HOWARDS END. (1992) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

LAST CHRISTMAS. (2019) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

LAST CHRISTMAS. (2019) INSPIRED BY THE SONG OF THE SAME NAME BY WHAM! WRITTEN BY EMMA THOMPSON AND GREG WISE. DIRECTED BY PAUL FEIG.
STARRING EMILIA CLARKE, HENRY GOLDING, EMMA THOMPSON, MICHELLE YEOH, PATTI LUPONE, SUE PERKINS AND PETER SERAFINOWICZ.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a fairly entertaining Christmas romp, if you don’t mind a few plot holes and cliches and slightly far-fetched storylines. It’s the story of Kate Andrich, the adult daughter of Yugoslavian immigrants living in London in modern times.

Kate’s a bit of a mess. She couch-surfs amongst her friends because she doesn’t have a place of her own, and she’d apparently rather be homeless than go back and live with her parents. Yes, Emma Thompson as a Yugoslavian immigrant from ‘the old country’ is a bit of a nightmare, but at least she adores her quirky daughter with a mother’s love and care.

Kate boozes and eats junk food and has one-night stands with total strangers and doesn’t get enough sleep. She doesn’t look after herself at all. Yep, she’s a mess. And, even though her friends love her, she keeps letting them down and accidentally destroying their stuff and being downright irresponsible around them.

It’s as if everyone else around her has grown up except Kate, who even ‘outs’ her sensible older sister Marta to their parents in a fit of spite, an act which alienates her sister from her, and maybe even some viewers as well. That’s not Kate’s story to tell, after all.
 
Kate works as an elf in an all-year-round Christmas shop run by Michelle Yeoh as ‘Santa,’ but she keeps letting Santa down with her complete and utter flakiness and disappearing acts and being on her phone all the time when she’s meant to be working. It’s actually really sad when Santa’s beautiful store gets broken into and trashed one night because Kate carelessly forgets to lock up properly behind her when she clocks off.

Kate wants to be a performer, a singer, and we see her going to various auditions and flopping badly each time. Comedienne Sue Perkins and actor Pete Serafinowicz (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, BLACK BOOKS) each have funny little cameos on the different casting panels.

Kate is starting to think that she’s lost ‘it,’ but what’s happened in her life that everything is suddenly so messy, messed-up, dreary and hopeless? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that, one day, right out of the proverbial, a handsome and endearing guy called Tom Webster drops into her life and gradually, inch by inch, Kate begins to look at things in her aforementioned life through a different, and certainly more gratitude-based, viewfinder…

The film attempts to be very, very politically correct and inclusive. Marta’s girlfriend is black, and Kate’s friends whose couch she stays on are in a mixed-race relationship too. Kate has a trans doctor, and there are disabled and mixed-race people galore at the homeless shelter that Tom gets Kate involved in. It’s just too PC for words.

That being said, wouldn’t Emma Thompson’s Eastern European accent murdering songs from ‘the old country’ count as cultural appropriation, one of the new ‘sins’ against political correctness? I just don’t know any more. It’s all very complicated.

By the way, I loved that Patti LuPone turns up- very randomly, maybe she’s a friend of Emma Thompson’s or something!- in Santa’s Christmas shop as a customer. Patti starred in a sort of teen family drama from 1989-1993 called LIFE GOES ON, which I loved.

She played the mom of the goody-goody Thatcher family. There was a dreamy guy in it called Jesse, who was the boyfriend of Patti’s screen daughter Becca, and it was really shocking and so sad because Jesse was HIV-positive, and we all had big crushes on him and wanted to mammy him because he was sick, oh my, those were the days…!

I also love the way that Kate, a basically selfish person, learns in this mostly enjoyable and entertaining film that she’s not the only person in the world with problems, and that there are more ways than just one to look at something.

Example. Did you ever walk down the other side of a street you’re accustomed to walking regularly, only to discover that the street looks completely different from the other side and you even see things you never noticed before?

