I remember watching the origional Howards End in 1992. It was shown at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, which is a theatre. They had decided to branch out as a cinema. They stuck a big cinema screen on the stage and I went with my parents and grandparents to watch it, I was about 12. I recall Howards End covered in blooms shot basking in a glowing orange sunset and Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter had huge hair and huge frills. This remake was very different, still obviously Edwardian but so 2017.
This four part series was less period drama fluff and more about ideas. That primarily is the reason why I liked it so much. It was relevant to today to our current issues and debates. It is about social conventions, class, the attitudes of the rich to the poor and race (Leonard Bast’s wife is black and there are other characters of colour in this remake). The three families: the wealthy Wilcox’s representing the English upper classes, the Schlegel family are the idealistic and intellectual aspect of the English upper classes and poor Mr Bast represents the aspirations of the lower classes, he is obsessed with self improvement but is never able to better himself, held back by his class and poverty.
Howards End is England. This novel was considered E M Forster’s masterpiece and it is about “who will inherit England?”. Mrs Wilcox gentle, selfless, loving and the matriach that all the other Wilcox’s obey (representing England’s past) dies early into the novel and leaves Howards End to Margaret Schlegel (of whom she had recently struck up a friendship). The Wilcox’s decide to ignore her request (after all, it was written in pencil) and throws the letter into the fire. Then it seems that fate would inflict some unfortunate consequences involving all three families and in the end the Schlegel’s do in fact inherit Howards End. If only the Wilcox’s had given it to them in the first place!
There was so much about this adaptation that I loved. I thought the casting was spot on. Instead of Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Hopkins we have Julia Ormond and Matthew Macfadyen, a younger Wilcox matriarch and patriarch but Matthew Macfadyen had all the stuffyness and chavenistic required for his character. I was quite amused to see Tracey Ullman as Aunt Julie and did keep expecting her to do her Angela Merkel impression. I absolutely loved Hayley Atwell. I couldn’t get enough of her. She is a talent wasted on Marvel (athough I did enjoy her as Agent Carter). I wish she would come back from Hollywood to make some more period dramas for the BBC. Emma Thompson won an oscar for her role in the origional film of this and I felt Hayley Atwell’s performance was just as good. I actually like that the Schlegel sisters actually looked like sisters. Helen Schlegel played by Philippa Coultard was a breakthrough performance in my opinion. I loved the dialogue. They could have been speaking about whether we should help refugees, in their discussions about whether or not to help Mr Bast. Mr Bast’s dependance on help from the Schlegel’s illustrates the entitled ignorance that many in a better off position have of those in the poverty trap.
So all in all I felt Howards End was spot on. Intelligent and current. Five stars from me. More Hayley Atwell please.