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Howards End (1992)
Howards End is a 1992 film based upon the novel of the same title by E. M. Forster (published in 1910), a story of class relations in turn-of-the-20th-century England. The film — produced by Merchant Ivory Productions as their third adaptation of a Forster novel (following A Room with a View in 1985 and Maurice in 1987) — was the first film to be released by Sony Pictures Classics. The screenplay was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. Howards End was entered as Official selection for Cannes International Film Festival and won 45th Anniversary Award. In 1993, the film received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture for Ismail Merchant and Best Director for James Ivory. The film won three awards, including for Best Art Direction (Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker). Ruth Prawer Jhabvala earned her second Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, while Emma Thompson won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The story takes place in Edwardian England.
Slow, intricate, and deeply symbolic, Howards End ranks among the top films in their oeuvre. It's a history that, if you look at it closely, really amounts to three greats (End, Room, and The Remains of the Day) and a whole lot of nothing-much-else. But that's a subject for another day.
Today we're tasked with the legacy of Howards End -- and no, there's no apostrophe -- which tells us of three groups of Brits in the early 1900s. The Wilcox clan (headed by Vanessa Redgrave) is old school aristocrat, with her son Henry (Anthony Hopkins) quietly itching for more control. The elderly Ruth befriends the liberal, upper-middle-class Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), and before she dies Ruth wills her country estate, Howards End, to the woman. But Henry burns the letter and keeps the estate -- eventually romancing Margaret for himself. Meanwhile, Margaret's sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter) befriends the lowerish-class Leonard Bast (Samuel West), taking him under her wing. Before the two hours and change of Howards End are up, all three groups (and their families) have intertwined in ways we'd never expect, and a procession of secrets have spewed forth from the closet.
End is heavy stuff, made heavier by the rich production details and attention to the smallest of things. Hopkins and Thompson are so perfect together it's hard not to buy them as a couple, and the remaining cast members acquit themselves perfectly. At its core is a class struggle of epic proportions, and James Ivory knows just how to get to the core of it.
Unfortunately, this fabulous film is nearly ruined by a terrible, terrible editing choice, which involves fading out from nearly every cut (no matter how short), then snapping back in to the picture. This is often repeated four or five times for any given scene and has the disastrous effect of making the film seem very choppy and erratic -- and Howards End is very poorly edited to start with, jerking from scene to scene and place to place with no regard to transition.
If you can put that behind you and immerse yourself in the movie, you'll find much to enjoy here. Now on special edition DVD, the second disc offers old and new interviews about the making of the film -- primarily regarding its sets and costumes. Criterion's Blu-ray edition offers substantial documentary footage as well.