One of the best Ismail Merchant/James Ivory films, this adaptation of E. M. Forster's classic 1910 novel shows in careful detail the injuriously rigid British class consciousness of the early 20th century. The film's catalyst is poor relation Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), who inherits part of the estate of Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), an upper-class woman whom she had befriended. The film's principal characters are divided by caste: aristocratic industrial Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins); middle-echelon Margaret and her sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter); and working-class clerk Leonard Bast (Sam West) and his wife (Nicola Duffett). The personal and social conflicts among these characters ultimately result in tragedy for Bast and disgrace for Wilcox, but the film's wider theme remains the need, in the words of the novel's famous epigram, to only connect with other people, despite boundaries of gender, class, or petty grievance. Filmed on a proudly modest budget, Howards End offers sets, spectacles, and costumes as lavish as in any historical epic. Nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, the film took home awards for Thompson as Best Actress, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's adapted screenplay, and Luciana Arrighi's art direction.~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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