Howard’s End (2017) BBC Review
Sometimes period dramas surprise even the most devoted aficionado. Such is the case with my experience with this recent 4-part adaptation of E.M. Foster’s Howard’s End. A Victorian-era story about companionship, love, loss, and the bonds that tie us to family.
For the better part of her life, Margaret Schlegel (Hayley Atwell) has looked after her younger siblings, Tibby (Alex Lawther) and Helen (Philippa Coulthard). Society now considers her an “old maid” past desirable marriage age, but she’s free to have opinions and run a household. Then there’s her young and pretty sister, Helen, who has just written her with news. During the spring of 1905, Helen stayed with the enigmatic Wilcox family. While visiting, Helen becomes engaged to their son, Paul (Jonah Hauer-King). It’s an engagement that’s over nearly as quickly as it begins.
Through Helen’s letters, Margaret falls under the spell of this family. Their family includes the business savvy patriarch Henry Wilcox (Matthew Mcfayden), son Charles (Joe Bannister) and daughter Evie (Bessie Carter). Then there is Mrs. Wilcox (Julia Ormand), the woman who quietly rules her household with a mere look. When her unexpected death rocks their household, Henry is left bereft. The story follows the intertwined lives of the eccentric Schlegel family and the emotionally stunted Wilcox family.
HOWARD’S END REVIEW
Despite having once seen the 1992 film adaptation of Howard’s End (which stars Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anthony Hopkins), I remember next to nothing about it. For this adaptation, it was the stunning promotional photos (seriously, they’re gorgeous!) that really sold me on watching. Not to mention, the impressive cast. Basically, anything Hayley Atwell headlines is something to take a second look at. And Matthew Macfadyen is always welcome in elegant dramas such as Pride and Prejudice. Needless to say, there were many promising elements of this miniseries.
“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.” – E.M. Forster
As a novel, this isn’t a story I know. As a production, it’s breathtaking. Something I find surprising since my brand of period drama tends more towards the witty stylings of Jane Austen. This script is whole and weighty. It’s intelligent and romantic. There are so many elegant turns of phrases and memorable moments between characters. It serves to remind us of the strength familial ties have over us, and the bonds we cling to. There’s a complicated but accurate portrait of the relationship between siblings, and the change that comes with time and distance. As if this weren’t enough of a brilliant characterization, there is also the obstacle of the loyalties between husband and wife; and the line between being a wife while still connecting to family.
Supporting all of these deeper elements is the costumes, sets and general “look” of the production. Everything is lovely to look at. The winter landscapes use brighter costumes to help lighten the starker scenes, and then there’s the lush greenery of Howard’s End which is beautiful without effort. With its quality producers, the writers, and cast, it’s safe to say, Howard’s End is a lush period production you don’t want to miss. It’s elegant, fascinating and authentic. Plus, the cherry on top is the ending. As the end nears, this was my biggest fear, but fortunately, if not happy in the happily-ever-after sense, it’s an end that leaves its characters and us, content.
Content Note: There’s an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and some adult situations. Someone dies after a violent beating, but nothing is ever graphic. Howard’s End is rated TV-14.
Tell me, have you seen this new adaptation? Did you enjoy Howard’s End and this cast? Which version (this or the 1992) do you prefer? Drop a comment below! I’d love to read your thoughts.
Photos: BBC One / Starz
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