I particularly liked that Tom teaches Kate to look up occasionally. Yes, a bird might shit in your eye, but there’s a whole beautiful world up there above eye-level that you’re missing out on if you just keep your eyes trained on the ground.

I also love Kate and Tom’s secret garden, and the fact that this is a new Christmas movie for us to watch that’s not LOVE ACTUALLY, which I’m quite tired of by now. All that LAST CHRISTMAS is really lacking is the wonderful Bill Nighy, looking bemused and saying ‘…arse, head and hole…’ for some mad reason.

Better say a word about the music of George Michael and WHAM!, which is featured throughout the film. To be honest, I preferred Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet to WHAM! way back in the ‘80s, although I’ll admit that LAST CHRISTMAS is a great Crimbo song and the video is iconic, to say the least, if a bit cheesy.

I definitely prefer the music of George Michael to the music of WHAM! Songs like FAST LOVE and his duet with Elton John DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME mark him out in my mind as a superior singer-songwriter. By the way, Andrew Ridgely supposedly has a cameo in the film but I obviously wasn’t quick enough as I seem to have missed it. Let’s hope you have better luck…!

    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:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. (1993) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. (1993) A MERCHANT-IVORY PRODUCTION. DIRECTED BY JAMES IVORY. BASED ON THE NOVEL BY KAZUO ISHIGURO. SCREENPLAY BY RUTH PRAWER JHABVALA.

STARRING ANTHONY HOPKINS, EMMA THOMPSON, JAMES FOX, HUGH GRANT, CHRISTOPHER REEVE, PETER VAUGHAN, PIP TORRENS, JOHN SAVIDENT, LENA HEADEY AND BEN CHAPLIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an utterly gorgeous film, visually and in just about every way you can think of. It’s beautifully-scripted and acted and the shots of the sumptuous and luxurious Darlington Hall are breath-taking, though, interestingly enough, five or so English country houses were used in the filming of the magnificent hall.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have the loveliest memories of watching the film in the dying light of a sunny November day several winters in a row and I’ll probably always associate it with that time of year.

Anthony Hopkins turns in a masterful performance as Mr. James Stevens, butler to Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall in the England of the 1930s and 1940s. Stevens is the perfect butler. The consummate professional. Discreet, efficient, born to serve and, most importantly, putting his job above all else.

A real-life butler was consulted in the making of the film and apparently Anthony Hopkins asked him if he had any ‘tips’ on buttling. When a butler is in a room, the consultant advised, it must seem emptier than before. You could certainly say that of Mr. Stevens, the most unobtrusive butler imaginable.

His main goal in life seems to be to ease Lord Darlington’s passage through his life, to the point where he is willing to sacrifice his own chances of love and a family and a personal life of his own.

He clearly gets this devotion to duty from his stiff-upper-lipped elderly father, Mr. William Stevens, who ‘buttled’ his butt off his entire life and who, in fact, will die ‘buttling.’ Ooops. Spoiler alert, haha. Mr. Stevens the Elder is exquisitely played by the wonderful Peter Vaughan of PORRIDGE and A GHOST STORY AT CHRISTMAS fame.

There are two main storylines in the film. Stevens falls gradually in love with Emma Thompson’s younger housekeeper, the lively and spirited Miss Sarah ‘Sally’ Kenton, who is as good at her job as Stevens is. She doesn’t live for her job, however. She is quite amenable to the idea of love and all that goes with it.

Stevens, though, is so buttoned-up and used to keeping his feelings under strict control that he is unable to respond to her advances. She gives him chance after chance after chance to declare that he has feelings for her, but time out of number he fails the test. And he knows he’s failing, which is worse, but, despite the pain he’s causing to them both, he still can’t open up to her.

She eventually throws in the towel, and who could blame her, after he comes across her bawling her eyes out over him on the floor of her parlour. Unable to offer her so much as a crumb of comfort, unwilling even to help the sobbing woman to her feet, he makes some inconsequential remark about the maid’s failure to dust a certain alcove.

