Howards End Screen 8 articles

Howards End

1992

Howards End Poster
  • Although the results are generally better than their earlier tries—most of the acting is exquisite, the 'Scope framing and lighting is elegant, the settings are beautiful—the conceptual limitations of the whole middlebrow enterprise are, if anything, even more blatant. This is the apotheosis of Classics Illustrated filmmaking, aiming at nothing more than tasteful reduction, and the fact that it's done so well here doesn't mean that it's necessarily worth doing.

  • Ivory's cinematic understatement and over-reliance on screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s excessively declarative dialogue are rendered far more reasonable when the reins are handed over to actors like Thompson, who knows well enough to deliver overripe lines as though she were singing, and Redgrave, who alone seems to remember that acting is also about what you don’t say. Otherwise, like so many Merchant-Ivory films, Howards End is a luxurious frame without a picture.

  • The rush of narrative developments sacrifices a deeper articulation of key relationships, like Thompson’s friendship with Redgrave, or her courtship with Hopkins, which seems far too hasty. But Thompson, in her signature role, holds the movie together, earnestly working to reconcile people and worlds in conflict, even as her actions threaten to drag her under. The payoff comes thanks to her heroic presence at the film’s center and the patient unfolding that leads to a devastating conclusion.

  • The trademark period accessories and engaging acting ensemble are once again in evidence, but both Ivory and Jhabvala, whose script extracts the sharpest teeth from Forster’s original dialogue, have tried to get to the heart of the novel’s world view. The attempt to be faithful results in an episodic structure which crams the rise of the lower middle class and the New Woman into two-and-a-half hours. Nevertheless, this is a more troubling and rigorous inquest into a bygone era than usual.

  • Who speaks of Howards End these days? Who expounds on the virtues of this magnificent drama, whose traditional style seems almost as distant as its Edwardian setting? Seen today, years past its 1992 release, it strikes one as not only the ultimate accomplishment of the Merchant Ivory team but also the high-water mark of a certain kind of filmmaking, a landmark example of movies of passion, taste, and sensitivity that honestly touch every emotion.

  • Ivory allows himself, despite the amount of story he has to get through, enthralling sequences of unhurried stillness and beauty that punctuate the action and enrapture the viewer... These moments of poetry and lyricism are emblematically essential to the story of Howards End, but they also constitute a luxury, aesthetically speaking, which Downton Abbey simply cannot afford.

  • Don’t ever make the mistake of dismissing James Ivory’s E.M. Forster adaptation Howards End as a mere “costume drama.” Yes, the characters wear corsets and evening suits and talk through manners and inheritance. But in its own way, Ivory’s film has more to say about class, love, and marriage than many other contemporary (and purportedly edgier) movies.

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    Film Comment: Michael Koresky
    September 03, 2016 | September/October 2016 Issue (pp. 16-17)

    A piercing drama of property, inheritance, and the status of things, Howards End is a perfect marriage of filmmaking and source material, and is Merchant-Ivory's greatest achievement. The irreconcilability of the classes is given near-mythic narrative shape in Forster's elegantly woven tale of the inelegant weaving of three very disparate groups of people living in different castes of Edwardian England.

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