The Remains of the Day (1993) Poster

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Yes, They Can Still Make 'Em Like They Used To
ccthemovieman-119 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Wow, what a wonderful movie this turned out to be!

I didn't check this movie out until the fall of 2004 after reading a number of positive reviews, enough to pique my curiosity. I was glad I did. In fact, I was so impressed with this film that a week later I went out and bought the book, which is even better.

First of all, the film is a tremendous visual treat. There are some great interior scenes of the Darlington mansion, and great colors inside and in the surrounding outside scenery. This is simply a beautiful film.

Second, the acting of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was spectacular. They were riveting. The way they deliver dialog and the expressions of their faces.....magnificent acting. Thompson's sad look in the back of the bus near the end of the movie is the saddest, most haunting look on a person's face I have ever seen in 50 years of movie watching.

Hopkins, one of the best actors of this generation, provides a tremendous character study of a man who has been taught that to be the best in his profession, he must suppress all emotion. In doing so, he never learns to think for himself and he misses out on what could have been the love of his life. In that regards, this is a very frustrating story.

However, this isn't just a tragic romantic story. Hopkins' character is wonderful example, too, of unselfish devotion and dignified servitude in the face of any kind of circumstance.

This is an extremely beautiful, intelligent and sensitive film. If when people tell you, "They don't make 'em like they used to," show them this film.
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The best story of unrequited love in cinema history.
sdillon-130 July 2003
This is, in my opinion, the finest film in the Merchant Ivory canon. And to hail it as such is to grossly undersell it. It is not only that but also the best story of unrequited love in cinema history, and a masterpiece of understated emotion. It also boasts some of the finest performances ever put on film, most notably from the peerless Anthony Hopkins.

Then again, understatement is the key to this film. Writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Director James Ivory adapt Kazuo Ishiguro's poignant novel with such delicacy that it gets under ones skin in a deeply profound way difficult to express in a few words.

The plot opens in the 1950's as meticulous and emotionally repressed butler Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) reviews a lifetime of service in Darlington Hall. The story flashes back to the 1930's where Stevens formed a close friendship with housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). This relationship grew slowly over several years and ultimately the pair developed romantic feelings for one another, although neither admitted it. Whilst all this was happening, Steven's employer Lord Darlington (Edward Fox) gradually became a misguided Nazi sympathiser in pre-war Europe. Unfortunately, loyalty to his master caused Stevens to reject the delicate advances of Miss Kenton. History took its inevitable course, and Darlington's involvement in appeasement contributed to the outbreak of World War II. Now Stevens realises he made a mistake and wants to make amends.

To describe Anthony Hopkins as brilliant is completely redundant. His turn here goes way beyond mere acting, and it was criminal he was denied the Oscar at the 1994 Academy awards. Stevens absurdly repressed personality gently takes the audience from laughter to tears in the most emotionally devastating finale I have ever seen. Hopkin's mesmerising performance is matched by a career-best turn from Emma Thompson. The supporting cast is uniformly superb, including a pre-Four Weddings Hugh Grant and Christopher Reeve in one of his last roles before the accident that paralysed him.

Needless to say, the cinematography, music, editing and art direction are immaculate. The understated beauty of the English countryside that was so important to the book translates brilliantly to film here.

