Howards End review – sumptuous heritage cinema with real passion | Film

Twenty-five years on, Howards End is rereleased in cinemas: a sumptuous piece of heritage prestige cinema produced by Ismail Merchant, directed by James Ivory and adapted from EM Forster’s 1910 novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. It looks as handsome and high-minded as ever, and not dated, though it is for me slightly difficult to recapture the euphoric enthusiasm which made this such a multi-Oscar triumph: nine nominations, three wins, including Emma Thompson’s best actress, which was to make her, after her Sense and Sensibility best adaptation win three years later, still the only person to receive Academy Awards in both writing and acting.

It is a tragedy of inherited wealth among the Edwardian middle classes: upper-middle, middle and lower-middle. In the first category, Anthony Hopkins plays Henry Wilcox, the dynamic, self-made and self-satisfied man who has amassed a fortune by exploiting mineral resources in Nigeria, and has something of David Lloyd George about him. He is the proprietor of Howards End, a sweet country house, much beloved of Henry’s ailing wife Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave). In the second category are the elegant, leisured and artistically inclined Schlegel sisters of German origin: Margaret (Thompson) and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter). Margaret is to become a dear friend to Ruth, and then, after Ruth’s death, even dearer to widower, Henry. In the third category is earnest, pinch-faced Leonard Bast, played by Sam West, a bank clerk who goes in for self-improvement and becomes a little “project” of Helen’s. Disaster strikes when the capricious, busybody sisters decide to give Leonard career advice on the basis of Henry’s airy after-dinner gossip about the financial health of Leonard’s bank.

The dynamic between Thompson and Hopkins is interesting and forceful, though perhaps not quite as potent as their tragically thwarted relationship a year later in Ivory’s The Remains of the Day (1993). As the amused and arch Margaret, Thompson…

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