A man (Edward Norton) who spends his nights going to cancer support groups has a chance meeting with a soap salesman (Brad Pitt), which results in a joint enterprise – fight clubs, where men work out their frustrations. Some people consider this movie, which became a cult classic, David Fincher’s finest. It has very effective performances by Norton, Pitt and Meat Loaf (as a support group attendee who knows how to let out his pain) and is a dark, compelling, stylishly photographed study of masculinity and working-class aggravations. But once the twist is revealed, the story continues for another half-hour and runs out of steam.
1999-U.S. 135 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David Fincher. Novel: Chuck Palahniuk. Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth. Cast: Brad Pitt (Tyler Durden), Edward Norton (The Narrator), Helena Bonham Carter (Marla Singer), Meat Loaf, Jared Leto.
Trivia: Reese Witherspoon and Winona Ryder were allegedly considered for Bonham Carter’s role.
Politics is often hard, especially for those of us who frequently find ourselves in the center. There have been numerous moments throughout history, in different countries, where a decision to turn left or right may be the only sane choice. The most stable governments on this planet find a balance that tries to borrow the best from different ideologies and avoid the worst. Changing from one administration to another thankfully does not mean uprooting the entire system. After an election in countries like the United States, Canada, France, Britain, Israel, Japan, Germany, Australia or Sweden, compromises are usually made with an eye toward the ideological shape of a new parliament. And life goes on.
But all of that boring stuff requires a thinking mind. Now, politics looks like it’s becoming simpler as Europe and the U.S. is headed down a darker and stupid path. We are now severely tested by nationalists and the far right who are influencing large, ignorant masses. One example is Donald Trump, whom no liberal or conservative in their right mind could support. Another is the idiotic British referendum on June 23 that will ask its citizens whether or not to remain as a member state of the European Union. The answer is obvious – leaving the E.U would be an economic disaster for Britain, and it would also hurt other countries who have trade deals with the U.K.. Apart from the financial blow, it would also hurt both the E.U. and Britain culturally since the Union, for better and worse, has been a reasonable way to hold a traditionally war-mongering continent together.
For a country that benefits so much from its membership, and has asked for special deals from the Union, it’s a pretty outrageous thing for Prime Minister David Cameron to do this referendum – especially since he wants the country to remain as a member, even campaigning in the clip above with London’s fresh mayor, Labourite Sadiq Khan!
As a film and TV blog, it’s interesting to look at which celebrities are outspoken on the issue of Brexit. British news magazine The Week featured a compilation a few days ago. It was a relief to see actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Thompson (watch the RT clip above), Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham Carter be on the right side of history. There was also Simon Cowell – and most surprisingly, Jeremy Clarkson, who made the following bright assessment:
“Britain, on its own, has little influence on the world stage. I think we are all agreed on that. But Europe, if it were well run and had good, cohesive, well thought-out policies, would be a tremendous force for good.”
On the wrong side of history we find Michael Caine, Julian Fellowes, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Hurley, who all have weird and sad reasons for not wanting to be part of the E.U.. Caine seems to think that the Union is a “government-by-proxy of everybody” and forgets that his country is run by an actual government, not the E.U.. And Hurley had the following to say:
“If it means we can go back to using decent lightbulbs and choose high-powered hairdryers and vacuum cleaners if we so wish, I’m joining Brexit for sure.”
The European Union needs a lot of work. I agree that it can’t be the “united states of Europe”, it has to be smaller and leaner than that. But on June 23, the choice is very simple. Be smart on what the E.U. is and what it can be in the future, vote to stay.
One day in 1912, East End laundress Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) accidentally finds herself in a suffragette riot and becomes drawn into an increasingly more violent struggle for women’s rights. After portraying a Conservative icon in The Iron Lady (2011), writer Abi Morgan took on the suffragette movement and showed the consequences of its leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s call for civil disobedience. The movement’s use of violence has been heavily debated, but the script doesn’t reach any intellectual depths. It does however touch our hearts and the depiction of working-class conditions and how women were treated is infuriating. Very engaging, with strong performances by Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter.