‘I knew you would wish to be informed about it,’ he says stiffly.

‘I’ll see to it, Mr. Stevens,’ she sniffles, heartbroken.

Mr. Stevens’s last chance for love flies up the parlour chimney and is gone forever…

The other- grimmer- storyline concerns Lord Darlington’s alleged ‘Nazi-sympathising’ and commitment to helping Germany re-arm and strengthen herself after her crushing defeat in World War One. The situation for England grows more and more serious as the war which seems inevitable to some draws nearer.

Lord Darlington’s watchwords are words like ‘fair play’ and ‘honour’ and doing right by the other fellow. He feels guilty, and almost personally responsible, for the Versailles Treaty that followed on after the First World War.

The Treaty crippled Germany and made her pay heavily, financially and otherwise, for her part in causing the war which killed so many people. She lost lands and monies and the right to re-armament.

She had to pay huge sums in reparations and her peoples were pretty bloody depressed for a long time afterwards. Lord Darlington foolishly wants to make this all up to Germany in the interests of so-called fair play.

Lord Darlington’s journalist godson, ably played by Hugh Grant, accuses Stevens of turning a blind eye to the well-meaning but misguided Lord Darlington’s turning the house into a base for Nazi operations in England. Stevens, however, would never dream of presuming to question his master’s actions. Talk about ‘ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die…’

It is only later in the film, when we see Stevens off on a motoring holiday en route to rectify past mistakes after the war, that we discover he may not have been entirely comfortable after all with what went on at Darlington Hall. At the very least, he sees it as something to keep quiet about.

There are so many highlights and key scenes in the film. Poor old Mr. Stevens Sr. falling with the heavy tray and Coronation Street’s Fred Elliott attending him as his doctor. Miss Kenton trying to wrestle Steven’s ‘dirty’ book out of his hands. Hugh Grant as Lord Darlington’s godson getting the birds and the bees talk from a mortified Stevens. ‘I always enjoy our little chats about nature,’ says Hugh Grant to a bemused butler.

 The opulence of Darlington Hall during the ill-fated international conference of 1936, and the major preparations below stairs for said conference. (The film really shows us how these fantastic old country houses were run behind the scenes. The image of the swan gliding along the water serenely while underneath the surface the feet paddle furiously comes to mind.) The heart-breaking scene at the bus-stop in the bucketing rain at the end. Oh God. Just thinking about it is causing me to tear up. Say no more…

This film is a thing of understated beauty, subtlety and delicacy. It is one of Anthony Hopkins’s and, indeed, of Emma Thompson’s finest ever performances, in my ever-so-humble-opinion, and that’s saying something. Together, they pack one hell of an emotional punch.

I must warn you before you watch it, you’ll need hankies. Lots of hankies. And fancy chocolates too and maybe a nice glass of white wine. Chilled to perfection and served the way Mr. Stevens himself would do it. It’s the kind of classy film that deserves a bit of effort being put into watching it. Any trouble you take over it will most certainly be worth it.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

A VIEW FROM A HILL (2005) and NUMBER 13 (2006): TWO MORE CLASSIC GHOST STORY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

view from a hill

A VIEW FROM A HILL (2005) and NUMBER 13 (2006): TWO CLASSIC GHOST STORY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC. BASED ON THE SHORT STORIES BY MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES.

STARRING MARK LETHEREN, PIP TORRENS, DAVID BURKE, GREG WISE AND TOM BURKE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

These two ghost stories from the BBC are almost every bit as atmospheric as their counterparts from the 1970s. I say ‘almost,’ because nothing could ever really fully emulate the bleak loneliness of A Warning to the Curious or the lush Victorian creepiness of The Stalls of Barchester, but both A View from a Hill and Number 13 are pretty bloody jolly good attempts, lol, as the English themselves might say.

