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The Thompson Factor
mocpacific17 October 2005
If it's raining, if it's late, if I'm tired of working, if I'm restless or if I'm in a quandary of sorts, "Howard's End". I put the film on and Emma Thompson - presumably with the help of her accomplices, Ivory, Jhavhala, Hopkins etc - takes me away from whatever mood I'm trying to escape and leads me through her own, brilliantly drawn, gently torturous path. I don't recall when was the last time an actress has had this kind of power over my own psyche. The film is constructed with an Ivory attention to detail worthy of a vintage Visconti. The screenplay has no lapses of any kind and never falls into the usual traps. Loyal to its source material and yet, cinematic in the most revolutionary traditional sense of the word. The Britishness of Anthony Hopkins character is turned upside down giving us a glimpse into a character that's a mass of contradictions. But it is Emma Thompson's film from beginning to end. What a glorious achievement.
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A Journey Everyone Should Take
awoolsey23 January 1999
The literary period piece is a difficult genre to master, requiring a difficult balancing between restraint and flowing emotion. Few films effectively achieve this as beautifully as Merchant-Ivory's astounding HOWARDS END, making it probably the best period film of the 1990's. The film juxtapositions the intellectual, emotionally unhindered Schlegel sisters against the restrained, imperious Wilcox family, and, for good measure, mixes in the differing attitudes toward class emerging early in the century. What could quite easily have been a dry study in the cultural dynamics of pre-WWI England becomes an enveloping tale, thanks in no small part to the performances by Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and Vanessa Redgrave, whose Ruth Wilcox remains enigmatic after every viewing. The emotions ringing through by film's end - not to mention its astoundingly pointed social criticism - give the film its power, a power missing even from Forster's rambling, distant novel. And this story is nestled amongst some of the most beautiful art direction, music, and cinematography to ever grace the screen. The haunting journey to HOWARDS END is one few other recent films can rival.
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One of my all time favorite movies.
kdufre007 September 2000
"Howards End" is certainly one of the best films of the last decade. I have seen this film several times over the past 7 years and each time I find myself in complete awe. I love how its intricate story gradually unfolds layer by layer, involving us more and more with the characters. "Howards End" also boasts breath-taking cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts and a rousing and rueful musical score by Richard Robbins.

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.
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Superb!! Or perhaps you just don't get it...
addyd28 July 2003
...and I must admit that on the first viewing, I didn't get it myself.

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.
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A synthesis of beauty, talent, and amazing cinematography
sphinx-718 September 2000
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. From the opening credits, superimposed over Vanessa Redgrave's skirt sweeping through the wet grass and flowers around Mrs. Wilcox's beloved Howards End, through to the final image of rural bliss, the cinematography is perfection. The costuming is amazing, the screenplay is adept, and the acting is stellar, to say the least. To have Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, and Anthony Hopkins in one movie together is to see a true synthesis of talent, not to mention James Wilby and Samuel West. The scene where Leonard Bast goes walking into the field of blue flowers is breathtaking.

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.
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Delicious adaptation from a superb novel
Keith F. Hatcher14 December 2003
Here is another example of what the British are best at in film-making. Based on E.M. Forster's novel `Return to Howards End' this film is more or less a set piece in the strictest period-piece tradition, and thus in style is somewhat akin to that great TV series `Return to Brideshead' and even Robert Altman came up trumps with his splendid `Gosford Park' which most definitely takes its well-earned place alongside such classical pieces of this genre.

