As I mentioned in my last post I felt that Anthony Hopkins was rather squandered in James Ivory’s Howard’s End however one year later the pair worked together again. Hopkins and Ivory were joined by Emma Thompson for the literary adaptation of Kauo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.
The movie centres round Hopkins’ Mr Stevens, the loyal butler at Darlington Hall, a building that has just been saved from demolition by a new American owner Mr Lewis. Whilst in the present day Stevens begins a journey to see Darlington Hall’s former housekeeper Miss Kenton, the film flashes back to explore their relationship over the years. Through these flashback scenes we quickly learn that Stevens is a loyal butler who never questions his master’s orders and always believes in formality. His style somewhat clashes with that of Kenton’s to the extent that he can’t understand why she’s brought a flower in to brighten up his study. They later argue over the extent of duties that Stevens’ elderly underbutler father can perform after she notices that he’s becoming more forgetful. These scenes culminate in Stevens learning of his father’s death during a banquet and we see him continue to serve despite receiving this tragic news. Stevens’ lack of outward emotion is a recurring theme of the film with Hopkins excelling at letting the audience know when his character his hurting inside. This is certainly true of Hopkins’ relationship with his employer, Lord Darlington who is gradually revealed to be involved in having direct contact with the Nazi party. In the present day we learn that Darlington has recently died after being outed as a Nazi conspirator in The Daily Mail. Stevens’ lack of opinion on any matter extends to his possible romance with Miss Kenton who is seemingly drawn to her boss. The two share several glances over the years but it’s his lack of ability to open up that ultimately sees her marry another man. Their exchanges in the present day are extremely emotional and their parting on a seaside bench is particularly memorable. As the film comes to an end Ivory suggests that Stevens is like a trapped bird who is stuck in Darlington Hall until his dying day.
The Remains of the Day was almost a purely perfect film primarily thanks to the complex performance from Hopkins. Hopkins’ performance lets the audience in on Steven’s secrets to the extent where we realise he’s lying even though the other characters don’t. It’s his subtle turn in the film that makes the reserved Stevens a character we want to follow despite not being an overly likeable person. Whilst not as emotionally-stunted as Stevens, Emma Thompson still makes us believe that Miss Kenton isn’t as open about her feelings as she should be. This is demonstrated when Darlington orders Stevens to fire some refugee maids, an order that Kenton is opposed to but at the same time isn’t prepared to wholly stand up for what she believes in. Thompson and Hopkins share a lot more chemistry here than they did in Howard’s End which is odd seeing as their characters were a couple in Ivory’s previous film. I believe that their chemistry is needed here in order for the audience to will Stevens and Kenton to be together even though we realise that their match is doomed to fail. James Fox provides reliable support as Darlington as he portrays him as a man who wants to do the right thing but is ultimately swayed by stronger forces. Both Christopher Reeve and Hugh Grant are on form as Lewis and Darlington’s journalist godson respectively with the latter particularly shining in a scene where Stevens has to explain the facts of life to him. Richard Robbins score perfectly captures the emotional nature of the film whilst once again the art and costume direction are flawless. Unfortunately, The Remains of The Day had the bad luck to come up against Schindler’s List at that year’s Oscars and therefore didn’t win a single one of the eight Oscars it had been nominated for. I feel that it’s a real shame that Hopkins in particular didn’t win a Best Actor Oscar for what I consider to be his best performance to date.