I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. How about a 4K restoration of the classic Howards End?
“Word of advice: don’t take up a sentimental attitude over the poor.”
That bit of wisdom is offered by Henry Wilcox, the scheming, obliviously shameless wealthy capitalist in Howards End. The 1992 Merchant-Ivory film — which gets a spiffy, 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release courtesy of Cohen Media Group — is based on an E.M. Forster novel that was published in 1910. However, Henry’s philosophy towards the less fortunate members of society strikes a chord more than 100 years since the character made his debut. And that’s just one reason Howards End is worth another look as we prepare to turn the calendar to 2017.
The story takes place in Edwardian, early 20th century England and follows three families that represent three different segments of the country’s society. Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) and wife Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave) represent the wealthy class that functions as England’s new aristocrats. Sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel (Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter) stand in for the progressive bourgeouise/middle class. Finally, Leonard Bast (Samuel West) and his wife Jacky (Nicola Duffett) are a young, working class couple who wish to improve their lives but struggle to stay afloat.
I don’t know that Thompson has ever been better than she is as Margaret, a sharp and irresistibly vivacious force who nevertheless finds herself uneasily straddling two different worlds. It’s tempting to expect fireworks from Hopkins, who was coming off his iconic work as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Instead, the actor is pitch perfect as the sort of restrained upper class aristocrat who shirks personal responsibility in favor of following the rules of “proper society.” Henry should be completely loathsome, but Hopkins imbues his performance with a winning sincerity that makes you empathize with the character’s viewpoint. Redgrave is a wonderfully ethereal presence during her relatively brief screen time, and Bonham Carter brings her signature spark to Helen. The one false note (and it’s an important one) comes courtesy of West, who was a relative newcomer at the time. Leonard Bast is supposed to be a romantic, upwardly-mobile hero worthy of the Schlegel’s attention, but West mostly comes off as a lightweight compared to his more accomplished fellow cast members.
That being said, Howards End ends on a thoroughly satisfying note that ties together all of the story’s themes and hints at what the rest of the 20th century (and beyond) had in store for England.