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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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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What do you most look forward to, Mr. Stevens?
dragon-905 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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If you have a normal 21st century attention span, you won't get it
Fred-S18 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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Diamond in the Rough
glgioia27 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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Compelling, moving and practically flawless
sunnycloudy12 September 2003
I can only repeat what most previous commentators have said. This is a beautiful film in every way.

Anthony Hopkins performance is awe-inspiring and difficult to describe. Stevens the butler never shows any emotion so his face is always suitably deadpan. The dialogue is spare. Then just how is it that we are able to follow the emotional undercurrents? Emma Thompson is also brilliant as the energetic housekeeper who does display and express her feelings without ever stating them directly. But all the actors are excellent, even in the most minor parts. Hugh Grant has a small part and plays it perfectly. Sadly his talent is too often misused and misapplied. James Fox was a revelation as prior to this I had only seen him in very light roles. Here he played an essentially decent man who is not too bright but has been born into wealth and influence. His sentiments and suggestibility lead him to misguided positions and tragedy.

Among the many great scenes there is a hilarious laugh-out-loud sequence with Hopkins and Grant.

I have seen "A Room With a View", another effort from the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabwala team. It is adapted from a lovely book but I disliked the film. I thought it failed to set the mood and put across the emotions. But in "The Remains of the Day" everything works. It is sad, actually heart-rending, but not gloomy. The period details are wonderfully executed and you are impressed by the order and efficiency in the running of the stately home. Everything in the film looks good- clean, bright and sharp. You are swept in at the beginning and stay rapt till the end. And the magic does not decrease with repeated viewing. I have seen it a number of times, it remains absorbing and fresh.
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An excellent adaptation
RachelLone22 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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Muted drama with excellent performances.
jckruize14 July 2003
Impeccably cast and produced in typical Merchant-Ivory manner, this understated drama features superb performances by two of the finest actors in modern cinema, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Both an acid indictment of the British class system and an unflinching portrayal of a man who in the end cannot transcend his largely self-imposed limitations, the film is both fascinating and agonizing to watch and its cumulative emotional impact will stay with you long after it's over.

There is an exquisite moment near the finale when Thompson's character bares only slightly a hint of the feelings she has for Hopkins, an allusion to what might have been between them. And Hopkins, in his consummate skill, maintains in both facial and vocal expressions the most non-committal of replies; his face a mask of bland affability but his eyes dark with the knowledge that he is a dead man who has wasted his life. With no outward show of emotion, the scene is devastating.

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY may not be a happy film, but it is a memorable and powerful one.
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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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Poignant portrait of a butler's life...dedication, restraint, and regret
roghache19 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is an incredibly moving and tragic film that paints a vivid portrait of the restrained life of a butler at an English manor, and brings humanity to those in service. It examines the English class system and the relationship between master and servant, but primarily depicts a life of regret. The haunting musical score provides compelling accompaniment to this butler's unfolding tragic personal life story. The manor used to depict Darlington Hall is magnificent, the palatial rooms and luxurious furnishings spectacular, the English countryside scenery lovely.

Mr. Stevens has devoted his entire life to being the butler at Darlington Hall, currently owned by a millionaire American Senator named Lewis, who had earlier visited the manor. The film flashes back to the butler's years of loyal service and unselfish dedication to his previous employer, Lord Darlington. During that time he is shown to devote himself completely to the efficient running of this enormous household and to totally suppress his own emotions. The butler's restrained veneer is put to the test by the arrival of a new housekeeper, Miss Kenton, who is herself energetic and efficient but challenges him with her wit. The pair develop unexpressed but very obvious feelings for each other. Meanwhile, the gullible Lord Darlington becomes naively involved as a Nazi sympathizer, instrumental in British attempts to appease Hitler back in the late 1930's.

Anthony Hopkins is absolutely masterful in the role of the perfect butler, Mr. Stevens, his face a mirror of the words he cannot express. He superbly conveys this trusted servant's loyalty, dedicated efficiency, dignified service, restraint, and suppressed emotions. Emma Thompson is equally brilliant as the capable housekeeper, Miss Kenton, who does display her emotions without ever stating them directly. Other cast members include Hugh Grant as Lord Darlington's godson, and the wonderful late Christopher Reeve as Darlington Hall's present owner, Lewis. James Fox portrays the extremely misguided but never truly villainous Lord Darlington.

