Directed by James Ivory. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins.
Finally, it's arrived-- the E.M. Forster screen adaptation for which we've been waiting -- Howards End, the best of the bunch. And in 70mm, too. Let's take a second for review: The recent Where Angels Fear to Tread (based on Forster's 1905 novel) unfortunately was released around the same time as Howards End, making it seem like the two were companion pieces or, at least, parts of a whole. But the two movies have different directors, screenwriters, appearances and sympathies; really, all they share are their source author and the ubiquitous Helena Bonham Carter, who seems to be making a career out of Forster. Howards End is the far superior of the lot and that goes for the three Forster films of the Eighties as well: David Lean's A Passage to India (1984) and the Merchant/Ivory (Merchant produces, Ivory directs) team's A Room With a View (1985) and Maurice (1987). Howards End is a sweeping, yet incisive social tapestry that unites three families in a sumptuous, humorous, generous roasting of human aspiration and frailty. The characters are woven together with a delicate intricacy, such that you cannot predict their connections or outcomes. The performances in this costume drama are wonderful: Emma Thompson's Margaret Schlegel is endlessly intriguing as the movie's moral center, an attractively plain-looking freethinker who serves as the bridge between her family's idealistic world and the rational materialism of the Wilcox family who have an unmistakable pull on Margaret and her sister Helen (Bonham Carter). Hopkins, as the Wilcox patriarch, is a combination of sensitivity and intractableness, turning in a modulated performance that dispels aall lurid memories of Hannibal Lecter. The look of the film is both panoramic and myopic, offering stuffed images of turn-of-the-century British life for our leisured gaze, while inviting our focus toward tiny details. Generally, my tastes run counter to the virtually trademarked Merchant/Ivory “tradition of quality” with its studied appearance, pace and artificial realism. In Howards End, however, we see their craft at its pinnacle, forgetting all ironies save for the ones unfolding before us and losing ourselves in the captivating narrative swirl.
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