Howard’s End

Howard’s End (1992)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter
Extras: Theatrical Trailers

"Howard’s End" is an Academy Award winning movie based on the novel by E.M. Forster. The film is a literate adaption of the novel and as such has a very stylish, British feel to it, using much of the English landscape and London as a backdrop. It is the touching and engulfing life story of two sisters right after the turn of the century, who are driven apart by their inability to respect each others’ values and lifestyles as they develop independent personalities. Columbia TriStar Home Video have released this intimate study of "Howard’s End" on DVD now, and we decided to give this disc a closer look.

"Howard’s End" is the name of a house in the countryside of Kent, England, owned by the deprived and preoccupied family of the Wilcoxes. It is Mrs. Wilcox’s (Vanessa Redgrave) birthplace and she has a very special relationship to the mansion. Over time Mrs. Wilcox develops a sincere admiration of Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), a young woman from a family that is so opposite to the Wilcoxes. Concerned with social issues and welfare, and interested in civilised living, music and literature, Maragret turns out to be the only one to understand the bond the dying Mrs. Wilcox has with the house, and when the elderly lady passes away, she wants Margaret to own the house. The rest of the Wilcox family is not very pleased with the thought however, and destroys the unsigned coda to her will, keeping the house in their possession.

Although the families have little in common, they meet during various social occasions and over time Mr. Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) develops a love interest in Margaret. Margaret is torn between the two extremes of her own emotional world, and the non-complacent world of the business man, Wilcox. Her sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter) is aggravated when Margaret accepts Mr. Wilcox’s wedding proposal, as she sees this relationship as a betrayal of all the values they had been standing and fighting for. The sisters that were once so close quickly grow apart, and when Helen decides to bring desperately poor Mr. Leonard Bast (Sam West) to Margaret’s wedding, a final confrontation is inevitable.

"Howard’s End" is a film that develops slowly and in-depth. The characters in the film are gradually established with a richness and credibility that carries the entire story. Since the film is romantic satire about the clash of social classes with different values and different views, it is important for the film to distinctively establish each character and its uniqueness. The film does this in a masterful way, having the people criss-crossing before the actual plot starts to take shape. When finally the characters of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson grow closer, despite their different natures, the viewer never doubts the plausibility of these scenes. Through their outstanding performances, the film lets us partake in their romance, as these two completely different characters fall in love with each other and ultimately find happiness in their relationship.

Also, visually, the film creates a very strong and unique signature. Set in the English countryside and the bustling heart of London, the film exhibits a breathtaking production design, while never being overburdened with detail or kitsch. It is clean, yet very delicate and truly authentic. To watch people walk the streets of London is like being there yourself. Even the sounds are so authentic that if you close your eyes, you can almost pinpoint the locations. This I found exceedingly interesting, because many of the enclosed streets of London have their distinctive sounds and reverberations, which I found neatly reproduced in this movie.

But also the countryside is as lush as you would expect from the film, with gorgeous sets and even more so, a very impressive "Howard’s End" mansion. The house has an aura that is almost tangible and it is easy to imagine how this place can be in someone’s heart forever. When Vanessa Redgrave’s dying character of Mrs. Wilcox tells Margaret about the glorious home she grew up in, she is actually downplaying the true beauty and glory of the place. It works so well because despite its size and beauty, there is nothing decadent about the building, which allows the story to assemble all the characters there, completely independent from their social statuses, without giving any of them the feeling of being out of place.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has released "Howard’s End" in a stunning version on DVD. The disc’s image quality is superb with rich, lively colors, strong hues and a sharp image. The picture contains very deep black s with very good shadow detail and good, accentuated highlights. The quality of this transfer is truly adding to the film’s appeal and exhibits many intricacies that would easily be lost in other formats. The compression of the film has been done flawlessly and the <$RSDL,RSDL> disc allows enough room for the lengthy film to really get the best out of it without having to over-compress the images. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer on this DVD that restores the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

Embellished by a musical soundtrack that is just as delicate and stylish as the rest of the film, Columbia TriStar has supplied a very good <$DS,Dolby Surround> mix of the film on this disc. Nothing about this film is obtrusive, loud or aggressive, so it hardly comes as a surprise that the soundtrack, too, is restrained and moderate in nature. It has been well converted to this DVD and is a true pleasure to listen to, adding so much to the film’s power.

"Howard’s End" is a masterful tale that has found its way onto DVD in a truly glorious version. The film is demanding and so very different from Hollywood movies, that it creates a very unique flair that engulfs the viewer from the first minute. Because it touches upon many aspects of social life and humanistic relevance, such as tolerance, reason, preoccupation and understanding, I feel it is a film everyone should see. Since Columbia TriStar has created this fabulous disc for the DVD audience, there is no reason why anyone should ever pass on this film.