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.
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Searing story, exquisite interpretation
Amy Adler30 May 2003
For those who want to watch an intelligent, lovely-to-look-at motion picture, it doesn't get much better than this. The film tells the story of two sisters, of limited but respectable means, who collide with the world of the very rich in Edwardian England. One sister benefits from the acquaintance with the wealthy Wilcoxes. The other is all but destroyed by it. Along the way, there are charming scenes of tea parties and music classes, elegant costumes, fantastic settings, and engaging conversations. There is also a sad, secondary storyline of a poor clerk and his wife who, unfortunately, slip into even more abysmal circumstances through no fault of their own. The ending is tinged with despair, even as it offers some hope for both of the sisters' futures. The film should be commended as well for the fine performances of Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter and others. Any discriminating film enthusiast will not want to miss this movie.
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Great work, Merchant & Ivory!
This film is a testimony to the creative novelist E.M. Forster! This early 90's full-length version of the novel is faithful to his 1921 masterpiece and beautifully realized by a team of film makers who know the "right moves." What a great trip back to early 20th Century Britain. The film moves briskly but in some ways we're experiencing some time gaps in a slow, slow manner; the outdoor scenes are great and almost multi-sensory. This highly atmospheric film also includes a great ensemble cast headed by Emma Thompson. The film never underestimates the intelligence of the audience and forces us to confront even our own class discriminations! Well worth a VHS or DVD rental; sorry I can't give any comments on DVD extras as I borrowed this free from our local library. Keep a copy of the book handy and notice the masterful interweaving done by Ruth Prawar Jandhlava. Life when fully realized is about much more than consumerist illusions and brief "ownership" by a selfish few. The novel's Motto is "Only connect" and the hard-thinking viewer of this great film will be enabled to do that as well !!!
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Close to perfection...
Baby Bunny21 February 2000
Masterful performances make this splendid film adaptation of EM Forster's novel of the clashing of the classes a must-see. Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, and Emma Thompson fill the screen with passion and vigor. One of the few good movies that does justice to the great book from which it was taken. Lushly filmed and directed with, though sometimes a heavy touch, great vitality by James Ivory. The setting is beautiful, the period feel is very accurate, and the story has subtle beauty. Watch for Ivory bringing out some interesting psychology between characters, especially of different classes. He captures attitudes of the time to near perfection. A cinematic treat.
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The Best Film Ever Made
SMHowley10 June 2002
Howard's End is not an easy movie to sit through if you do not typically watch period films. The language and euphemisms are very old fashioned (1910). But if you really sit back and watch the story unfold you will become engrossed. The crafting of the story by Merchant Ivory is impeccable. They tell the story so visually that you may not notice how physically alike Margaret Schlegel is to Ruth Wilcox in carriage and deportment, but the light-bulb goes off when the housekeeper of Howard's End mistakes Margaret for Ruth. The story itself is so quiet and brilliant that you don't realize something so very profound has happened until the credits roll. Every performance is amazing, but Emma Thompson (she won the Best Actress Oscar) and Vanessa Redgrave stand out. Their scenes together are so full of nuances that it's hard to take it all in during a first viewing.
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"Howard's End" or the Beginning of a New Order ...
ElMaruecan8223 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
It is quite interesting that the French title says "Return to Howard's End", as if this addition pointed out the inexorable path of life that would allow the central character Margaret Shlegel (Emma Thompson) to own the very house she was once deprived of.

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.
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Films Don't Get Much Prettier
ccthemovieman-17 January 2006
Being a man who appreciates beauty and great visual movies, I have checked out all the Merchant-Ivory films. I found this to be their prettiest, just stunning in its beauty.

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!
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Exemplary crafted film of a bygone age
Filmtribute7 December 2003
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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When good breeding goes bad and when high class becomes low morals.
mark.waltz17 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
What seems on the surface a simple tale of one woman's gift to another is much more complex in this story of one upper class family's involvement with two sisters, not so well off, but obviously of higher morals than some of the members of those who consider themselves everybody else's "betters". The story initially focuses on Helena Bonham Carter's Helen, a middle class lady who is involved with the upper class Joseph Bennett but unable to marry him because of his issues with his family. By chance, Carter's sister Margaret (Emma Thompson) meets the ailing matriarch of Bennett's family (a very subtle and gentle Vanessa Redgrave) who sees something special in the classy Margaret. On her death bed, Redgrave writes in pencil the desire to leave her childhood home, Howard's End, to Thompson, but at a family meeting, widower Anthony Hopkins is manipulated into preventing that by his other son (James Wilby).

