayal of a gentlewoman, Margaret Schlegel who is generous, honest, kind but torn between love for her sister, Helen (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and her pompous-and-brute-of-a-husband, Henry Wilcox (played by Anthony Hopkins). At the centre of the story is Howard's End, the beautiful country house/cottage which is a Wilcox's family jewel.The story reminds me of an Asian belief that if something is meant to be yours (eg. Howard's End rightfully belongs to Margaret as it was actually "willed" to her by the first Mrs Wilcox before she died), then you will get it in the end, no matter what. Everything comes a full circle in the end, that's what it means.This is one of the best period dramas I've ever watched - it's definitely worth your 2-1/2 hours.BRILLIANT!"
Brilliant, poignant, and visually stunning
Themis-Athena | 07/08/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The DVD edition at last does visual justice to this film, one of the great films in English of the last twenty years. James Ivory's painterly eye can be appreciated only in the widescreen format: one can see details here (and hear the rich layers of the soundtrack) that have been absent for years in the VHS version. This film will remind you why you invested in a DVD player and why Merchant-Ivory has become synonymous with the period film. Subtle, inspired, and moving."
E. M. FORSTER WOULD BE PLEASED!
carol irvin | 02/20/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I believe anyone who has read Forster's, "Howard's End", would agree that this dramatic portrayal is the novel come to life. This brilliant interpretation hits squarely on Forster's central theme, "Only Connect!". The Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala/Robbins collaboration is perfectly cast - all of the characters from the novel are portrayed just as Forster must have envisioned them ninety years ago. Emma Thompson is exquisitely awkward as Margaret Schlegel and Helena Bonham-Carter breaks her ingenue mold with this performance. Anthony Hopkins epitomizes the Ewardian, gentleman mogul in the role of Henry Wilcox while Vanessa Redgrave embodies the role of Ruth, his compliant, soulful wife. Samuel West evokes pity and scorn as the doomed Leonard Bast. I don't know the other actors names but they all performed as if they stepped out of the book. The locations, set decorations and costumes are luscious - while Robbins' haunting and melancholy score follows the drama perfectly. I love this film and it inspired me to read the novel - as well as Forster's five other novels (four of which have been made into marvelous films like this one). When you view "Howard's End" - let yourself get beyond the distance in time and place. These same people and situations are around us even now - I encounter Wilcoxes and Schlegels and Basts every day. However, my cast of characters is not presented by Merchant/Ivory - but I try to be imaginative!"
Lush, Romantic Merchant-Ivory Period Film Making
carol irvin | United States | 03/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The filmmaking duo of Merchant-Ivory score yet again with this wonderful rendition of the E. M. Forster novel. There are many ideas that flow smoothly throughout the film: how fate has a way of catching up; how what is meant to be will be; how one can pay for the consequences of one's acts in totally unimagined ways. But beyond being a thought provoking film, this film also succeeds at every level as just a film. The absolute top acting talent is used for every role, with Emma Thompson deservedly winning the Oscar for hers. Anthony Hopkins renders the British capitalist of this time period flawlessly. His best line is, "The poor are poor because they are and there you have it." This is said in dismissing the plight of a young man to whom he gave the wrong advice. The opening scenes with Vanessa Redgrave and Emma Thompson showcase two different generations of English acting powerhouses on stage and screen. They are a delight to watch together. The costumes are out of this world and were obviously well researched and made to conform to every detail of the period. The same is done with the settings both in London and the country so that you feel as if you are back in that era yourself."