Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Remains of the Day

This is a lovely Merchant-Ivory outing in their usual style, depicting the lives of people and their manners during the first half of the 20th century. It’s a story of position, love, politics, war, wealth, errors of judgement, duty, expected behaviour, prejudice and, yes, manners! Taken from Nobel Prize-winning British writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel (which he claims to have written in four weeks) in 1993, it was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

The two leads play their roles brilliantly, of course, as you’d expect from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. He, butler to the stuck-up monied people with influence in rural England and she supporting him as Housekeeper. Between them, they must ensure that the house ticks like clockwork as it becomes the hotbed of intrigue and influence with important people between the wars.

The stifled emotions and attention to routine and detail are reflected in this excellently produced period drama in which sets, costume, vehicles and language are central to the convincing tale. Although the story largely centres around the relationship between the two leads, there is also scope for meaningful appearances for others including Christopher Reeve, James Fox, Peter Vaughan, Hugh Grant and Tim Pigott-Smith.

As the story unfolds, it reflects the claustrophobic underbelly of how people of the day, without means, worked towards positions in which they could pursue a micro-career as a so-called profession, keeping their hands clean and out of coal mines and the like, but in the process denying themselves a meaningful relationship-based family life. Days in which nobody had a pension, so had to keep working until they dropped in order to eat - and in which the wealthy thought they were doing them a great favour by exploiting them, but keeping them out of the gutter.

The film ends up in the 1950’s where a very different England was depicted in contrast, as post-war opportunity began and ordinary people could not only expect a better life, but also have a say about how the country was organised. But it remains very much a film and story about two lonely souls.

It really is an excellent film, which I would recommend people watch. Spinning the viewer around from the cold, emotionless and clinical to the warm, tender and sad in a couple of hours.

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