This weekend, a new restoration of “Howards End,” the 1992 Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel, starring Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, and Vanessa Redgrave, began screening at Film Forum and the Paris Theatre; it will be shown in other cities around the country in the coming weeks. Go see it. The new 4K print is gorgeous, the performances splendid. The actors seem to have been captured at a moment of particular glory. Forster’s story, about class and temperament in Edwardian England, centers on a beloved family house, Howards End, and its role in the fates of the intellectual, affectionate Schlegel sisters, Margaret (Thompson) and Helen (Bonham Carter); the Wilcoxes, a tough-minded industrialist (Hopkins) and his kind, sentimental wife (Redgrave); and the clerk Leonard Bast (Samuel West), who strives to improve himself, and his companion, Jacky (Nicola Duffett), who does not. In this strange and disturbing political season, a reconsideration of the Wilcoxes, the Schlegels, and the Basts—whose stories stir in us thoughts about pragmatism, good intentions, character, industry, poverty, and respect—somehow feels useful.
The director James Ivory and the late producer Ismail Merchant, in their three Forster adaptations (“A Room with a View” and “Maurice” are the others), two with their screenwriting partner Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, achieved a balance of beauty and tone that made Forster’s works come richly and warmly alive. The films are beautiful to look at; they give your mind and soul much to work with as you stare, enraptured; they stick with you; and they act as enticements to read the novels, which offer broader and deeper pleasures, in the form of sentences that you will want to revisit again and again.
That’s what they did for me, anyway. Every summer, I reread a Forster novel or two, often by listening to an audiobook. (I recommend Nadia May, unabridged.) This summer, while I was listening to “Maurice” on vacation, a thought about Merchant Ivory hit me with a jolt. In a scene in which Maurice, our hero, and Clive, his first love, are discussing beauty, art, and desire, Maurice asks Clive when he first cared for him, and Clive says he loved his beauty first. “Clive, you’re a silly little fool, and since you brought it up I think you’re beautiful, the only beautiful person I’ve ever seen,” Maurice says. “I love your voice and everything to do with you, down to your clothes or the room you’re sitting in. I adore you.” This embarrasses Clive, who begins talking about Michelangelo.
Read more at The New Yorker.