Howard’s End Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Helena Carter, Joseph Bennett, Prunella Scales, Adrian Magenty, Jo Kendall
  • Director: James Ivory
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 143 minutes

        Howard’s End was the third adaptation of an E. M. Forster novel by longtime film team, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, and may very well be their greatest success. It was an unlikely choice, especially since Forster himself admitted to disliking all of the characters within his own story, but the nuanced Merchant Ivory production somehow makes them all more sympathetic without removing any of their many flaws. And despite some ugliness in the personalities of the characters, this is contrasted by the beautiful photography of the film, which has been given a wonderful new 4K restoration for its 25th Anniversary release.

        Though there are larger issues of class and the modernization of England within Forster’s story, it is a narrative that primarily relies on coincidence and chance encounters. This begins with an unseen meeting between a wealthy family and a single woman during vacation in Germany. Having enjoyed her company during their travels, the Wilcox family invites the young woman, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter), to their country home at Howard’s End. This leads to a chance encounter between Helen and one of the Wilcox sons, resulting in a misunderstanding that both connects and separates the two families for the remainder of the narrative.

        The second chance encounter involves another absentminded mistake by Helen, as she accidentally takes the umbrella of a man named Leonard Bast (Samuel West) during a lecture on Beethoven’s Fifth. Bast happens to work for the patriarch of the Wilcox family, Henry (Anthony Hopkins), whose wife (Vanessa Redgrave) simultaneously becomes acquainted with Helen’s older sister, Margaret (Emma Thompson). This friendship develops so quickly that when Mrs. Wilcox is on her death bed, she makes a final request to leave their home at Howard’s End to Margaret.

        This wish is ignored by Henry, though he does show a sudden romantic interest in his former wife’s friend, suddenly asking Margaret to be his wife instead. This relationship is seen as a betrayal by the Wilcox children, as well as Helen, who takes offense to Henry’s treatment of his former employee, Mr. Bast. This is likely why even Forster despised these characters, as they are all weak in their own way. But there is more to them than their weakness, and despite the class commentary about the hypocrisy of their behavior, Ivory allows us to sympathize with each of these characters to a certain degree.

        The Deluxe Edition 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release comes with a collector’s booklet and exclusive new special features, though it is the flawlessly remastered presentation of the film that remains the star. Rich in visuals, the film boasts production design elements that are enhanced by the beautiful photography, and that doesn’t even take into consideration how the film is further enhanced by its performers. The special features on this new disc include plenty of old behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries, but it also has new extras. There are new interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a Q&A from a 2016 screening of the film and an all-new commentary track. The special features are fittingly finished off with both the original theatrical trailer and the 2016 re-release trailer.  
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance:  10/10
Special Features: 9/10

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