2015-Britain. 106 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Alison Owen, Faye Ward. Directed by Sarah Gavron. Screenplay: Abi Morgan. Cast: Carey Mulligan (Maud Watts), Helena Bonham Carter (Edith Ellyn), Meryl Streep (Emmeline Pankhurst), Natalie Press, Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai… Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw.
Trivia: Bonham Carter is the great-granddaughter of one of the Prime Ministers mentioned in the film, H.H. Asquith.
Last word: “I often found myself saying, ‘Can I bring in a bit of [Pankhurst]? But ultimately, even [the Mrs. Pankhurst role] became slimmer in the film, because my desire was to focus on those women who had not had a voice. Sarah and I both felt it was more important to make a film which would be accessible to women globally. So as we looked at this incredibly charismatic leader, who created this structure and was the vocal advocate for the movement, it became more important to give Maud balance.” (Morgan, The Mary Sue)
This adaptation of the old fairy tale was made by Disney and is heavily inspired by their 1950 animated version. The story of the orphaned girl (Lily James) who is mistreated by her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett), but gets a magical shot at wooing Prince Charming is girlishly romantic and fun for kids. Handsomely mounted, with top talents behind the costume and production design, and Blanchett is intimidating in a wonderfully bitchy Joan Crawford-esque star turn. But we know this story so well, and there’s no real reason for another straight retelling.
2015-U.S. 112 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Screenplay: Chris Weitz. Music: Patrick Doyle. Production Design: Dante Ferretti. Costume Design: Sandy Powell. Cast: Lily James (Ella), Richard Madden (Kit), Cate Blanchett (Lady Tremaine), Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Derek Jacobi… Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon.
Trivia: Emma Watson was allegedly offered the lead role.
Reading through message boards on the Internet Movie Database is a mixed experience. That’s where we find lots of opinions coming from idiots of a varying kind, uncompromising (and thus uninteresting) fanboys, as well as those who have actually put some thought into what they’re saying. In the case of the excellent British documentary Night Will Fall, it is interesting to read discussions about the film’s background and Alfred Hitchcock’s involvement in the original WWII-era footage. It is also frustrating to read derisive comments like a comparison between Hitchcock’s film and Billy Wilder’s Holocaust documentary Death Mills (1945), which someone describes as a “hatchet job”. There’s another person trying to offer critique of Night Will Fall that amounts to more or less “we’ve seen this before”. That is entirely missing the point.
The background story is as follows. In April 1945, British forces reached the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. As we learn early in the film, the soldiers found Bergen to be a picturesque little German town, but the soldiers soon noticed the stench coming from a nearby camp. Belsen was never one of the Nazi extermination camps, but conditions were poor enough with dead prisoners lying everywhere. The survivors tried to get by among the corpses, denied any kind of humanity or dignity. This was a shocking sight to the British soldiers who came there. What faced them was soon documented by film cameras with the expressed purpose of making sure that no one in Bergen could deny knowledge of what was going on in their midst…
Never properly released André Singer’s documentary tells the story of the soldiers’ experiences, complete with touching interviews with some of them as well as survivors of the camp. There’s also footage from Auschwitz and Majdanek, camps that were even worse than Belsen, showing how well the Allies used film as a way of documenting Nazi crimes; the footage was subsequently invaluable evidence at the Nuremberg trials. Night Will Fall also tells the story of a British producer, Sidney Bernstein, and how he created a documentary called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, with help from one of the world’s most successful directors of the time, Alfred Hitchcock. The film was never properly released due to its shocking content. The British government needed the German people as an ally, and the film might damage the hope of that relationship; there was also fear that the film would strengthen Zionism, which could cause problems for the British in the Middle East. Some of the footage was used in other films, such as Death Mills, but most of it was shelved. What we see now in this documentary is beyond terrifying, taking us to the shame and horrors of Belsen, but also giving us some insight and understanding into how necessary it must have been for everyone involved, prisoner, executioner and liberating soldier, to detach oneself to some degree and seize to look at all these corpses as human beings. The effect is sickening.