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.
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The perfect representation of Victorian England
Diego_rjc7 February 2010
Generally, when I start writing my reviews, in the first paragraph I explain the movie's plot. This is not gonna be the case here, because 'Howards End' has such a complex plot that I would lost about four paragraphs talking about it. All I'm gonna say is that this movie follows the events of three families in the early 20th century Victorian England - the aristocrats and capitalists Wilcox, the humanistic and philanthropist Schlegels, and the poor and hard-working Basts, and it shows how these so-different families are related to each other.

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.

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Only Connect
bkoganbing7 April 2009
I'm sure that even in 1910 when Kaiser Wilhelm still had a few fans who remembered he was the grandson of Queen Victoria and not ruler of the soon to be hated foe of World War I, E.M. Forster must have come in for a few critic's slings in having some of his protagonists of Howards End have a German surname. Even that early time there were many who saw Germany as a potential foe.

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.
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An exceptional English drama
DesbUK11 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Winning the 1992 BAFTA for Best Film and Best Actress Oscar for Emma Thompson, James Ivory's HOWARD'S END is that rarity - a film whose complexities of character and plot seem more rewarding on successive viewings. It is a film I have grown to like more and more over the years.

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.
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So subtle, yet so very clever . .
Greg Mullins1 February 2010
So subtle, yet so very clever. There are some films you watch again and again just because you like them, or something about them. Even if you don't think them among the best ever - they're one of your favorites. This is not that. There are others you really have to watch several times just to penetrate the layers of things hidden - multiple meaning and real subtext. Modern film goers aren't used to this. Many find even the idea of intelligent films that require your intelligence to watch them, a foreign concept. This is one of those.

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 . . .
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Above All Else, There Is One Reason This Movie Is Phenomenal
Alex Aragona14 May 2017
I watched this movie, and then read Roger Ebert's review of it. And I completely agree with one thing he said:

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.
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May it never end
robert-temple-18 November 2010
This is one of the finest films ever made, a testament to director James Ivory's unique sensitivity and genius. Of course, he started with a great novel by E. M. Forster, which always helps. But the screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvlala does it complete justice, as was always the case with her magnificent writing for the screen. I recently watched this again for the first time in years. My seeing performances of this story began with a London stage production long ago, where Gemma Jones was so brilliant in the role of the younger Schlegel sister played here by Helena Bonham Carter. This tale is so powerful and dramatic that it lends itself to novel, stage, and screen with equal facility. The story is bitingly, savagely critical of the hypocrisy and social injustice of England a century ago. This film's luminous centre is given it from the very first opening travelling shot, where Vanessa Redgrave is seen and followed as she roams in the twilight through her beloved garden at her house Howard's End, which she had inherited from her brother who died, and where she was born. Ivory avoids needless lighting, and we can barely make her out sometimes as she looks lovingly upon the flowers, the tree branches, and smells the redolent air, taking in the scents of early night. She stands outside looking into the drawing room through the open bow window, and is absorbing the adored atmosphere of the home she loves above all else in the world. Although she dies rather early in the film, Redgrave, as Ruth Wilcox, is radiant, mystical, supernatural in her mysterious performance, and she gives that inescapable tone of an underlying reality, of a concealed fate, beneath the surface of events, which make this film so utterly magical. All of the major performances are sensationally brilliant. Anthony Hopkins is so convincing as a crisp, matter-of-fact man of business who is in denial of all deeper feelings. Emma Thompson is at her most glorious as the infectiously irreverent and joyously alive older sister to the more serious Helena Bonham Carter. But in their scenes together they convey the carefree and heedless sisterliness of a joyful and playful household, they chatter together like magpies who have known each other since birth, they play, they joke, they romp, and truly they have captured on film exactly what such people could be like in those days. I knew groups of sisters like that as late as the 1960s and even the 1970s, before that terminal social decay set in, which destroyed all real joy in people's home lives and eradicated all such spontaneity and innocent fun in the drawing room. Every scene of this film reeks of authenticity and screams out: 'I'm really happening!' Or at least: 'Such things happened once!' Every scene of this film is composed so perfectly, the costumes are so exquisite, the art direction and production design are sensational beyond even the words of E. M. Forster to describe. The music is chosen so sensitively. Every breath is choreographed in this sumptuous spectacle of a lost world. As you watch this, you keep thinking: there is only one James Ivory. And he truly is an ivory in the lapidary sense, for he and everything he touches are carved by the gods.
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Feels like home
speedo5825 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
By the end of this movie, you feel as if the characters are part of your family. You want to know more about them, and what happens to them, and to the wonderful old estate of "Howards End". Every time I watch it, I find new details that escaped my notice before.