This is a lovely, melancholic film, which effortlessly embraces complex themes such as misguided loyalty, dignity, pride, wasted lives, and unrequited love. It would be all too much to bear if it weren't for the film's genuine good-humoured understanding of English culture (all the more remarkable for having been initially penned by a Japanese author). In fact, humour is an important element in the film. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, which make the tragic part of the story all the more real and poignant. All in all, The Remains of the Day is a milestone film – an unforgettable tragedy of a man who pays the terrible price of denying his own feelings.
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Anthony Hopkins Brings Sheer Genius to the Role of Mr. Stevens
writerasfilmcritic3 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Anthony Hopkin's interpretation of the single-minded English butler, Mr. Stevens, has to be one of the most fully realized roles ever to appear on film. His interaction with the lovely and intelligent housekeeper, Miss Kenton, is so realistic that it is painful to watch. Despite his growing love and admiration for her, he keeps his feelings firmly under control, determined that they will not destabilize his carefully crafted existence. Always expecting Stevens to make the first move, Miss Kenton tries everything in her power to get under his skin or to make him jealous, but she only succeeds in torturing them both all the more. The emotional turning point of the movie takes place in Mr. Steven's private room, where he has fallen asleep in his chair while reading a novel. Enter Miss Kenton in a playful mood carrying another bunch of flowers to brighten up his quarters. Curious about his reading material, she tries to get the book away from him because he refuses to tell her what it is. She moves in close, as close as they ever will be, and as she struggles for the volume, Stevens longingly admires her lovely countenance, her soft hair, and no doubt gets a good strong whiff of her sweet fragrance, wishing he could gently kiss her and take her in his arms, but that would lead to ... what? Finally, he allows her to pull the book from his grasp and Miss Kenton finds that it is far from what she had expected, being just some sentimental old love story. This is, of course, a poignant revelation. She looks up at him, her love as obvious as their proximity, and they gaze into one another's eyes for a few brief seconds. Then Stevens simply tells her to please respect his privacy and to leave him alone. Callously rebuffed, she does just that, for the rest of his earthly days. It is the biggest mistake that Mr. Stevens has ever made, and for a very competent and exacting man, it is all too apparent that he must have made many such extremely serious errors. On her next evening off, he watches helplessly from the window as Miss Kenton rides her bicycle into town, knowing that on that very day, he has somehow all but lost her for good. The pain and anxiety on his face are palpable, if brilliantly underplayed. Stevens gets one final chance to forestall the inevitable, her impending marriage to Tom Bent, but as per usual, does nothing to stop it because duty calls.

Nearing the conclusion of the movie, when they are reunited after a generation has passed, Stevens is crestfallen to learn that Miss Kenton has changed her mind at the last minute and, following her divorce, will not be returning with him to resume her duties as housekeeper at Darlington Hall. Instead, she has chosen to remain "in the west country" in order to help bring up her granddaughter. Of course, poor sad Stevens couldn't even consider seeking employment in that locale in order to eke out a few years of bliss with Sara in what remains of his sad, lonely life. When they part company for the last time, he holds onto her hand for as long as he can, then as she tearfully rides away in the bus, he lifts his hat to the only woman he has ever loved and who has ever loved him. As if on autopilot, Stevens climbs back into the Daimler and turns over the engine. The hollow, utterly defeated look on his face belies the fact that the only thing left for him now is to face his inevitable death in a few short years. The camera does a closeup on the car's headlight and he starts back for his comfortable old rut of a life.

Stevens was the consummate professional whereas his rival, Bent, placed strict limits on what he would tolerate from his employer, one of Lord Darlingon's aristocratic and bigoted colleagues. As such, he simply resigned from "service" in order to live life on his own terms. He doesn't squander his second chance to marry Miss Kenton and easily takes her away from Stevens, who obstinately and pridefully clings to his all-consuming job as far more important than affairs of the heart. Why? Perhaps because he is very skilled at the former and extremely inept at the latter. Instead of experiencing all the tenderness that the admiring Miss Kenton wanted to give him, he chose instead the importance of his position at Darlington Hall, a world stage where matters of serious consequence were considered in the midst of vast and lush grounds set in the beautiful English countryside. At the conclusion of the movie, we follow a trapped pigeon that is released from the confines of the mansion. It flies heavenward, and as the moving score builds to crescendo, we are treated to a bird's eye view of the magnificent estate for which Stevens has given up everything to be a part. What exactly does the pigeon represent? We can only guess, but one thing is certain. "The Remains of the Day" is a beautiful and poignant movie, wonderfully acted by the two principals and effectively supported by the rest of the cast. Further, the writing, cinematography, score, and directing are nearly flawless. This has to be one of the best movies of the last several decades.
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If you have a normal 21st century attention span, you won't get it
Joe Smith18 April 2007
I am disappointed to see reviewers refer to this movie as anti-war or a story of unrequited love or Lord Darlington as a Nazi or WWII as a nuclear holocaust. I think that perhaps these comments reflect both the lack of an adequate attention span and a lack of a proper knowledge and perspective of the times. "The Remains of the Day" requires both. I found it to be an interesting movie with many facets, each of which could be used as the sole theme of a movie. It is a movie that has great acting, is beautifully filmed in and around one of England's great mansions, and tells a fascinating and complex story as well.