The butler reveals himself to be unfailingly dedicated to his household, overseeing an elaborate dinner party as his own father is dying upstairs. Mr. Stevens never expresses his political or personal opinions, regardless of whether they are solicited. He diligently performs every single duty expected of him, even awkwardly attempting to fulfill Lord Darlington's request to enlighten his godson about the birds & the bees before his marriage. Despite his own unacknowledged misgivings, at His Lordship's insistence he dismisses two maids simply because they are Jewish. As Lord Darlington's Nazi collaboration unfolds, Mr. Stevens concentrates on performing his duties, endeavours not to admit even to himself awareness of these unsettling political matters, and remains unquestioningly loyal to his aristocratic employer.

In this movie we have an undeclared romance between two mature people who never once express their feelings for each other, yet their love is blatantly apparent and absolutely compelling. The viewer gets a glimpse into the depth of unexpressed love in Mr. Stevens' heart when Miss Kenton discovers him reading a sentimental romance novel. He is painfully embarrassed at her discovery but again admits no emotion. The housekeeper's entire demeanor conveys how much she craves his love, threatening to wed another so that Mr. Stevens will finally reveal himself. When he does not, Miss Kenton marries a man she does not love. The butler's emotions are equally obvious on countless occasions, as when he gazes at the departing Miss Kenton from the window above. It is frustrating for the viewer, watching this honourable and dignified gentleman constantly put on a brave and proper outer facade while denying his own emotions, whether grief over his father or love for the housekeeper.

Twenty years later Mr. Stevens is filled with regret over his wasted life, his misguided sense of duty toward Lord Darlington, a man of disgraced reputation and now dead. He tries to remedy the error of his emotional suppression but alas, it is too late. Miss Kenton is unhappily married but has a grown, now pregnant daughter and her own sense of duty. Even when she broaches the topic of evening (as in the twilight of their lives), the reserved butler still does not declare his feelings. Their final farewell as she tearfully takes her leave by bus is surely one of the most restrained but sad and haunting depictions ever of two people in love parting. This is a superbly subtle, beautiful, and sensitive portrait of unfulfilled love and regret.
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Excellent drama
perfectbond7 November 2003
Anthony Hopkins as Mr. Stevens in The Remains of the Day made for truly excellent drama. His portrayal of the dedicated butler was picture perfect. He conveyed all the controlled subtleties of his character with great conviction. Stevens' dedication to his profession above all other considerations was both admirable and sad. All his interactions felt genuine and his personal journey was set wonderfully against the historical setting of World War II era Europe. Even the Nazi angle was considered with a more even hand than it is usually treated with. The practical considerations of the politicians of the time added a great sense of realism. The high profile supporting cast was also in top form though make no mistake this is Hopkins' film. Strongly recommended, 9/10.
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Seamless - Effortless - Masterpiece.
onewhoseesme19 April 2009
This is the Quintessential period piece! The flow of it is so seamless, that like classical music or a beautiful piece of art - you never tire of it. It marks the end of the expansion of prosperity, change and invention of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, that for the first time in history, brought into existence a large, educated middle class. It is the span of this society and it's events that were both passed on to us as a nation, and have had a greater influence on our modern day than any other period. As they were the beginning of the modern era. By the 1930's we come to the end of the rigid class system that had evolved during these periods. This story is in fact all about the servants and is seen from their perspective. Regular working class people, their lives and loves - they are it's real champions. I believe it to be the finest film ever made on the subject, and one of the finest films period.

Easy on both the eyes and the mind, it is effortless to watch. And one of only 3 films that I find myself returning to over and over again, more than any others. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson who have so many great performances, do their best work here. Here in cinema is a display of excellence in the ordinary, and a celebration of both understatement, and unrequited love. We are only observers here in the sense that there is nothing to figure out, and what we observe is the perfect Servant. One who applies himself wholeheartedly to his craft, and finds contentment in doing his job well. A rarity in both life and cinema. I find it very telling that perhaps the finest English film was a collaboration of men from two former colonies - India and the U.S., a Japanese author, a Celt in the male lead, and a screenwriter from Germany married to an Indian, who has spent most of her life in India and America. These are the people that school us in the culture that birthed our own, and so much of modern western civilization. None of them are English.

