Encounter of three social classes of England at the beginning of the twentieth century: the Victorian capitalists (the Wilcoxes) considering themselves as aristocrats, whose only god is money; the enlightened bourgeois (the Schlegels), humanistic and philanthropic; and the workers (the Basts), fighting to survive. The Schlegel sisters' humanism will be torn apart as they try both to softly knock down the Wilcox's prejudices and to help the Basts.Written by
Dame Emma Thompson received a total of thirteen nominations for her role in this movie. She won in all of those events, which includes an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA as Best Actress. See more »
During the kiss with Paul, and during the music hall scenes, Helen is wearing a wristwatch. While wristwatches did exist at the time they were rare, and women normally wore a brooch type of timepiece. The wristwatch would not become common until the first world war, when they were given to soldiers to allow them to see the time while both hands were engaged. See more »
Dearest Meg, I'm having a glorious time. I like them all. They are the very happiest, jolliest family that you can imagine. The fun of it is that they think me a noodle, and say so - at least, Mr. Wilcox does. Oh Meg, should we ever learn to talk less.
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The very carefully considered style of the E M Forster adaptations became a trademark for the Merchant-Ivory productions (covering three of the six novels) that substantially conveyed outmoded worlds full of luxury and privilege, yet are somehow repellently distasteful. `Howard's End' is a good case in point, drawing on Edwardian affluence via inheritance and commerce, liberal-minded progressive women and the under-trodden working class that supports them. Forster tellingly borrows the name of the brothers August and Friedrich Schlegel, leading German poets, critics and philosophers in the first half of the 19th Century whose work formed the basis of German romanticism. With his Schlegels' bi-nationality of British and German, but not the 'dreadful sort' as Forster is keen to stress, he addresses his aversion to xenophobia in the years leading up to the First World War. Stephen Farber argues that Ivory's film technique has the possible limitation of failing to do justice to the mythical dimension of Forster's novel that employed the primeval symbolism of a wych-elm to echo England's past. In the film a spreading chestnut tree complete with pigs' teeth substitutes for the wych-elm, and serves no more significance than as a marker on the way to the garage. Yet, Primeval Man is clearly alive and well nearly a century later with the world stage replaying the events of one of mankind's sorriest episodes culminating in the carnage of the Great War. Wars, terrorism, famine, HIV, SARS and other mysterious killer bugs stalk the Earth whilst the Serbian Prime Minister is assassinated in the Balkans.
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.
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