Howards End (1992)
June 22, 2022 11:11 AM - Subscribe

A saga of class relations and changing times in an Edwardian England on the brink of modernity, the film revolves around the bookish and idealistic Margaret Schlegel, who, along with her sister Helen, becomes involved with the wealthy, conservative industrialist Henry Wilcox, his wife Ruth, their three grown children, and the downwardly mobile working-class Leonard Bast and his mistress Jackie.

Background Info & Critical Reception

Howards End premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or and won the 45th Anniversary Award. The film was theatrically released on March 13, 1992 in the United States and on May 1, 1992 in the United Kingdom to critical acclaim and commercial success, grossing $26.3 million on a $8 million budget. At the 65th Academy Awards, the film received a leading nine nominations including for the Best Picture, and won three: Best Actress (for Thompson); Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published; and Best Art Direction. At the 46th British Academy Film Awards, it garnered a leading eleven nominations, winning two awards: Best Film; and Best Actress (for Thompson).

The film received massive critical acclaim. In 2005, Roger Ebert included it on his list of "Great Movies". Leonard Maltin awarded the film a rare 4 out of 4 star rating, and called the film "Extraordinarily good on every level." Dave Kehr of The Chicago Tribune gave a mixed review while reporting that the film "provides more than enough in the way of production values to keep its primary audience entertained. An audible gasp went up at a recent sneak preview over the film's re-creation of a Christmas-bedecked Harrod's of the turn of the century; the movie, like the store, knows how to put its merchandise on display."

Filming locations in London included a house in Victoria Square, which stood in for the Schlegel home, Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly, Simpson's-in-the-Strand restaurant, and St Pancras railway station. Areas around the Admiralty Arch and in front of the Royal Exchange in the City of London were dressed to film traffic scenes of 1910 London. The scene where Margaret and Helen stroll with Henry in the evening was filmed on Chiswick Mall in Chiswick, London. The bank where Leonard encounters Helen is the lobby of the Baltic Exchange, 30 St. Mary Axe, London. Soon after filming the building was bombed and destroyed by the IRA. The Rosewood London on High Holborn, which was then the Pearl Assurance Building, represented the Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company.

The quadrangle of the Founder's Building at Royal Holloway, University of London stood in for the hospital where Margaret visits Mrs. Wilcox. The "Howards End" house in the countryside is Peppard Cottage in Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire. At the time it was owned by an antique silver dealer with whom production designer Luciana Arrighi was acquainted, and she got the idea of using it for Howards End after being a houseguest there. The bluebell wood where Leonard strolls in his dream, as well as Dolly and Charles' house, were filmed nearby. Henry's country house, Honiton, was actually Brampton Bryan Hall in Herefordshire, near the Welsh border. Bewdley railway station on the historic Severn Valley Railway featured as Hilton station.


Aunt Juley: All the Schlegels are exceptional. They are British to the backbone, of course, but their father was German, which is why they care for literature and art.

Meg: Unlike the Greek, England has no true mythology. All we have are witches and fairies.

Helen: We're not odd; we're just over-expressive.

Helen: Did you see the dawn?
Leonard: Yes. It suddenly got light.
Helen: And was it wonderful?
Leonard: No.

Helen: [after Leonard storms out when the Schlegel sisters try to warn him about his job] What was all that about?
Leonard: I knew I shouldn't have come back. It was all right last time, but things like that always get spoiled.
Helen: Things do, but people don't! Don't you understand? We really did want to warn you about the Porphyrion. We were worried about you!
Leonard: ...why should you worry about me?
Helen: Because we *like* you! That's why!... you absolute noodle.
Leonard: [now awkward and ashamed] There's no need to call a person names...
Helen: Oh yes there is, when a person is being tremendously stupid!

Meg: Mr. Wilcox, I am demented!

Henry: Don't take a sentimental attitude toward the poor.... The poor are the poor. One is sorry for them, but there it is.

Meg: [speaking of Helen] She's got some sort of madness... as if she's mad!

Meg: I deny it's madness.
Henry: But you said yourself...
Meg: It's madness when I say it, but not when you say it.