The first version I saw of this movie had Henry, Anthony Hopkins' character, on the verge of asking Margaret, Emma Thompson's character, to be his mistress. This would have, in the morals of the time, required an end to the relationship. In her quick-witted way, she responded, "Yes!!", and he asked, "Yes, to what?" She said, "You were about to ask me to marry you. I said, yes, I will!" This was changed in subsequent versions and I think it made for less understanding of the dynamics of the characters.

The English family who don't realize that the are dinosaurs, in effect. The social norms which allowed them privilege are crumbling. We hear Ruth saying she is personally glad that women don't have the vote to the astonishment of the younger women. This leads you to wonder whether this was really her own thought, or whether Henry was so overbearing that she was never able to think for herself. Another instance is when Charles, after he has caused the death of Bast, blithely assuming he will only be the star witness in the case because he thinks his social standing will protect him.

The German family are more adventurous, inquisitive, and adaptable. In one bedroom scene, Margaret is shown reading "Theosophy", and Henry, turning to a picture in the book, says, "And what is this?" When Tibby admits to Charles that Bast is the father of Helen's child, he has no idea that Charles will charge forth to defend the family honor with a sword as in days of old.

To me, the name of the estate of "Howards End" is symbolic of of the end of the family as well as the era.

This is a visual treat as well as an intellectual adventure.
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A True Masterpiece
JoshtheGiant9 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Howards End is a truly brilliant film, it is absolutely perfect in its execution. The screenplay is perfect as is the story. The performances are flawless, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anthony Hopkins are just perfect in the leads. They are just great. James Ivory is one of cinema's best directors, and this is his best film and directorial job, he is just brilliant. Flawless direction by a perfect director. The art direction, cinematography, costume design, and musical score are all also very good, beautiful, and pretty much flawless. Howards End is just a great movie that everybody should see before they die. It is human, it ends how it should, not how we want it too which is one of movies biggest problems as of now.
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Exquisite in Every Detail
drednm20 November 2005
Superb adaptation of the EM Forster novel, Howards End is a feast. Story of two sisters and how they choose separate paths--one leading to radicalism and exile in Germany, the other taking a more conventional road.

Emma Thompson won a deserved Oscar as Margaret, the sensible older sister who finds love late in life. Helena Bonham Carter is Helen, the younger, more passionate sister who embraces truth as radicalism. Anthony Hopkins is Wilcox the ruthless businessman who marries Margaret after the death of his wife--a luminous Vanessa Redgrave.

Two events set things in motion here: the death of Ruth (who has befriended Margaret); and the stolen umbrella that brings Leonard Bast (Samuel West) into the sisters' lives. The two events begin the rift between the sisters. As Margaret is drawn into the family life of Wilcox she distances herself from the intellectual pursuits of her younger days; Helen on the other hand is drawn into the Basts' lives and becomes more and more radical.

The period detail is flawless, as expected in a Merchant/Ivory film. The acting is terrific across the board, and the adaptation of the Forster novel is perfect. The film looks at such tensions as the industrial revolution vs agrarian England, intellectualism vs truth; academia vs business, etc. And there is always the English question of social standing.

