HOWARDS END. (1992) BASED ON THE BOOK BY E.M. FORSTER. DIRECTED BY JAMES IVORY. PRODUCED BY ISMAIL MERCHANT. SCREENPLAY BY RUTH PRAWER JHABVALA. STARRING EMMA THOMPSON, HELENA BONHAM-CARTER, ANTHONY HOPKINS, VANESSA REDGRAVE, JAMES WILBY, PRUNELLA SCALES, JAMES WILBY, SIMON CALLOW, NICOLA DUFFETT, SAMUEL WEST, PETER CELLIER AND CRISPIN BONHAM-CARTER. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © This iconic period drama was the perfect viewing choice for Mother’s Day. Filled with fabulous elaborate hairstyles, huge, even more elaborate hats, gorgeous dresses and magnificent old houses with eye-popping gardens and surrounds, it seems to glide its way sedately from its beginning to its conclusion, with occasional hiccups caused by the hidden passions simmering beneath the breasts of the characters. It starts off in Edwardian England (1901- 1910; after Victoria!) with Helena Bonham-Carter, whose hair was surely born to play this type of role, portraying the younger of two respectable orphaned sisters, the Misses Schlegel (she’s Helen!). Helen and her older sister, Margaret, live quietly and genteelly together in a London apartment with their somewhat delicate younger brother, Tibby. They have German antecedents and are deeply intellectual and enthusiastic about all things cultural. They are not rich, but they are comfortably off and do not need to work. When we first see Helen, she’s making, then breaking, an engagement to Paul Wilcox, whose father, Anthony Hopkins as Henry Wilcox, is a millionaire. Helen’s older sister, Margaret, beautifully played by Emma Thompson, later befriends Henry Wilcox’s invalid wife, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), as the Wilcoxes have leased a flat across from the Schlegels. Ruth Wilcox comes to grow very fond of the chatty younger woman who brightens her declining days. When she hears that the Schlegel sisters will soon be homeless due to an expiring lease, she leaves a house she owns, the beautiful and charming Howards End, to Margaret Schlegel in her will. Margaret never gets to hear about it, however, as the Wilcox family, horrified by Ruth’s leaving family property to an ‘outsider,’ close ranks and burn the piece of paper on which the dead woman’s last wish is scribbled in her dying hand. And that, as far as the Wilcoxes are concerned, is that. And yet, oh, what a complex web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…! The Wilcoxes and the Schlegels, it seems, are meant to have their destinies entwined. When a smitten Henry Wilcox proposes marriage to Margaret, she accepts immediately. But Henry is keeping secrets from Margaret, and not just the one about how he and his family have deliberately kept her rightful inheritance, Howards End, from her. Will loose lips sink those bobbing ships, or will Margaret remain blissfully oblivious…? Helen, meanwhile, an intellectual blue-stocking who will probably end up chained to the railings of the Houses of Parliament for the woman’s right to vote or being force-fed in the infirmary of a women’s prison for the same cause, has befriended a lowly clerk called Leonard Bast. Leonard, married to Jacky (of dubious background but with a heart of gold) is anxious to improve his circumstances in life, along with his mind. With a little help from posh, self-important millionaire toff Henry Wilcox, Helen and Margaret, two do-gooders always ready to meddle in the affairs of the lower classes, unintentionally cause poor Leonard Bast to become unemployed. Desperate for work, he pounds the streets, but to no avail. He (not unnaturally) turns to Margaret, who is now engaged to Henry Wilcox, for help. But his and Jacky’s unexpected appearance at Evie Wilcox’s posh society wedding sets off a chain of events that none of them could have foreseen… The class difference, and the emphasis on class, is so obvious it runs like a steam choo-choo throughout the film. The notion of the two Basts starving to death in their meagre flat because two nosy, meddling self-indulgent do-gooders with a romanticised notion of poverty think they know best what Leonard should do in his career is just horrific. And the notion that the sisters or even Henry Wilcox himself should help them is instantly dismissed as balderdash by Henry, because: ‘The poor are poor and that’s sad, but it’s just the way it is.’ Clearly, old Henry is unfamiliar with the notion that things can be improved if enough people try to improve them, and also that with great power comes great responsibility… These Merchant-Ivory films are so dreamy, delicate, elegant and evocative of a certain era and a certain type of Englishness, I always feel like I’m viewing them through a veil of the finest mist and time. The two lads, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, made forty-four films together, twenty-three of which were scripted by the German-born Jewish writer, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose works they favoured, along with the writings of Henry James and E.M. Forster, who penned HOWARDS’ END in 2010. Here are a few of the faces you might expect to see in a Merchant-Ivory production: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth (I say, is it raining men again?), Maggie Smith, James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Natasha Richardson and Ralph Fiennes, as well as Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, who went on to star in the sublimely beautiful movie THE REMAINS OF THE DAY in 1993. Helena Bonham-Carter herself had her own breakthrough hit in the Merchant-Ivory production of A ROOM WITH A VIEW in 1985. Anyway, HOWARDS’ END is a gorgeous, luxurious film filled with flowers and rolling acres of greenland and the most splendid hats and female accessories and accoutrements. A good shawl was an investment for life in those days. Must dig mine out and start wearing it again. Who knows, I might start a trend…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: