Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (Howard's End) collaborate to bring Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, The Remains of the Day to the screen, and the result is an exceptionally entertaining and beautiful film.
Super talented Anthony Hopkins stars as Mr. Stevens, an English butler at Darlington Hall, a mansion of huge proportion, owned by Lord Darlington (James Fox).
After years of service at the hall, Stevens hires Sarah Kenton (Emma Thompson) as head housekeeper and Miss Kenton proves to be quite a match for the buttoned-up butler. She's feisty, a little flirty, but mostly exasperated by this ultra restrained man, as she does everything in her power to let him know she's interested in him, but he ignores her attentions.
In the 1930s, Lord Darlington hosted many meetings with foreign dignitaries, trying to encourage sympathy for Germany. These occasions gave Stevens a chance to direct his army of cooks and savants as if he were a general gearing up for final battle. Measuring the distance between crystal goblets on a banquet table, making sure that every cigar is lit, every wine glass filled, and absorbed with the fulfillment of the needs of his master, to the exclusion of his own, Stevens truly is the ultimate butler.
The story is told by Stevens in 1958 as he looks back on his life at the mansion. Lord Darlington has died and an American politician, played by Christopher Reeve, has taken over the manor and retained Stevens as his butler. Miss Kenton, who had moved away and married, although unhappily, is asked by Stevens to come back to Darlington and be the housekeeper again, regretting that he ever let her go in the first place.
Hopkins is a marvel as this heartbreaking man. The smallest wince, a tiny arch of an eyebrow or a twitch in the corner of his mouth are the narrow parameters in which he has to work in order to telegraph his feelings. Everything this character does is so studied and restrained, he refuses to allow himself the least show of emotion. Even when his father is taken ill, Stevens completes his tasks before going to check on him.
As Stevens looks back on his life and the mistakes he's make, his unwavering loyalty to a flawed man and not acting on what could have been a loving relationship with Miss Kenton, we see a broken man.
There's something so special about Hopkins, that even when his character is in the background of a scene, he's still the focus, and the chemistry between him and Thompson is so strong, you just con't wait until they're in the same room together.
The Remains of the Day is visually beautiful. Formal gardens and richly decorated rooms set with exquisite detail are a feast for the eye. At Academy Award time, this wonderful film and talented performers will surely be singled out for deserved recognition.
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