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Howards End
BLU-RAY disk
11.11.2009 By: Mathew Plale
Howards End order
Director:
James Ivory

Actors:
Emma Thompson
Anthony Hopkins


Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Three classes of British families clash and fall in love in this adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1910 novel.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Here’s a new drinking game: every time during Howards End that you feel the urge to nod off, take a shot of beer with a low ABV. You’ll be more pissed (that’s drunk to us Yanks) before Anthony Hopkins shows up than you’d be from playing the Withnail & I game twice in a row.

What a dreadful and stiff bore this is. But you get that. You go in understanding that, because it’s a Merchant Ivory production of an E.M. Forster novel, the story will lack any relevant substance and that the characters will start sentence with the word “do,” as in “Do have a spot of tea.”

It’s not that I have an intolerance for the Brits (my dream is to marry a dainty blokette named Emma and have her read me Sherlock Holmes every afternoon over a scone)--just for Merchant Ivory and the works of Forster, whose novels have (as of 2009) between adapted by Merchant Ivory Productions two other times (1985’s A Room with a View, ‘87’s Maurice).

This story, directed by James Ivory, bothers itself with three families: the Wilcoxes, the Schlegels, and a young Bast.

The players: Anthony Hopkins as Henry Wilcox, Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar nomination, Best Supporting Actress) as his first wife, Emma Thompson (Oscar, Best Actress, though I couldn’t tell you why) and Helena Bonham Carter as the Schlegel sisters, and Samuel West as Leonard Bast. Impressive cast, no doubt, but it looks and sounds like each one of them stuffed a closet full of hangers into their wardrobe before arriving on set.

So, where are those two stars coming from? Of course, like most modern period pieces, Howards End’s true marvels shine in the art/set decoration, costumes, and glorious cinematography, by Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker (Oscar winners for their work), Jenny Beavan and John Bright (nominations), and Tony Pierce-Roberts (also a nomination, but worthy of a win), respectively. The artists illustrate here, we imagine, the aesthetics of Edwardian England better than any other film of its genre.

I’ll end on that positive, if only because my thesaurus is turning up too many irrelevant synonyms for “stuffy.”
THE EXTRAS
Building Howards End (42:36) gathers producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, actress Helena Bonham Carter, and others to provide a detailed and informative look into the making if Howards End. Topics include attracting the talent, the house used as Howards End, the on-set collaboration between cast and crew, difficulties of shooting in London, and editing. The chemistry between Merchant and Ivory is must-see.

The Design of Howards End (8:57): Production designer Luciana Arrighi and costume designer Jenny Beavan sit down to share their expertise on working on a period drama. Included are clips and Arrighi’s sketches.

The Wandering Company (49:37): This 1984 documentary, produced during A Room with a View’s pre-production stage, observes the first 20 years of Merchant Ivory’s history. Included are clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews. Overall, this doc is a bit stale, but a decent overview of the company. Still, an updated version may have made a better edition to the disc.

James Ivory on Ismail Merchant (12:11): The director sits down to discuss his relationship with his partner, producer Merchant. This piece goes well with the footage of Ivory and Merchant in the “Building Howards End” doc.

Behind the Scenes (4:31) is a promotional video that utilizes clips, on-set footage, and brief comments from Merchant, Ivory, Anthony Hopkins, and more.

Theatrical Trailer.

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 12-page booklet with an essay titled “All is Grace” by Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Howards End may be one of the most boring films in the Criterion Collection, but that doesn't mean that this Blu-ray doesn't boast one of the high-def transfers in their catalog. Additionally, the disc features a number of great documentaries that will please any fan of the film.
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