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The Remains of the Day

September 7, 2010

The Remains of the Day (1993)
Director: James Ivory
Actors: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox

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Synopsis: The goings-on in a stately home in the build-up to WW2. Butler, James Stephens (Anthony Hopkins), fails to recognise the devotion of one of his servants (Emma Thompson) and the political weakness of his master (James Fox).

Review: A crude film about a genteel world – Merchant Ivory’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, takes what should be a fascinating premise from Kazuo Isihguro’s source novel, populates it with first-class actors, but manages to craft a surprisingly banal end-result. The fundamental error in Merchant Ivory’s ‘tactic’ is to one-dimensionalise and simplify the necessarily subtle intricacies of the material, making the desired poignancy of Hopkins’ ultimately regretful butler, a nauseatingly conceited endeavour. The two fronts through which the story supposedly deconstructs butler James Stephens’ psychology – his passivity surrounding Lord Darlington’s dubious political activities before the Second World War, and his non-reciprocation of Emma Thompson’s smitten housekeeper – are indelicately demonstrated (an irony in a film that’s all about delicacy and decency). The political segment in particular is archly portrayed, mainly by characters mouthing the subtext at every opportunity. One particularly transparent example of this dramatic irony is in the present-day when Stephens is off to reunite with the housekeeper. He accepts a lift off a local doctor, who, on hearing of Stephens’ origin, reminds him (and essentially the audience) on all the history regarding Lord Darlington’s travails since the war as alleged Nazi-sympathiser. (October 2006)

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