Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Remains of the Day (1993)


Seemingly cold, and emotionless, butler Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) reflects upon his years with Housekeeper Ms. Keaton (Emma Thompson), and their master, Lord Darlington (James Fox) a German sympathizer in the days leading up to World War II.

"a man cannot call himself well-contented until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer. Of course, this assumes that one's employer is a superior person, not only in rank, or wealth, but in moral stature."

Quiet to the greatest degree of almost void, The Remains of the Day is a sincere look at the traditional Butler, and the element of stoicism they must portray. The emotion conveyed behind each of Hopkins stares, but always repressed, hits right at the viewer through each passing scene. His efforts at opening up hit at the iron wall built by years of neglected intimacy, always opting to battle immediate feelings in favor of cool thought.

Hopkins handles this portrayal not only with great subtlety to the finer characteristics of his character, but also with a depth of sincerity one may find striking. The kind of performance that grasps at you for all that is repressed, and never shown.

Thompson supports Hopkins with a emotionally sound, mentally strong, opposition to the main Mr. Stevens. Her Ms. Keaton delivers the right balance of heart, without seemingly too counter to the lead. She's the emotional crutch, and often represents the feelings he so greatly represses. The unrequited love that develops between them, through emotional barriers, gives the film an alluring element of heart.

Supporting roles by James Fox and Christopher Reeve (yes, that one) add the final touches to Ivory's beautiful film. Never bothering to stand out, and try to make us go wow with fancy costumes, The Remains of the Day is an old school English drama about the characters. The scenery, in this case Darlington Hall, reflects the final time in which Lords paved the way of the future, and those of lower class held no say.

The last thing to mention ought to be the writing, including both Ishiguro's novel and Jhabvala's screenplay. To say the writing is great would be an understatement. The writing gives life to all Ivory, Hopkins, and company deliver. Witty, with an element of charm, and enough sense to know when it needs to lighten up, and when it needs to get serious. I dare say it's a movie I'd watch again if for no other reason than the many wonderful conversations, and hidden allegories, sprinkled throughout each new scene. The final notch to one of the better movies I've seen in quite some time.

Though it may lack action, Remains of the Day makes up for it in careful attention to character. Memorable for their unspoken depth, that seeps through the screen with each subtle facial twitch. Remains of the Day is a crowning character study film, the likes of which few shall replicate with as much attention to detail. Let alone as much heart, and care, for the weaknesses of its characters.

3 better thoughts:

Film Intel said...

Very much enjoyed reading that - thought it captured the tone of the film perfectly. Having said that, I struggle with THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. I had to watch it for a university assignment back when I was studying and I didn't like it one bit. I've watched it again since and enjoyed it more but still thought it fell into the category that in simplistic terms is all-too-easy to label 'worthwhile... but boring'. A film that I desperately want to like though. Will give it another go soon.

Alex said...

I really loved this book but have yet to see the movie. From your review I gather it captured the quiet atmosphere and intelligence of the source very well, so I'll be certain to give it a viewing!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Nice review, I love this one. The ending always gets to me and it's my favourite Hopkins performance (so very controlled) - and considering how brilliant he is, that's saying a lot.

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