As a film, Night Will Fall portrays its two aspects, the horrors of the Holocaust and the politics behind its documentation, in a very tight, fascinating and deeply unsettling way. We can’t say “we’ve seen it before”. We have seen footage before, but not in this way and not this story. And we have to keep coming back to different aspects of this historic event, because if we don’t Islamophobia and antisemitism prevails and night will indeed fall. The film is also a reminder of the necessity of documenting war zones – and the crucial job of journalism.
Night Will Fall 2014-Britain. 75 min. Color-B/W. Produced by Sally Angel, Brett Ratner. Directed by André Singer. Screenplay: Lynette Singer. Music: Nicholas Singer. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Stephen Frears. Outside of Britain, the film premiered largely on various TV networks.
Last word: “There’s a major debate going on with educationalists about how old you should be in order to see a film like this, but I am firmly of the belief that if you show and access footage like this – atrocity footage – out of context, which kids see by pressing two buttons on the internet, it becomes a kind of atrocity pornography. But if you put it in context, it has a hugely important role to play in teaching people about the reality of what mankind can do to fellow humans. That’s one of the most interesting and contentious things, not just about our film, but about using film and imagery like that in order to teach or to learn about the Holocaust itself.” (Singer, Interview Magazine)
Lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) arrives in Texas in 1869 and is immediately drawn into a hunt for an outlaw (William Fichtner) that ends in tragedy – and a new career for John. The Pirates of the Caribbean crew and star lie behind this blockbuster adaptation of the classic matinée idol from radio, TV and movies. A box-office and critical failure, the movie is bloated but book-ended by spectacular (and funny) action sequences involving trains. Plenty of nods to the original and there’s an ambition to portray Native Americans as human beings, not stereotypical sidekicks. Hammer and Johnny Depp make a fun duo.
2013-U.S. 149 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Cast: Johnny Depp (Tonto), Armie Hammer (John Reid), Tom Wilkinson (Latham Cole), William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Depp. Jessica Chastain was allegedly considered for a part.
In the clip above, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, hosts of next Sunday’s Golden Globe awards are having a little fun. “Ten seconds or less why the Golden Globes are the best awards show… hmmm… gimme a minute…” Looks promising. The time has come for some predictions.
In the Drama categories, 12 Years a Slave looks like a winner, but Alfonso Cuarón is likely to win an award for his direction of Gravity; so will also Steven Price for his score. Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) are up for a duel, but Cate Blanchett will win her category for Blue Jasmine. Best Supporting Actor looks like a shoo-in for Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club; Supporting Actress might turn into a fight between Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave).
In the Comedy/Musical categories, American Hustle will win Best Motion Picture. Bruce Dern looks set to be rewarded for his work in Nebraska, but will face a challenge from Leonardo DiCaprio who’s simply outstanding in The Wolf of Wall Street. Amy Adams will likely win a Golden Globe for American Hustle. The Screenplay category will probably also go American Hustle’s way.
Best Song might go to Frozen (“Let It Go”, performed by Idina Menzel), and that movie will also win Animated Feature. The Foreign Language Film category belongs to Cannes favorite Blue is the Warmest Color.
I believe that Breaking Bad will win Best Drama Series; Bryan Cranston will also take Best Actor and Aaron Paul might win Supporting Actor. Kerry Washington looks set to snatch a Golden Globe for Scandal.
In the Comedy category, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brooklyn Nine-Nine pulls off an upset. The acting categories are more predictable, with Michael J. Fox slated to win for The Michael J. Fox Show and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep. The Supporting Actress category is also predicted to go to Sofia Vergara for Modern Family.
As for TV movies and miniseries, Behind the Candelabra will win, along with Michael Douglas in the Best Actor category. Best Actress however looks like a duel between Helena Bonham Carter in Burton and Taylor and Jessica Lange in American Horror Story: Coven.
