Sunday, August 30, 2009


From the Vault: The Remains of the Day

In many ways, The Remains of the Day, the latest effort from the team of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, surpasses the great achievement they made with last year's Howards End.

Anthony Hopkins stars as Stevens, a British butler who puts his work above all else. He's a great servant, but a sad, lonely man. He hires lovely women for the household staff then ignores them once they are there. His only loyalty belongs to Lord Darlington (James Fox), the master of the house.

Adapted from the award-winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day begins in flashback in 1958 as Stevens takes a journey to remedy past slights and to reminisce about life in Darlington Hall.

The mistakes that Stevens focuses on are the missed opportunity for love with the former housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) and his ambivalence to Lord Darlington's nature as a Nazi apologist.

The story's scope isn't of great importance but like The Age of Innocence, it is an excellent period piece about repressed emotions and social mores.

Hopkins creates as vivid a portrait of loneliness and devotion to one's job as I've ever seen.

The film, for me at least, marks the best Merchant Ivory production yet. Ivory's direction is at his most polished and as enchanting as he's ever achieved.

All technical aspects are top notch as well from sets to cinematography to musical score. The entire package achieves a hypnotic triumph.

In the end though, Hopkins' performance gives the film its most important lift. Stevens, who speaks through his eyes and facial expressions, would be difficult for anyone of lesser talent to pull off. Fortunately for The Remains of the Day — and for audiences — Hopkins remains one of the most talented actors working today.

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I prefer Howards End but the composure of Remains of the Day does seem more mature and elevated than the slight histrionics of [Helen Schlegel] in Howards End
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