The perfect fit that I think James Ivory often reaches for is achieved here. It is a movie without sex, violence, or bad language, which are often added from a lack of strength, not as proof of it. This movie is a tribute to everything good that is England. Merchant and Ivory couldn't have done better.
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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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Excellent Period Piece
jobeblanc22 August 2004
This movie is James Ivory's best, and one of Anthony Hopkins' and Emma Thompson's better films.

Did you ever care to know what British upper class life was like in past centuries for both nobility and gentry (their servants?) This show humanizes life for them all, revealing their common foibles and their collective challenges.

One would think that Hopkins would be the quintessential casting choice for a high quality 19th or 20th century British butler. He admits that it is a role that he had to study since he has never had a butler, or known one. Well, he did a superb job.

Emma Thompson performs spectacularly as romantic interest and head housekeeper. Believability is her byline.

Altogether a well-rounded cast, and an excellent production that captivates, entertains and entrances. You'd almost want to trade lives with most any of the characters, for better or worse.
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First class cinema
bpstraycat19 May 2006
This delightful film deals with questions of duty and circumstance. On one hand, the character played with considerable finesse by Edward Fox is a well-meaning but horribly miss-informed man who, by an accident of birth, has found himself in a position to play a role in far-reaching international events, leading to the suffering of the second world war. On the other hand, we are given Anthony Hopkins, a well-meaning but horribly under-informed man, who, by an accident of birth, makes mistakes in his personal life that eventually lead him to regret.

The juxtaposition of the two characters allow the viewer to consider the nature of both official and personal decisions - that good nature and a desire to serve a perception of 'what is right' can lead honorable people to despair.

This complex and demanding subject was handled superbly by James Ivory, (the director) and his actors. I recommend this film to anyone who wants more than visual excitement. Schmoo says Emma Thompson is very pretty.
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One of those romantic drama's that convinces even those who don't like the genre all too much
philip_vanderveken17 August 2005
Somehow James Ivory is a name that I always have connected to costume drama's about the high society in the 19th century. And that's not exactly a good thing for me, because I couldn't care less for that kind of movies. It's just not my style of movie and I always try to avoid them as much as I can. Somehow, I feared that this movie would be exactly the same, although I knew that it was situated in between the two world wars. But I also knew that it was situated in the English high society and that's what kept me hesitating. On the other hand I must also say that I was quite curious about it, because this movie got such a high rating on this website (7.8/10 after 10,789 votes at the time).

In post-WWI Britain, tradition and good manners are still considered as one of the most valuable goods and Mr. Stevens will make sure that his master will not lose face towards his many guests. He is the butler who has sacrificed his entire life in order to serve his master in the best possible way and he makes sure that all the other staff members are as impeccable as he is. But when the new housekeeper falls in love with him and he can't show his feelings and when his master starts close relations with Nazi sympathizers, he finds it more and more difficult to do his job in the most perfect way...

If someone had told me before watching this movie that I would love it, I would never have believed him or her, thinking that they were exaggerating. But to my own surprise I must admit that I did like it ... a lot even. This is by far one of the best romantic drama's that I've seen lately. The story, the acting, the directing,... it's all very powerful and compelling and it didn't let go of me from the first minute until the last. I guess it was the obvious contradiction between what he wanted to do and what he was supposed to do and the constant tension in his relationship with Miss Kenton, that kept me interested.

Another reason why I liked this movie so much is the excellent acting. I already said it before in another review and I'll say it again in this one: Anthony Hopkins is perfect to play the role of the true gentleman. I never got the feeling that he was acting in this movie. Somehow he felt so real and natural, that I immediately forgot about the fact that this was just a role that he was playing. He has always been a fine actor, capable of playing all kinds of roles, but this is definitely one of his best. Also very interesting were Emma Thompson, Peter Vaughan and Hugh Grant, who all did a wonderful job in this movie.

In the end this is one of those romantic drama's that could even appeal to the people who normally would never watch such a movie. Before watching this movie I was more interested in the time period it was situated in than in the story, but even when it had been situated in the 19th century, I would have liked it a lot. This is just one of those movies that deserves to be in the top 250 list and it's too bad that it isn't right now. Personally I give it a rating of 8.5/10.
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SnoopyStyle3 January 2015
The movie starts in 1950s England. Darlington Hall is being sold after Lord Darlington (James Fox) died in disgrace as a Nazi sympathizer. American Trent Lewis (Christopher Reeve) is the new owner and he keeps Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) as the butler. The movie flashes back to the 1936 when Darlington invites an international group including Lewis who was a Congressman at the time to discuss helping Germany. His godson Reginald Cardinal(Hugh Grant) tries to caution him. Lewis is the only one who opposes. Stevens holds his views very private. Miss Sally Kenton (Emma Thompson) is the new head housekeeper. Stevens gets his elderly father work with Darlington despite his failing mental and physical health. Over the years, Darlington continues to help the Germans.