Meg: [to Henry] Will you forgive her as you yourself have been forgiven... you have had a mistress; I forgave you. My sister has a lover, you drive her from the house. Why can you not be honest for once in your life? Why can't you say what Helen has done, I have done!


Dame Emma Thompson received a total of thirteen nominations for her role in this movie. She won in all of those events, which includes an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA as Best Actress. Dame Emma Thompson's Best Actress Oscar winning performance and Vanessa Redgrave's Best Actress in a Supporting Role nominated turn were the only female performances nominated in the acting categories in Best Picture nominees that year. Because he had won Best Actor the previous year, Sir Anthony Hopkins presented Dame Emma Thompson with the Best Actress Oscar she won for her performance in this movie.

Howards End was also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Costume Design.

Samuel West (Leonard Bast) is the son of Prunella Scales (Aunt Juley), and Jemma Redgrave (Evie Wilcox) is the niece of Vanessa Redgrave (Ruth Wilcox). Crispin Bonham-Carter (Albert Fussell) is the third cousin of Helena Bonham Carter (Helen Schlegel).

The country house used as the location for Howards End is over twice as large as seen from the front and partial side views used in this movie. It is H-shaped with a large back portion, into which its owners moved during filming, while the front portion was emptied and refinished. The landscaping was also redone, with flowers and plants truer to the story's period.)

This movie was part of a mid 1980s to early 1990s cycle of mostly theatrical movie adaptations of works by E.M. Forster. The others being A Passage to India (1984), A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), and Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991). Helena Bonham Carter appeared in A Room with a View and Maurice.

Ismail Merchant had to pay $250,000 for the rights to the novel to the trustees of Forster's estate, King's College, Cambridge, England. Merchant considered this an exorbitant sum, but he had to match a Hollywood offer that the college was also considering at the time.

Sir Anthony Hopkins was the first actor cast for this movie. In an interview with the producers on the Merchant Ivory Collection DVD, director James Ivory says that he passed a copy of the script to Hopkins via his friend, a sound editor on The Silence of the Lambs (1991), "Thereby bypassing all of the agents all over the place." Hopkins read the script, and told Ivory he was very interested in taking the role.

After playing Dame Emma Thompson's sister in this movie, Helena Bonham Carter played the love interest of Thompson's husband, Sir Kenneth Branagh, in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), and she and Branagh had an affair which was the cause of Thompson and Branagh's subsequent divorce. In 2013, Thompson told The Sunday Times, "You can't hold on to anything like that. It's pointless. I haven't got the energy for it. Helena and I made our peace years and years ago." She also added that she could see why Branagh would have been attracted to both her and Bonham Carter, quipping: "Being slightly mad and a bit fashion-challenged. Perhaps that's why Ken loved us both. She's a wonderful woman, Helena."

Natasha Richardson turned down the role of Margaret Schlegel. Tilda Swinton, Phoebe Nicholls, Miranda Richardson, and Joely Richardson were also considered for the part of Margaret Schlegel.

When Charles and Dolly Wilcox are hiding from Margaret Schlegel in the castle, the scene closes with low angle wide shot of the castle with a view of the sky behind it, revealing an aircraft contrail. There were no aircraft capable of leaving high-altitude contrails in the time period this movie is set in.

During the kiss with Paul, and during the music hall scenes, Helen is wearing a wristwatch. While wristwatches did exist at the time they were rare, and women normally wore a brooch type of timepiece. The wristwatch would not become common until the first world war, when they were given to soldiers to allow them to see the time while both hands were engaged.
posted by orange swan (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I was a teenager, I just assumed all my parents' books must be stuffy. Then one day I picked up "Howard's End" and wow, it was the opposite of stuffy. When the movie came out, I was terrified *it* would be stuffy (as Merchant/Ivory occasionally is), but no, it was tremendous. I want to pour praise on Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the screenplay. If you knew the book as well as I did when I saw the movie, you would have squealed in the same places I did at how brilliantly Jhabvala included all the things from the omniscient narration (not to mention all the stuff described in letters). I'll just include one example: When Helen goes to a performance of Beethoven's fifth symphony, she digests the experience of hearing it in her head, and it's both important to the plot and absolutely delightful. But how do you put that in a movie? Jhabvala has the concert start with a music professor (or the conductor?) presenting a little introduction before the symphony begins. It showed how much the movie makers cared about the book.