In 1972, a vampire (Johnny Depp) is accidentally freed from his buried coffin and returns to his Maine family mansion; a lot has changed in 200 years, but the witch who turned him into a bloodsucker is still around. A very Tim Burton-esque adaptation of the classic 1966-1971 horror soap, complete with opulent production design, amusing clashes between the ’70s and the 1700s, and a magnificent Depp who’s pale only in his complexion. Very similar to many other Burton films (especially Beetle Juice), and the fiery climax is expected and weak, but the movie is still funny and looks great.
2012-U.S. 112 min. Color. Directed by Tim Burton. Production Design: Rick Heinrichs. Cast: Johnny Depp (Barnabas Collins), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), Helena Bonham Carter (Julia Hoffman), Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller… Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee.
France, 1815; Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who’s spent 19 years in jail for stealing bread, is released and starts a new life… but his nemesis in prison, Javert (Russell Crowe), won’t leave him alone. The first major screen version of the hit musical is primarily for buffs; with almost no spoken dialogue, this exhausting epic will test anyone else’s patience. Still, it’s hard to take one’s eyes away from the opulent production, recreating 19th-century working-class France with all its glorious filth, misery – and anger. There is immense passion on display, including Anne Hathaway’s stunning performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”, caught in close-up by Tom Hooper’s team.
2012-U.S.-Britain. 158 min. Color. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh. Directed by Tom Hooper. Screenplay: William Nicholson. Book: Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil. Novel: Victor Hugo. Cinematography: Danny Cohen. Songs: Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer (“I Dreamed a Dream”, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, “One Day More”, “Suddenly”). Production Design: Eve Stewart. Costume Design: Paco Delgado. Cast: Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen… Eddie Redmayne.
Trivia: Paul Bettany, Geoffrey Rush and Marion Cotillard were allegedly considered for roles.
Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Hathaway), Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actor (Jackman), Supporting Actress (Hathaway). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actress (Hathaway), Production Design, Sound, Make-up & Hair.
Last word: “I made it clear that I wouldn’t do the film unless I did it live. That was my level of belief that live singing was the way to go for this particular story. It came out of a lot of thinking about the musical form, partly it was personal, but even in the great musicals I have to get over the lip-syncing issue; I have to forgive the lip syncing issue. I feel a slight feeling of embarrassment when people lip-sync unless it’s done absolutely perfectly. And I didn’t want any of that falsity in this film. I wanted it to be very real. I also kept thinking that if this is a world like ours but where people communicate through song, then why wouldn’t you record the singing like you would record dialogue? Why would it be different?” (Hooper, Collider)
There are people who enjoy the Harry Potter books and films… and then there are Potterheads, the fanatics. I’ve always belonged in the former category. I read the first novel, then concentrated on the movie adaptations. I did care about what would happen to Harry and his friends, but never had the desire to become a real fan. Since no friend or family member has bothered to keep up with the movies, my journey has been lonely; I’ve seen all of the films on my own, either at press screenings or after the premiere in movie theaters. Now that the time has come to say goodbye, ten years after the first film, I do so with a hint of sadness, but also satisfaction. The series as a whole is quite an achievement. Individual chapters haven’t always been memorable. But this one is a beauty.
This sequel to the first half of Deathly Hallows begins with a visit to Griphook the Goblin (Warwick Davis) where Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) talk to him about breaking into a bank vault that belongs to Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Inside of it may lie one of the Horcruxes, objects that control Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) powers. The problem is that even if they do get ahold of this Horcrux, two more await. One of them is hidden somewhere in Hogwarts, which is now controlled by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) who was appointed new headmaster after assisting in the murder of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon); the other Horcrux is a living thing, Voldemort’s huge, poisonous snake that is committed to protecting its master at all times. In the end, it all boils down to a final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, whose armies stand ready to fight the war to end all wars.
