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. —Yepok
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A Journey Everyone Should Take
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.
- Jan 23, 1999
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