Howards End (Film)

One of the reasons I was first attracted to E.M Forster’s Howards End was the movie. While spending an evening at IMDB, they suggested me, according to my recently visited pages, the 1992 movie by James Ivory. I must admit I am a huge fan of Mr. Ivory: when I was 12 I used to spend the evenings watching The Golden Bowl trying to decipher the symbolism and completely fascinated by Kate Beckinsale’s talent.

Last month I read the novel and I couldn’t wait to watch the film. I did last week and although I don’t like reviewing films for this blog, I think literary adaptations are an exception.

The film Howards End was directed by James Ivory in 1992, based on E.M Forster’s novel from 1912 and adapted to the screen by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, winner of the Booker Prize in 1975 and an habitual in Ivory’s literary adaptations. It stars Emma Thompson as Margaret, Helena Boham-Carter as Helen, Anthony Hopkins as Mr. Wilcox and Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox. Needless to say, they are all amazing actors whose talent has been proved and recognized internationally both before and after Howards End was released. It is their great performances that make the film even better, they clearly succeed at transmitting the characters’ essence. In terms of characters, the film turns all the characters into a more rounded ones, if that is possible. When reading the novel, I did not really understand Mr. Wilcox but thanks to Hopkins’ performance, I found him more accessible.

In terms of plot, the film faithfully follows the novel, ignoring only minor and secondary characters and scenes. For example, in the novel when the Schlegels first encounter Mr. Blast is at a concert. In the film only Helen is at that concert, it is a way of simplifying the plot so that the movie does not run too long and that is fine. However, there are a few changes regarding behaviour that were needed to make the movie more watchable: for example, Margaret kisses Mr. Wilcox when he calls her to see a flat. This does not happen at the novel, but I think it was necessary for the film, it needed to be updated for a modern audience. Also, Helen and Mr. Blast have a romantic encounter while rowing resulting on her little baby boy while in the novel they spend the night together at the hotel while Mrs. Blast is sleeping on a nearby room. I was not really content with this change but the gorgeous photography of the scene paid off.

Thematically, the film is as faithful as it is following the plot. Forster’s incredible descriptions are substituted by a breath-taking photography where the social tensions are clearly reflected by the different scenarios: from London to the English countryside, the choice of locations is perfect. One thing I found funny is the scene when Margaret asks Mr. Wilcox to spend the night at Howards End with Helen: although they are wearing spring/summer clothes, you can clearly see breath coming out of Thompson and Hopkins’ mouths as they talk as it usually happens in cold winter. I kept wondering how cold Emma must have felt with that wonderful but summery dress.

Finally, I would like to highlight Emma Thompson’s performance. She is one of those English actors I love because not only are they great professionals but also versatile and can easily move from a romantic comedy to classics such as Howards End, and A Room with a View. Apparently, she was a favourite of Ivory too and I can see why.

So, I would recommend the film to anyone looking for a long, cozy film to curl up with a blanket during a winter night. If you have not read the book, I think the movie clearly reflects its most important themes, characters and plot twists; and if you have read it, you will enjoy this faithful and high quality adaptation.

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