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Howard’s End

December 31, 2010

Howard’s End (1992)
Director: James Ivory
Actors: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter

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Synopsis: A businessman (Anthony Hopkins) thwarts his dead wife’s bequest of an estate to another woman.

Review: Of its type – a picturesque literary adaptation, populated with England’s finest actors – Merchant Ivory’s Howard’s End is perfectly fine. It is extremely well acted, the period detail is lovingly brought to life, and the importance of the various locations (the edenic countryside locale of the eponymous Howard’s End versus the modernity and throng of London life) is impeccably conveyed. Unfortunately, the film is fundamentally leaden and inert, and a lot of that isn’t helped by the Merchant Ivory tendency to view the medium of film as a mere incidental end-effect of their desire to tell these classic literary stories. So rather than engaging with all the properties of filmmaking (editing, cinematography, sound), they rely on their hallowed use of period detail alone to drive their stories. There isn’t anything even remotely cinematic about the film until the slightly bizarre and disjointed use of slo-mo when James Wilby’s character is driven to jail near the climax. Purely because the performances are so good (I’ve rarely seen better work from the likes of Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Bonham Carter) the film is still a pleasurable Sunday afternoon watch, but there is nothing else to elevate it beyond it’s perfunctory exposition of plot. (December 2010)

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