At the start, I would have preferred the movie to be more explicit. It would be great to spend a little time showing how low Darlington had fallen. Also I would like to have the date shown. They're very little things that eases the audience into the movie. The other minor problem is that I didn't root for Stevens and Miss Kenton. I kept hoping she forget him and quickly. However there is no telling about love. The acting is impeccable. There are a few sections that could be cut short to quicken the pace. It's a great movie but just a bit of a downer.
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As good as it gets.
robert-259-2895416 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I suppose you could sum up this film masterpiece in one word: Sir Anthony Hopkins. And no one wears the mantle as well. I would also sum up this movie as one that runs counter to all of the Hollywood clichés and happy endings, because as much as you would expect and want the pairing of Hopkins with an equally supreme Emma Thompson, alas, this isn't a typical Hollywood romance, and why British films will no doubt remain a bridesmaid to the larger, more commercial films of Hollywood. Far from being the clichéd viewing of their Western counterparts, as in life, they often don't have those glamorized endings, instead focusing on the truth of the story, not in monster box office returns. This certainly isn't a "chick flick." Or is it? As in many aspects of life, many cherished dreams and fantasies don't always come true, but in this classic ode to good storytelling, the subtle and heartbreaking pathos of the actors' performances shine though as many Hollywood productions fail to do. If you enjoy wonderful, nuanced acting, this is a film that should not be missed.
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British film makers tend to make films for their friends.
wendycooke10722 February 2003
I think it was Richard Attenborough who said "British film makers tend to make films for their friends". This sentiment was fixed in my mind as I sat down to watch The Remains of the day. but as the credits rolled at the end of the film I realised I had just watched a modern classic. My only criticism of the film is that it is too short, but maybe this was born out of the frustration I felt for the Hopkins characters inability to express his feelings either professionally or emotionally. A position we all find ourselves in at sometime.
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Bitter pill.
Adam Frisch4 January 2003
This is such a great motion picture. Normally I try to stay clear from english period pieces, but this one has remained with me for so many years, and I've often revisited it. It breaks my heart every time. I don't think I've ever seen such a repressed and un-nourished heartwrenching love story ever before. Or life story for that matter. Undoubtedly, this is Anthony Hopkins finest hour.
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Truly - one of the greatest films ever made
tobydale20 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Rarely do films come along which have the power to completely move the viewer to another place and time - to grip us with that sense of being there, and then take us even further into explorations of our self and our own failings and weaknesses. The Remains of the Day is such a film.

A masterpiece. Every aspect of this film is as near perfection as it's possible to imagine. Another reviewer here wrote; "It also boasts some of the finest performances ever put on film", and "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". Absolutely so. I was shocked that Hopkins didn't pick up the Oscar - his Butler, Stevens is one of cinemas greatest portrayals. Emma Thompson should also have picked up best actress. In fact - it's quite inexplicable that this wonderful picture received no Oscars at all! EVERY element of this film; story, screenplay, music, acting, cinematography is peerless. There is no weak spot.

The Novel is a good one - and it won many awards, but good novels don't always make great films - much depends who takes up the challenge of translating it on the screen. But the translation here magnifies the work immensely.

Throughout, the story is one of self-denial, the subjugation of ego and self. Hopkins (as Stevens) LIVES this life and embodies it in a way which permeates the whole film. This spirit controls the piece; Stevens allows his life to be controlled by the rules of his role. Although he is clearly a thinking man, he thinks only of loyalty, blind unquestioning loyalty. He only thinks to break out after his master is found to have flawed thinking - which leads him to question, finally, why he made the choices he did earlier in his life. Now realising his own thinking to be flawed and his choices mistaken Stevens elects to try to do something with "the remains of the day". It's a tremendous journey.