Thompson is great as Margaret. She's funny, talkative, sad, and honest. Bonham Carter is also very good as the younger, more direct sister. Hopkins is solid as the callus business man of the Empire. Redgrave is a marvel as the fading Ruth. Her opening scene wandering through the dusky garden is wonderful and sets the tone for city vs. country.

James Wilby (always underrated) is detestable as the older Wilcox son. Samuel West is terrific as Leonard. Prunella Scales is funny as the sisters' aunt. Jemma Redgrave is the nasty Evie. Nicola Duffett is sad as Jacky Bast. Adrian Ross Magenty is the bookish brother. Simon Callow has a cameo as a lecturer. And Susie Lindeman is funny is the dim Dolly.

Just a beautiful film. It's mythic and gentle and haunting. Indeed myth is yet another topic here. The country folk embed pig's teeth in tree trunks so that the bark can be used as a cure for toothache..... Filled with great moments and great acting from Thompson, Redgrave, West, Hopkins, and Bonham Carter.
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Peerless film making: It makes you remember why you fell in love with the movies in the first place!
Warning: Spoilers
Merchant Ivory's 1992 masterpiece "Howards End" is based on E.M Forrester's novel about snobbery and friction between the English classes. The story concerns itself with the middle-class Schlegal sisters, Margaret (Emma Thompson) and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter). Seems Helen had once put it into her head to fall in love with Paul Wilcox (Joseph Bennett), the son of an affluent family presided over by stalwart patriarch, Henry (Anthony Hopkins) and the fragile and whimsical, Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave). The romance is short lived and considered an embarrassment amongst the Wilcoxes, who marry off Paul to a woman of his own social standing. However, upon Ruth's death, Henry pursues a romantic relationship with Margaret that eventually blossoms into marriage. Prior to her death, Ruth had left the family's country estate – Howards End – to Margaret in her will.

But Henry and the family have decided that this will never do and do not tell Margaret about her inheritance. Henry's family, including Paul, his other son, Charles (James Wilby), daughter Evie (Jemma Redgrave) and daughter-in-law Dolly (Susie Lindeman) do not approve of their father's dalliances with Margaret, and even less of the resulting marriage. Enter Leonard Bast (Samuel West) – a poor cockney working in a bank. Through a series of misadventures he befriends Helen – a pairing that will eventually lead to his demise. Leonard is instructed by Margaret and Helen to decamp for another position at the insistence of Henry – who has ulterior motives that concern his own indiscretions with Leonard's wife, Jackie (Nicola Duffett).

Ruth Prawler Jhabvala's brilliant screenplay never allows the pace of all these intrigues to lapse, interweaving lust, desire, contempt and disaster into a seamless and exhilarating blend. James Ivory directs with panache for elegance and stylishly glamorous film making in the vein of the very best from Hollywood's golden age.

Sony Classics originally made "Howards End" available in a bare bones anamorphic transfer that was very nicely rendered. Now Criterion has put out its own deluxe edition, at a more than deluxe price. The transfer – while being advertised as newly remastered, is on par with the previously issued disc – showing only marginal improvements in film grain reduction and perhaps a tad more saturation in colors. Colors on both editions are bold, vibrant and nicely contrasted. Blacks are deep, velvety an solid. Whites are, on the whole, clean. Minor dirt and scratches appear but do not distract. The audio is 5.1 Dolby and represents a very stirring palette of music and effects. But this is primarily a dialogue driven film, so don't expect your speakers to get a work out. Where Criterion's edition excels is in its extra features; two comprehensive making of documentaries that tackle different aspects of the production, deleted scenes, an audio commentary and theatrical trailer. If that justifies the nearly triple price tag that Criterion is asking, then I suppose the new edition is worth every penny. Both versions come highly recommended by this reviewer.
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