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Starz Offers a Fresh Take on 'Howards End'
April 8, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 

Howards End has returned, bringing social class lessons that are as discomforting as the show’s visual palette is stunning.

Originally a popular 1910 novel by E.M. Forster, Howards End was most recently resurrected for a hit 1992 movie starring Emma Thompson.

Starz has now brought it back again as a four-hour miniseries, premiering Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

Hayley Atwell (top) stars as Margaret Schlegel and Matthew Macfadyen (top) as her eventual husband, Henry Wilcox.

The British countryside also has a starring role, along with the masterfully lit interior scenes at palatial homes like Howards End, the Wilcox family estate.

With a four-hour length, rather than the two hours of the movie, this production spends more time with the main characters and gives the story more of a contemporary resonance. That, presumably, is deliberate.

Forster’s story revolves around three families: the Wilcoxes, who represent old British money; the Schlegels, who fall somewhere in the still-developing middle class; and the Basts, who despite genuine skills and honest effort, seem fated by birth to remain in the lower economic stratum.

Socio-economic class differences and conflicts never go out of style, for obvious reasons, so Howards End has an inherent timelessness. It takes on an additional contemporary edge with Atwell’s portrayal of Margaret as a woman with nascent strains of feminism.

While the world of the Wilcoxes rests on an assumption of male primacy, Howards End gives strong voices to several of the female characters, including matriarch Ruth Wilcox (Julia Ormond, right), Margaret’s Aunt Juley (Tracey Ullman, below) and Margaret’s younger and more activist-minded sister Helen (Philippa Coulthard).

The central romantic connection in Howards End remains between Margaret and Henry, though it comes with a family backstory. Some years earlier Helen had been briefly engaged to Henry’s younger brother, Paul (Jonah Hauer-King).

In contrast to the romances in some British period dramas, Margaret and Henry do not find that their class differences magically dissolve and gently set them in a permanently smooth world of their own. Though they care for each other, Henry has both secrets and class habits that are hard to break.

One habit involves the entitlement of the aristocracy, which in turn leads to one of his central secrets.

Ruth Wilcox, who cares deeply about Howards End as the physical and metaphoric anchor for the family, senses that her heirs place less value on it. Margaret, conversely, does appreciate its importance, which leads to a string of decisions and deceptions about its fate after Ruth is gone.

While these situations often simmer with nastiness and condescension, at the same time they can play out between elegantly dressed people speaking in articulate civil sentences.

Class conflicts and traditions also can place people like Leonard Bast (Joseph Quinn) and Jacky (Rosalind Eleazar), a woman Henry Wilcox used and discarded some time earlier, into impossible situations where they have no avenue of recourse.

Howards End contemplates both the value and the decay in the economic ruling class. While it doesn’t preach to the modern audience, it clearly suggests a little more parity wouldn’t be the end of the world.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Zeke
Having seen both, strangely I felt the earlier, Thompson version a clearer narrative,
where the second one, even though I knew the plotline, seemed missing nuances of motivation.
Sounds like time I review the first one again!
Apr 10, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
 
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