In A View from A Hill, a young archaeologist fellow called Dr. Fanshawe has come to a posh stately home in the England of post-World War Two to evaluate a collection of historical artefacts belonging to the current Squire’s late father. The current Squire Richards is an unbearable toff, despite his situation of being extremely strapped for cash (hence the selling off of the ‘family silver’), and he really gets on Dr. Fanshawe’s rather class-sensitive wick.

Dr. Fanshawe gets plenty of time off to explore the local countryside, armed with a pair of binoculars lent to him by the Squire. But through these extraordinary binoculars, Fanshawe seems able to view a magnificent old Abbey called Fulnaker which the Squire assures him is no more, and also a gibbet complete with a hanged man on the nearby Gallows Hill, which loathsome practice has also, fortunately, died out by now.

The binoculars once belonged to, and, in fact, were made by, a local character of no small measure of eccentricity called Baxter. Fanshawe is informed of all this by the Squire’s butler Patten, who still stays loyal to the Squire in spite of the fact that the rude and impoverished aristocrat can no longer afford to pay him.

The sad truth is that the ageing Patten probably has nowhere else to go at this stage of his life. One wonders how many more domestic servants suffered the same lonely fate as Patten, once the English aristcracy had started to decline in earnest in those post-war years. (Remember Mr. Steevens, the devoted butler from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day? How happy do you suppose he was for the rest of his life, post-domestic service?)

Anyway, Baxter, who ‘fancied himself as an archaeologist,’ had a rather nasty habit of (believe it or not) boiling the bones of the condemned men who met their sad ends on Gallows Hill. Nothing good can therefore ensue from young Fanshawe’s ‘looking through the eyes of a dead man,’ as he is doing every time he takes up these accursed field glasses. There’s something evil abroad up on Gallows Hill and on the plot of land that used to house Fulnaker Abbey. Will it ensnare young Fanshawe, who just can’t seem to stay away from the place . . .?

Number 13 follows the popular M.R. James theme of a fusty, middle-aged academic, much more used to dreaming spires and dusty old tomes than life in the real world, coming to an old cathedral town to do some research in their ancient library. Professor Anderson is, admittedly, a good deal younger and, dare I say handsomer, than Michael Hordern in Whistle and I’ll Come to You, but he has the fussy, prissy mannerisms of the lifelong bachelor academic down to a T.

He demands to be moved from the hotel room he’s been given, to a room with a desk and plenty of room for him to work. This is how he comes to find himself in Room 12, next to the titular Room Number 13 which only appears to materialise intermittently.

That’s because it’s very much a ghost room, occupied by a sixteenth-century Satanist who still holds court there, giving rise to disturbing sounds and laughter and whispered conversations and shadows that all conspire to make Anderson feel like he’s going a little bit mad. He’s outraged to find that he’s no longer welcome in the archives of the town library, because of what he might find out about this Satanist fellow.

After all, the natives in this rural part of the world are still extremely superstitious already; what would it do to the town to discover that they once had a veritable coven of witches and Devil-worshippers in their midst…?

Okay, fair enough, but Anderson still has to contend with the tenant in Room Number 13, who has a most disquieting habit of trying to draw the occupants of Room Number 12 in to his world of devilish bacchanals and satanic revelries…

David Burke, who played the butler Patten in A View from a Hill, is excellent here too as poor Gunton, the put-upon proprietor of the hotel he doesn’t yet realise is haunted. (God Almighty, how could he not know??? Lol.)

Tom Burke (his real-life son), who is jolly good at playing decadent toffs (he portrayed rich, boorish swell Bentley Drummle in the 2011 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations), is terrific here as the boozy, flirtatious lawyer Jenkins, who provides a good back-up buddy for Professor Anderson when Anderson tries to unravel the mysteries of Room Number 13 . . .

These are both good, creepy little ghost stories for Christmas. Enjoy them, but make sure to keep the lights on…

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 Film-Making. 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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com