In ourselves we know throughout that Stevens is making, wantonly through actively choosing self-denial, a mistake which is costing him the happiness of his life. Because of the flashback construction we see how this mistake pans out. We live Stevens's mistakes and self-abrogation, we sense the struggle - we see his choices when confronted with them, and because the character is so well etched (and Hopkins so marvellous in the role), we see what could inform the choices he could make. But in fact - nothing informs his decision making, and he doesn't make any choices - because in his mind he can't be anything other than a Butler. His pride tells him that to be the best Butler there is only one way he can be, and that's like this - seemingly cold, seemingly unthinking. Like Stevens - we the viewer can do nothing, we can make no choices, so we become like him - someone helplessly, regretfully viewing his own life. We sense his pain - but never see it displayed. Only at the end when we understand that he has finally made the right choice is there any form of resolution and our identification with Stevens can become complete.

This is a film for anyone who wants another view of human choices which determine and describe the human condition. Truly - one of the greatest films ever made.
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Masterly drama,a fascinating though frustrating and possibly even upsetting warning against sacrificing one's personal life for one's job
DrLenera15 September 2005
The Remains Of The Day is a masterly,superbly crafted film,and this is coming from someone who generally dislikes the 'Merchant Ivory' school of British 'heritage cinema',which usually looks pretty but lacks any real emotion,depth or understanding. With this film,this approach is the perfect one,centering as it does around a man who gives his entire life to service in a great house as head Butler.

As expected,the film moves at a very slow pace,but it is quite fascinating right from the start,detailing the workings of 'Darlington Hall' in minute detail. However,it is also a very Frustrating film,because Antony Hopkin's character is so rigid,so seemingly devoid of emotion,so steadfast in his refusal to do anything that might alter and better his life,that one feels like giving him a slap and shouting to him "sort yourself out!".

For example,when his father dies,he simply carries on with his duties. He seems to not have an opinion on anything,such as the pro-Nazi goings-ons in the house.Most notably,there is his relationship with the housekeeper,Emma Thompson. Obviously deep down he feels something,and he reads romantic novels {a particularly poignant scene,Antony Hopkin's performance being particularly brilliant here},but he will seemingly not say anything,let alone act. It's painful to watch.

Of course it's part of the film's genius that one feels such a reaction to the character. Throughout,we seem to learn bits and pieces about him ,yet by the end we seen to have learnt hardly anything about him at all. The film has an appropriately cold and distant feel,choosing to observe events rather than comment on them,just like Hopkins' character. However,right near the end,there is a devastating shot of one of the film's characters receding into the distance and filled with tears,which is all the more poignant because of it's restraint. Get the hankies.

The Remains Of The Day is superbly acted,written and photographed,and yet it's a hard film to warm to. Nevertheless,the fact that it inspires such powerful and conflicting emotions raises it well above many others of it's ilk.
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Remains of the Day
micw7781 September 2005
Remains of the day is a story of regret and inhibition set throughout 1920's to 1950's Britain. Anthony Hopkins plays Mr Stevens, a Butler at Darlington hall who places the up most importance on servitude. Emma Thompson plays Miss Kenton, the head maid at Darlington Hall who consistently searches for affection from Stevens with intolerable failure. The story is a retrospective of stevens looking back over his life as he travels to meet Miss Kenton for the first time in nearly twenty years. It is a reflective story of a man re-evaluating the purpose of his life, his deeds, his actions, and his attempts to address what he sees as his failure of in-action, namely his remorse at having never told those he loves his innermost feelings.

The performances are first class from both both Hopkins and Thompson, not to mention a reliable cast including James Fox, Christopher Reeves, and a young Ben Chaplin. Of particular note are Hopkins' and Thompson's reserved interactions. Both are first class at expressing a vast range of emotions, and Hopkin's refinement and awkwardness is a joy to watch.

James Ivory's direction is excellent, the camera is often close in on the characters which emphasises the awkwardness felt by Stevens. There is good mix of smooth camera work and some hand held moments which keep the film fresh and moving, not to mention a few great wide shots, look out for the beautiful shot of the English countryside during sunset when stevens' car runs out of petrol. The excellent cinematography is used to its most effective in a scene when Miss Kenton is in distress and stevens enters the room , Hopkins remains off camera and all that can be seen is Thompson's face with an opened door on the left hand side of the screen. The dialogue ensues as the camera remains tight on Thompsons's face, a technique often use in Shyamalan's films.

Overall, this film is gripping in an emotional sense, and even for those who are not normally interested in this genre of film should find it a real treat, highly recommended.
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