It is true that the movie is about, in part, what many in the audience would believe is a romance that never has a chance because of Mr. Stevens' devotion to and pride in the occupation he has chosen. It is important to recognize that it is the job of his choosing, not one that has been forced upon him. It is tempting to write the job off as no more than servant of the wealthy, but it is actually the equivalent of presidency of a small company. Stevens is in charge of seeing that the large staff serving Darlington gets all of the many jobs in the household done - to perfection - every day of the week. I doubt that the White House has standards that approach those of Lord Darlington. So, each viewer can decide for himself or herself whether there could have ever been a woman in Stevens' life to whom he could give husband-like devotion.

Darlington is not a Nazi sympathizer. He is a man who exhibits the ideals of 20th century Britain: honor, fairness, and full devotion to what is right. He believes, most would say correctly, that the Treaty of Versailles was unduly harsh in its treatment of post-WWI Germany. Unfortunately, he fails to recognize, as many Americans do now, that unfairness in the past cannot be rectified by stupid policies in the present. So, by seeking what he considers fairness for Germany in the 1930's, when Hitler's evil and expansionist aims should have been clearly evident, he and others set the stage for a world-wide conflict that cost 60 million lives, of which the lives lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitute less than one-half of one percent.

One of my tests of a movie is how far into it I start looking at my watch. In this case I began looking at my watch not to see how much more I had to sit through: rather, I was hoping to assure myself that there was enough movie left to provide a satisfactory ending. There was: however, I could have enjoyed much more of the talent and story I was seeing.
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Outstanding in Every Possible Area
tfrizzell9 January 2001
Excellent film that was overlooked in 1993 due to the dominance of "Schindler's List", "The Remains of the Day" is an exquisite film which examines the relationship between two servants in England (Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, both Oscar-nominated). They both definitely have feelings for each other, but both seem to be bound by duty, honor, and society. Hopkins is not the type of person who shares his inner-most feelings with anyone and Thompson wants to share her hidden love for Hopkins, but is frightened for various reasons. The fact that the film is told during flashbacks which took place just before the involvement of England in World War II just makes everything that much more interesting and heart-wrenching. During the present-day of the movie it appears that Hopkins and Thompson will finally proclaim their love for one another, but in the end that is not even a real certainty. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's adaptation of the novel is exceptional and James Ivory's direction has rarely been better or more focused. With all this said, it is Hopkins and Thompson that dominate the action and make "The Remains of the Day" one of the best films of the 1990s. 5 stars out of 5.
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Diamond in the Rough
J. Wellington Peevis27 August 2003
Very deliberate but marvelous study of a lifetime butler in an English noble household. The film does a wonderful parallel examination of the man's life set against the tumult of the 1930s that effectively did away with the British Empire and made him and others like him, as people curiously obsolete.

An extremely rare example of sanity when dealing with the subject of War. Most films as we know too well, concentrate on the futility and bottom line cost in humanity, which is to be expected since generally speaking, an artist will always present this point of view. However in most cases, it's an incomplete and wildly immature handling of the topic. This film addresses if you can believe it, the folly of avoiding War thru appeasement, and hammers home what might have been avoided if the British had called Hitler to the carpet early on, instead of playing chess with him. This is the backdrop; the main story is that of the butler, Stevens, an ostensibly simple character played with unimaginable complexity, by Hopkins. The fascinating examination of one man's sense of duty, a devotion that transcends all other obligations and aspirations in his life has never been so poignantly or expertly presented to an audience. Everything about the film, the supporting cast in particular is a rousing triumph. I cannot overly recommend this.
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What do you most look forward to, Mr. Stevens?
Ben Calmes5 December 2003
The crowning achievement of the Ismail Merchant/James Ivory partnership and their entire production team who give their absolute best in original music, cinematography, editing, art and set direction, costumes, and, of course, screenplay by Merchant/Ivory regular Ruth Prawler Jhabvala. Add flawless performances from the all-star cast and the result is almost too perfect. But there is just enough humility to this sad tale of unrequited love to make it completely believable.

