The Film (4.5/5)
Based on the 1910 novel of the same name by E. M. Forster, HOWARD’S END tells the story of three families and their place in society and how their lives cross in unexpected and tragic ways. The first family is the Wilcox’s, a rich family where the head of the house Henry (Anthony Hopkins) owns a rubber plant. His wife Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying and friendless and dreams of only spending her time in her childhood home called Howard’s End. In comes the second family, The Schlegels, a German and British family led by Margaret (Emma Thompson), who visits Ruth to offer an apology for her sister Helen’s(Helena Bonham Carter) behavior and almost marrying her youngest son.
The two women suddenly bond, and Ruth is happy with her new friend. The third family is the Bast’s, a poor family led by Leonard (Samuel West) is thrown into the mix when Helen accidentally steals his umbrella and becomes interested in the family. This soon leads to a secret affair between the two. As Ruth dies, she leaves Howard’s End to Margaret, but her Husband destroys the note before word comes out. But fate steps in with Henry becomes infatuated by Margaret and plans to marry her.
So, going into HOWARD’S END (1992), I wasn’t expecting much other than another somewhat stuffy Period drama. Which pardon the bad joke, is not my cup of tea usually. Well HOWARD’S END deserves the hype and I can understand why Merchant- Ivory Productions is as universally loved as they are. Merchant- Ivory is short hand for these movies of high style and quality that were cost effective. The perfect treat for critics and lovers of high drama and art. The Merchant Ivory team was a three-way circle of creative power between Director James Ivory, his producer and romantic partner Ismail Merchant, and their screen writer friend Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. With their first film, 1963’s THE HOUSEHOLDER, the team mixed an Indian influence with an outsider’s vision of world cinema, which makes HOWARD’S END even more magical with what it pulls off.
HOWARD’S END is a long film that tells an epic size story of these three families, yet feels fast with its care for well-rounded characters and a quick editing pace. No scene over stays its welcome as the script moves along at a fast pace, most scenes end on a high note with a fade to black. On a story telling level, the tragedy of misunderstandings lead to horrible ends for the characters. The class system of 1910’s Britain is very matter of fact and the humor in the script comes from the boiling passion hidden behind the manners of the higher class. The biggest star of the show is the magnificent cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts, with stunning use of widescreen composition and the clever use of pans and zooms. The photography alone makes this film an essential.
HOWARD’S END comes with three different audio options. First up is the English DTS-HD Master Audio track. The track is a joy to the ears with vivid volume for the score by Richard Robbins. There’s no noticeable issues with the track, but some of the sound effects do over power the dialogue. Next up is the 5.1 Dolby Digital track. If you have a smaller sound system this is the way to go. It’s not as intense but it sounds wonderful coming from the TV speakers. Lastly the PCM 2.0 Stereo track is good but is the lesser of the three. The audio is clear but softer and more muffled. Easy to read English subtitles are included.
The new 4k Restoration of HOWARD’S END is one of the best Blu-ray transfers I’ve seen all year. The textures and colors are breathtaking with the blue flowers hoping off the screen. There has been some complaints and reports of the aspect ratio being incorrect, but still the picture is fantastic. The black levels are smooth and the crisp use of shadow makes this movie pure magic to the eyes. For their first dip into the Merchant-Ivory Library, Cohen has knocked this one out of the park.
Cohen releases HOWARD’S END with a handsome set of extras. First up is a newly recorded commentary by critics Wade Major and Lael Lowenstein. The commentary is lively and covers a wide range of topics including the source novel and the legacy of the Merchant- Ivory Productions. On Disc 2 there’s an interview with James Ivory by Laurence Kardish. Next up is an almost unwatchable Cannes 2016 interview with Vanessa Redgrave and Ivory. The Interviewer talks over the guests and the information is already covered better in the other interviews.
There’s a new 2016 interview with Ivory by critic Michael Koresky. Rounding out the extras is a 1992 behind the scenes documentary, Building Howard’s End documentary about the history of the production, Design of Howard’s End with costume and set designers Luciana Arrighi and Jenny Beavan, James Ivory remembers Ismail Merchant, and a trailer gallery that includes the 1992 original theatrical trailer, the re-release trailer, and the Merchant- Ivory Library Collection trailer that showcases future releases. The release comes in special collector’s edition packaging with a booklet of liner notes and production stills.
HOWARD’S END is an all-star drama that showcases high caliber acting and storytelling. A highly emotional period piece with high style and stunning visas. Enough to make me search out the rest of the Merchant- Ivory Library, which if Cohen follows suite with this level of a quality release, will soon have a huge stack of essential purchases. Cohen gives HOWARD’S END a fantastic transfer and extras making this a must have for fans of the film or new comers like myself. Highly Recommended.