Chock-full of glorified cameos I’m not surprised to see David Yates as director; this is his fourth Potter movie and his first, Order of the Phoenix (2007), was a shot of adrenaline to the series. This final chapter is at times a grueling (albeit PG-13) war movie with desaturated colors along the lines of Saving Private Ryan (1998), at other times a richly nostalgic and emotional cap to the whole franchise. The cast is chock-full of glorified cameos from Britain’s finest; some (like Emma Thompson) barely have a line, others (like Maggie Smith) get more action than in the past three or four entries. Rickman is once again brilliant as the mysterious Snape and Fiennes gets to intimidate his minions in delicious ways as Satan incarnated. As for the three young leads who’ve virtually grown up on-screen… they’ve matured not only as human beings, but as actors. As always, excellent visual effects and handsome art direction, although the decision to turn this last film into a 3D experience is totally unnecessary; the 3D doesn’t hurt the movie, but nor does it add anything.
At their worst, all eight films have been too obviously formulaic. Still, it doesn’t take a Potterhead to recognize that producer David Heyman has done a tremendous job of guiding us through this Hollywood illustration of Harry’s upbringing, with a little help from four directors, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and J.K. Rowling herself.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 2011-U.S.-Britain. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Heyman, David Barron, J.K. Rowling. Directed by David Yates. Screenplay: Steve Kloves. Novel: J.K. Rowling. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Cast:Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis… Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, John Hurt, Gary Oldman, Jim Broadbent, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall.
BAFTA: Best Special Visual Effects.
Last word:“I wanted to start with Snape because he’s so integral to the story and we discover so much about him in the movie. And Alan Rickman is so amazing as an actor, and what I love about him and the way he works is he thinks rather than shows. I know we usually open the movies with big bangs and bridges falling down and all sorts of stuff, but to open on an actor’s face, quite close was so compelling. And it’s actually quite an enigmatic expression; he’s not giving away too much, but it completely pulls you in. And then visually, just this notion of this shape, this black shape, and you’ve seen these Dementors just floating there in the ether and he’s almost like another Dementor. Visually, that felt quite strong, and also we needed to remind the audience of where we left the last movie.” (Yates on the film’s opening scene, TwitchFilm)
IT TAKES LEADERSHIP TO CONFRONT A NATION’S FEAR. IT TAKES FRIENDSHIP TO CONQUER YOUR OWN.
After watching this brilliant drama, I knew I had to consult YouTube for the speech King George VI made after Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. Sometimes, historical events portrayed in films absurdly seem a bit small in comparison with the fictionalized version… but not in this case. The speech King George made in 1939 sounds like the one we hear in the movie. Decisive, yes, but slow and emphasizing certain words and consonants in a strange staccato way. This is truly a reformed stutterer – and his story brings a better understanding of the Windsors.
In 1925, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) is about to deliver a speech to the crowds at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium – but his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) tearfully watches her husband get stuck on the first words. The Prince suffers from stuttering and many doctors have tried to cure him, to no avail. Now Elizabeth desperately turns to someone outside the circle of royal physicians, an Australian speech therapist who has set up shop in London. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) agrees to see the Prince, although he’s not willing to surrender his principles just because he’s dealing with royalties. Lionel insists on the Prince calling him Lionel and that he must be allowed to address the Prince as Bertie, which is a name only his wife and family use. The Prince reluctantly agrees, but the first session doesn’t end well…
Depressing and inspirational at the same time Screenwriter David Seidler used to stammer when he was a kid. After overcoming it, he learned of the story how a speech therapist worked with King George VI for years, not only helping him beat his affliction, but also becoming a close friend in the process. The story, convincingly brought to life for this movie, could actually make an excellent play as well, relying heavily on its dialogue, which is frequently witty and insightful. The future king and Lionel share an irreverent relationship at a time when the common man knew almost nothing about the royal family’s private sphere. Lionel becomes an actual friend to a person who’s been sheltered from the real world all his life and has suffered a great deal for it. There is particularly one discussion in the film between the two men where it is obvious what being a member of the royal family means; you do not get to have friends, your life is already set out for you and you do not get to be weak or sickly. George is not really made to fit into this prison… yet, in the end, when his older brother fails to honor the code, George turns out to be best suited for the role as head of state, in spite of his fragile psyche. A lesson that’s depressing and inspirational at the same time, made all the more compelling by Firth’s marvellous performance as George. He’s got the stutter down to a T, as well as the comically violent temper. Rush is the perfect choice to do Lionel, a forthright type of character that he’s played in other films, and Bonham Carter is also convincing as Elizabeth, along with Guy Pearce and Michael Gambon as the two other kings, Edward VIII and George V. Alexandre Desplat’s music score is not as memorable though as that sequence where King George delivers his wartime speech, its melody emphasized by Beethoven’s powerful seventh symphony.