Anthony Hopkins excels as the impenetrable Mr. Stevens, Butler of a lordly country house in the final days of the British Empire, and Emma Thompson is superb as his foil, Housekeeper Miss Kenton. Both give wonderfully deep, sensitive portrayals of two complex lonely people who don't realize, until it's too late, that they belong together. Swirling around them is fascinating drama of life upstairs and downstairs and there are as many surprises and sub-plots to the story (based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) as there are secret passages, nooks, and crannies in "Darlington House."

An all-round first-rate cinematic experience, "Remains of the Day" is one of those pictures that lingers in the mind long after the credits pass. A must see. One poignant note: this was the return to the big screen of actor Christopher Reeve, as American millionaire Congressman Lewis, whose life nicely frames the storyline. Two years later Reeve became paralyzed after being thrown from a horse.
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An excellent adaptation
Dana Wang22 February 2004
In the WWII era, Mr Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is a well experienced, dedicated butler who's loyal to his pro-Nazi master. He is always placid and graceful. Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) is a new housekeeper and her liveliness and wit somehow touches Mr Stevens' very soul. But he conceals his feeling towards her, and she can never unlock that closed door of his heart.

Mr Stevens looks back on all this while on a road trip for meeting Miss Kenton after twenty years. He now serves a new master, Lewis (Christopher Reeve) who was once one of the guests of his formal master back in the 1940s. On the way his memory slowly flows back to him (and he also realises that his formal master was not an impeccable man after all)...when Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton bid farewell again, she looks into his eyes while her tears roll down her cheeks...a very sad scene.

'The Remains of the Day' is about love that is never that is never verbally of which you finally has to let go...having read the book (which is finely written), I realise that this film is a wonderfully successful adaptation. Anyone who's into love stories should watch this.
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Touching, tragic tale of one man's duty
bob the moo4 February 2002
Ishiguro's story of duty finds career butler Mr Stevens preparing to meet Miss Kenton, once the head maid in his household. They have not seen each other for 15 years and once had an unspoken love. As he journeys down to meet her he remembers a lifetime spent in quiet, honourable service.

I don't like period pieces. Merchant-Ivory stuff usually feels very false and stifled to me. Here I didn't know what to expect but I was blown away from start to finish. To say the story is about a romance isn't the whole picture, to say it's about British-German politics pre-WW2 is not the full story. In fact the film is about it all - but the focus is Mr Stevens. He serves dinner while his father dies in an upstairs room, he puts his own opinions so far back that he doesn't have any, he is so focused on the proper way to serve that he never finds his own life. To describe in like this makes it sound very dull, and to some people it may be, but trust me - the story is beautifully observed and has so much going on in the background that it'll keep you interested. The main reason it works is a faultless central performance by Hopkins.

Hopkins drives the whole film. His face and his speech reveal more about his inner feelings than anything else. It can be frustrating to see him always put on a brave face and bury his emotions, but once you get his character (a man of quiet honour, dignity and respect - any wonder he seems otherworldly by modern standards) it's fine. He is fantastic - I cannot say it enough. His lot in life is moving, but what is incredibly moving is that he seems content to let his life slide by. The scene where Thompson's Miss Kenton confronts him about the book he is quietly reading is beautiful, truly beautiful - revealing their closeness and the depth of Stevens' heart. Thompson is also excellent in her role but doesn't have as much screen time as Hopkins. Fox, Reeves and Chaplin are all excellent in their roles.

If the film has a weakness it is that it doesn't judge the rich - even the Nazi sympathisers. It almost seems to revere the elite - I know they are not the focus but Merchant-Ivory always seems to be obsessed with how the other half live (or maybe they are part of the other half!). The ending is also a little disappointing because it's quite low-key, but it's very, very touching.