Other than that, I'll note how difficult it could have been to have a character who dies early in the book to be able to haunt the whole thing, and how brilliantly Vanessa Redgrave succeeds in the role. Yet Anthony Hopkins had the hardest role: Mr. Wilcox is an allegorical figure representing England, and that's a thankless job, even in the book. To make it believable that the delightful Helen would marry him takes hard work.

A great, great movie.
posted by acrasis at 4:44 PM on June 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

PS- thanks for the gossip, Orange Swan. For years I called Helena Bonham Carter "That homewrecker", but if Emma Thompson is big enough to forgive her, I must, too.
posted by acrasis at 4:47 PM on June 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm inclined to believe that HBC didn't force herself upon Kenneth Branagh, and that he chose to break his wedding vows to Emma Thompson and is therefore the one who wrecked their home.
posted by orange swan at 9:23 PM on June 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

I've seen this movie when it came out. And just have a general E.M.Forster - Ivory/Merchant memory of it.
Based on your glowing review I'm going to watch it again! Thank you for the recommendation.
posted by jouke at 11:40 AM on June 23, 2022

"I do nothing but steal umbrellas."

I couldn't even estimate how many times I've seen this movie, and I've never been able to explain the hold it has on me. It's such a bleak story with characters who make frustratingly and fatefully heedless mistakes (I'm looking particularly at you, Charles, you horse's ass), and ordinarily that would not be my thing at all, but at the same time it's so real and has so many real little moments -- such as Meg's stifling her sobs of bitter disappointment that the man she loves is not the man she thought him -- that it's a compelling watch from start to finish.

The acting is fantastic, the script does the wonderful novel it's based on justice, and the sets and costumes are fabulous. Years ago I bought myself a lovely little antique silver aide-mémoire, feeling I just had to have it, only to realize after I'd bought it that it was very similar to the one Meg writes in when making out Mrs. Wilcox's Christmas shopping list in the cab on their way to the shops.

So much is made of Leonard in this movie and how he's being kept down to a life as a clerk and is married to a woman who is not a good match for him despite his wanting so much more, but I think Jackie is an even more tragic figure. It is horrifying to me that Henry Wilcox should have used and discarded an orphaned, destitute, and dim sixteen-year-old girl without so much as giving her money for passage back to England -- that is morally far worse than simply being unfaithful to his wife with another consenting adult would have been. Leonard doesn't say how Jackie eventually managed to get passage money together, but I think it very likely she would have had to turn prostitute to get it. And no one seems to spare a thought for her at the end of the movie, and how she would have again been left destitute by Leonard's death and, given her lack of skills and resources and with no one to turn to, probably had to resort to prostitution again to survive.
posted by orange swan at 10:36 AM on June 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Very late to this thread, but since I just watched this film for the first time ever this week and have no-one else to talk to about it:
"Leonard doesn't say how Jackie eventually managed to get passage money together [...] And no one seems to spare a thought for her at the end of the movie, and how she would have again been left destitute by Leonard's death"

I literally said "but what about Jackie?!" as the credits began to roll. (Maybe the novel tells us what happened to her?)

Nicola Duffett manages to make us really empathise with someone who might otherwise have wound up being simply an irritating foil to the main characters and their finer sensibilities; I see on IMDb that she's continued to work steadily since H.E., but feel like she probably deserves to be better-known.
posted by peakes at 6:28 AM on July 16, 2023

One would like to think that Helen arranged for some Wilcox money to be settled on her in compensation for her husband's death (I'm not sure whether technically she could have sued for wrongful death, but I'm sure she wasn't in a position to), but the book doesn't say.
posted by praemunire at 9:25 AM on July 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

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