As for Tom Hooper, he knows how to turn history into riveting films and miniseries, not just technically, but also in a way that shines a new light on its great figures. Queen Elizabeth II reportedly appreciates this portrait of her father. Considering how critical it is of her family, perhaps it says something of her own opinions on how the Windsors raised their kids many years ago.
The King’s Speech 2010-Britain-U.S. 118 min. Color. Produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin. Directed by Tom Hooper. Screenplay: David Seidler. Cinematography: Danny Cohen. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Editing: Tariq Anwar. Art Direction: Eve Stewart, Judy Farr. Costume Design: Jenny Beavan. Cast: Colin Firth (George VI), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), Helena Bonham Carter (Elizabeth), Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi… Anthony Andrews, Claire Bloom, Michael Gambon.
Trivia:Co-executive produced by Rush. Paul Bettany was allegedly considered for the part of King George.
Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Firth), Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Film, British Film, Actor (Firth), Supporting Actor (Rush), Supporting Actress (Bonham Carter), Original Screenplay, Music. Golden Globe: Best Actor (Firth). European Film Awards: Best Actor (Firth), Editor.
Last word: “I […] began to think, ‘What is the visual analog? It’s stammering. How do I find a way to shoot Colin that will underline his predicament?’ I began to think that if you’re a stutterer, it’s about inhabiting silence, emptiness, and nothingness. Therefore, is there a way visually of talking about that? So I wanted to put Colin’s face in these close shots in constant relation to negative space. So I used these big empty walls in the consulting room in Logue’s apartment and framed Colin against these big empty walls. Sometimes, he’s small against in the corner with the wall above and overpowering him. Sometimes, there’s just a lot of head room. I like that the idea of the conversation and communication behind nothingness is blasted all in the therapy room. Then, if you look at what I’m doing on Geoffrey’s side, Geoffrey is against in the therapy room…it’s sort of a room like a fireplace. It’s all of his pictures, wall, and papers. It’s domestic and it’s cozy. I watched them make that kind of division in the close-up language between these two men and the worlds they came from.” (Hooper, Collider)
A Room with a View (1986) may be the title that first jumps into one’s mind upon hearing the name James Ivory. The filmmaker has spent most of his career making stately dramas about elegant people who desperately try to maintain a stiff upper lip while dealing with the violent passions of falling in love. Howards End is his third filmization of E.M. Forster novels – and the finest piece of cinema he ever made, respectful of the novel but also taking on a life of its own.
Sometime in the early 1900s, Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) receives a letter from her sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter), telling her that she’s engaged to Paul Wilcox (Joseph Bennett), the son of a wealthy, conservative businessman, Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins). Helen’s aunt Juley (Prunella Scales) immediately leaves for Howards End, the Wilcox estate, to represent the family – without knowing that the letter was sent in haste and that Helen and Paul’s engagement has already been called off. The incident causes social awkwardness between the two families. Some time later, the Wilcoxes leave Howards End temporarily for a house in London that happens to be close to an apartment rented by the Schlegels.