Overall this is excellent - I didn't think it would be that good, but it totally blew me away. Sit down and let this story unfold before you, let the characters develop and ensnare you. I guarantee you will be deeply moved by Hopkins. The rather crude message of `seize the day' is beautifully told in a rich tapestry of one man's life.
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The Sadness of Time, Lost
nycritic30 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
How can a romance succeed when it never even begins? This is the question that lies at the center of this intricate tale that parallels the goings-on at Darlington Hall within the servants and the diplomats who convene there where Mr. Stevens, the butler who Anthony Hopkins brings to deeper focus, works at -- work being a mild operative, since he has forgone any external manifestation of emotion and personality in lieu of becoming the "perfect servant". This, needless to say, is the very trait that ruins his life and locks him up in the gilded cage where he is doomed to continue on even when the world has moved on, without him no doubt. In many ways, this could be a gentler, more touching variation of what Robert Altman would produce in 2001 as GOSFORD PARK with the crucial difference that where Altman's film focuses on a murder mystery and paintbrushes light strokes of colour over a large ensemble, Merchant-Ivory's REMAINS OF THE DAY is a romance tainted with darker, political overtones, the tie being solely the period where England was inching delicately towards war and the old society -- tradition -- was about to collapse to make way to the new way.

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name, REMAINS OF THE DAY's plot is deceptively simple: it presents an older Stevens who is on his way to reconnect with an old friend and former co-worker, Mrs. Benn (Emma Thompson), nee Kenton, Darlington Hall's housekeeper. Through a series of vignettes we get to see how it was "in the old days", how Mrs. Kenton came to Darlington Hall, how she and Stevens initially did not get along due to the fact that Stevens' father was a sick man under Stevens' employ and was beginning to falter in his duties as the under-butler. However, as time went by, they would become quite a working team, and through subtle hints both suggest there may be more, however under-developed. We also get to see how Lord Darlington (James Fox), a somewhat pompous man, was progressively revealed to be a Nazi sympathizer and would make some ruining mistakes of his own -- a thing not lost on the American congressman Lewis (Christopher Reeve) who one evening, as a toast to Lord Darlington, calls the European diplomats "amateurs" because they are operating on goodwill and not practicality.

REMAINS OF THE DAY seems to be lacking in plot because in fact, it moves at its own pace much in the style of Merchant-Ivory movies. However, there is quite a bit happening here -- it's just not that evident at first glance. Because at its core, it's a story of people caught in a microcosm of the mundane as veiled, sinister events not to their full understanding are insinuating themselves at the very edges of the frame, there are times when it seems the story dwells too long on mediations of characters tics -- for example, the spat between Mrs. Kenton and Mr. Stevens about Mr. Stevens, Senior's forgetfulness over a Chinaman bobble head, itself a rung on the ladder of Mr. Stevens, Senior's eventual demotion. However, this is exactly the way two co-workers would go about in any other circumstance. It just so happens that theirs is the repetitive task of running a castle to the point that their presence is invisible, making the Hall seem as though it ran itself.

However the movie is rife with subtext. Hugh Grant has a small part as the apparently clueless Cardinal who is in fact quite aware of his uncle's relation to the Germans and seems to represent an England of the future. He, and Reeve as the American businessman who will eventually succeed in owning Darlington Hall, are vastly different from the traditionalists that Mrs. Kenton, Mr. Stevens, and Lord Darlington are at heart -- even when Mrs. Kenton has a little extra that separates her from the two men, but even she is clamped down by her passivity towards an injustice committed to two German girls (whose final destiny remains unsolved, leading one to believe they may have met a horrible end) which mirrors her inability to truly take control of her life. Where the actual remains of the day would indicate that things would get better, the fact that Mrs. Kenton and Mr. Stevens are unable, maybe even unwilling (at this late point in their life) to truly confess what she had initiated at trying to unveil his inner life through a romance novel, represents the elegant devastation that overwhelms its presence which drowns the movie in regret. Regret for what never even had a chance in the first place even when it had enormous potential, and that makes it the more imploding.
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