Howard's End James Ivory

The producing and directing partnership of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory — though it has a history of more than 30 years — is typically associated with a string of period pieces made in the 1980s and early '90s (A Room with a View, Maurice, Remains of the Day), many starring Helena Bonham Carter and/or Anthony Hopkins. But while these films regularly get dismissed as corset flicks, in their best work there is a slice of underlying bitterness, almost nastiness, that enlivens these films. It's this saucy hint of tart that makes a seemingly slow drip of a film like Howard's End not only fascinating but allows it to hold up more than a decade later. In Remains of the Day (with which it is regularly confused), Hopkins plays a reclusive servant, but he's in charge of Howard's End in many ways. The complicated and intricate story concerns the Wilcox family (Hopkins plays the patriarch), their involvement with the Schlegel sisters (Bonham Carter and Emma Thompson) and the sisters' concern for a down-and-out clerk named Leonard Bast (Samuel West). As the Wilcoxs move pawns of the world around like the men of industry they are, Leonard Bast finds himself at the mercy of larger forces. One Schlegel sister tries to reason from within the Wilcox family while the other risks being ostracised by crossing class lines in support. The class conflict is a rich vein to mine for the filmmakers, who once again are adapting a novel by E.M. Forster for the film. (They'd make better movies these days if Forster had written and published more.) The sharp tone of the film fights against its stuffy Englishness and that makes Howard's End more than just a pretty period piece (as Room With A View has sadly become). The DVD plays to the period fan, chronicling the making of the film, design and a 1984 documentary about the long history of the Merchant/Ivory partnership. Plus: 1992 featurette, more. (Criterion/Morningstar)