An elegant, if bland reworking of Forster's classic 1910 novel, from the acclaimed filmmaking team of James Ivory (director), Ismail Merchant (producer) and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (screenwriter).
HOWARDS END takes its name from a country house belonging to Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). Though married to Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), a pillar of wealth and tradition, Ruth is a slightly other-worldly figure who feels a mystic bond with the house where she was born. In the later stages of
a terminal illness, Ruth strikes up a friendship with Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), a cultured, free-thinking woman who lives with her like-minded sister, Helen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Before she dies, Ruth makes out an informal will leaving Howards End to Margaret, but her note is destroyed by the Wilcoxes. The two families nevertheless remain involved, as the widowed Henry begins to take a (well-concealed) romantic interest in Margaret. HOWARDS END goes on to flesh out the
relations between the materialistic Wilcoxes and the emancipated Schlegels--relations which build to a tragic climax in the person of Leonard Bast (Sam West), a sensitive clerk who is befriended by Margaret and Helen but ulimately undone by Henry.
Forster's novel has been adapted with such emphasis on good taste that other, more crucial elements have been neglected. The filmmakers have allowed themselves an overlong 140 minutes in order to preserve as much of the plot as possible, but they have bypassed many of the novel's key ideas and
ironies. And though the film looks marvelous, it lacks the zest--the conflict and the passion--that informed the team's earlier hit, A ROOM WITH A VIEW. There are times when it feels as though the major literary influence at work is not E.M. Forster, but House and Garden magazine.
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