In order to avoid embarrassment, Helen goes to Germany to see a relative, but Margaret tries to mend fences with the Wilcoxes and befriends Henry’s sickly wife Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave). Ruth is intrigued by the degree of openness in the Schlegel household, which is quite a difference from her own family. When she eventually succumbs to her illness, Henry is given a new, pencil-written will where Ruth expresses a desire for Margaret to have Howards End. Startled, Henry decides that the will must be illegitimate and burns it…
Complex consequences Both the novel and the film portray three different social classes in Britain. The Wilcoxes are upper middle class, not aristocrats but rather the type that makes too much money to be ignored; the Schlegels belong to the bourgeoisie, fairly well-off and culturally enlightened; and the Basts are lower middle class, always concerned with money (or rather, the lack of it). The motto of the novel is “only connect” and the interaction between these classes is what creates the drama of the story, with complex consequences – not just because of the classes, but also the personalities involved.
The cast portray these people in a remarkably effective way. The part of Margaret seems so close to Thompson herself that one can hardly separate them; intelligent, talkative, emotional and self-mocking, she’s perfect. Redgrave, quite the radical, is touching as the frail woman who shudders at the mere thought of suffrage. Hopkins, fresh off his chilling portrait of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, is equally magnetic as the cold-hearted tycoon who honestly believes in his own superiority vis-à-vis his family and the lower classes. Bonham Carter is also tremendously good as Helen, a person who’s entirely guided by her feelings, unable to balance them with a rational mind.
The novel is flawlessly adapted and directed in a way that emphasizes the lyrical aspects of the novel; Howards End and its wonderful countryside surroundings stand as a nostalgic symbol of something utterly English, more lasting than the class system. Richard Robbins’s music score is greatly varied, occasionally using the work of the pianist Percy Grainger as a symbol of the old, rural England.
Forster argues that as long as the classes “only connect” with each other, good things will come out of it. In the end, there is change for the better… but there is no doubt that the advent of social democracy did more to improve the lives of people like the Basts.
Howards End 1992-Britain. 140 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Directed by James Ivory. Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Novel: E.M. Forster. Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts. Music: Richard Robbins. Art Direction: Luciana Arrighi. Cast: Anthony Hopkins (Henry Wilcox), Vanessa Redgrave (Ruth Wilcox), Helena Bonham Carter (Helen Schlegel), Emma Thompson (Margaret Schlegel), James Wilby, Sam West… Prunella Scales.
Trivia: Miranda Richardson was allegedly considered for the part of Margaret. The novel was also filmed for British television in 1970 and as a 2017 miniseries.
Oscars: Best Actress (Thompson), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction-Set Decoration. BAFTA: Best Film, Actress (Thompson). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Thompson).
Quote:“Don’t take up that sentimental attitude over the poor. The poor are poor, and one’s sorry for them, but there it is.” (Hopkins to Bonham Carter)
Last word:“I don’t always know it at the time, but I wouldn’t be choosing some of this material if it didn’t already resonate me with on some unseen kind of way. When it’s all done, I realize sometimes that I’ve been, or that we all have been creating our own three-part autobiography out of our films. They’re full of our interests and the stuff that was meaningful to us in different kinds of ways, and in some cases deeply psychological. Sometimes it’s just for the sheer possibility of enjoying making something . ‘Howard’s End’ was something like that. I hadn’t thought to make ‘Howard’s End’ and Ruth said ‘OK, you’ve made two other E.M. Forster books, sort of minor works, why don’t you do a great E.M. Forster book, and climb a mountain?’ So we did. But years after I’ve made a film, for some reason watching it, I think ‘Oh, that’s what it was all about. That’s what I was thinking. That’s why I made it.'” (Ivory, Moviefone)
The treacherous Snape (Alan Rickman) is now running Hogwarts while Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) try to find and destroy the Horcruxes, objects that control Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) powers. The seventh film in the series has razzle-dazzle to spare as always, a majestically staged first part of the final showdown between the boy wizard and the dark lord. Compared with what’s come before, this long, lumbering and sad film is largely a disappointment. Still, the “tale of the three brothers” segment is beautifully animated.
2010-U.S.-Britain. 146 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David Yates. Novel: J.K. Rowling. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis… Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall.