Howards End

Critics Consensus

A superbly-mounted adaptation of E.M. Forster's tale of British class tension, with exceptional performances all round, Howard's End ranks among the best of Merchant-Ivory's work.



Total Count: 63


Audience Score

User Ratings: 13,644
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One of the best Ismail Merchant/James Ivory films, this adaptation of E. M. Forster's classic 1910 novel shows in careful detail the injuriously rigid British class consciousness of the early 20th century. The film's catalyst is "poor relation" Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), who inherits part of the estate of Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), an upper-class woman whom she had befriended. The film's principal characters are divided by caste: aristocratic industrial Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins); middle-echelon Margaret and her sister Helen (Helena Bonham Carter); and working-class clerk Leonard Bast (Sam West) and his wife (Nicola Duffett). The personal and social conflicts among these characters ultimately result in tragedy for Bast and disgrace for Wilcox, but the film's wider theme remains the need, in the words of the novel's famous epigram, to "only connect" with other people, despite boundaries of gender, class, or petty grievance. Filmed on a proudly modest budget, Howards End offers sets, spectacles, and costumes as lavish as in any historical epic. Nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, the film took home awards for Thompson as Best Actress, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's adapted screenplay, and Luciana Arrighi's art direction.


Anthony Hopkins
as Henry Wilcox
Vanessa Redgrave
as Ruth Wilcox
Helena Bonham Carter
as Helen Schlegel
Emma Thompson
as Margaret Schlegel
James Wilby
as Charles Wilcox
Samuel West
as Leonard Bast
Jemma Redgrave
as Evie Wilcox
Nicola Duffett
as Jacky Bast
Prunella Scales
as Aunt Juley
Joseph Bennett
as Paul Wilcox
Adrian Ross Magenty
as Tibby Schlegel
Ian Latimer
as Station Master
Mary Nash
as Pianist
Siegbert Prawer
as Man Asking a Question
Susan Lindeman
as Dolly Wilcox
Mark Tandy
as Luncheon Guest
Andrew St. Clair
as Luncheon Guest
Anne Lambton
as Luncheon Guest
Emma Godfrey
as Luncheon Guest
Duncan Brown
as Luncheon Guest
Iain Kelly
as Luncheon Guest
Atlanta White
as Maid at Howards End
Gerald Paris
as Porphyrion Supervisor
Allie Byrne
as Blue Stocking
Sally Geoghegan
as Blue Stocking
Paula Stockbridge
as Blue Stocking
Bridget Duvall
as Blue Stocking
Lucy Freeman
as Blue Stocking
Harriet Stewart
as Blue Stocking
Tina Leslie
as Blue Stocking
Mark Payton
as Percy Cahill
David Delaney
as Simpson's Carver
Mary McWilliams
as Wilcox Baby
Barbara Hicks
as Miss Avery
Rodney Rymell
as Chauffeur
Luke Parry
as Tom, the Farmer's Boy
Antony Gilding
as Bank Supervisor
Crispin Bonham-Carter
as Colonel Fussell
Patricia Lawrence
as Wedding Guest
Peter Cellier
as Colonel Fussell
Margery Mason
as Wedding Guest
Jim Bowden
as Marlett
Alan James
as Porphyrion Chief Clerk
Jocelyn Cobb
as Telegraph Operator
Terence Sach
as Delivery Man
Brian Lipson
as Police Inspector
Barr Heckstall-Smith
as Helen's Child
Simon Callow
as Music Lecturer
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Critic Reviews for Howards End

All Critics (63) | Top Critics (18) | Fresh (59) | Rotten (4)

Audience Reviews for Howards End

  • Jul 16, 2017
    Often a bit too obvious (I'm looking at you bookcase scene) but the cast is superb. I'm not sure if anyone either than Hopkins and Thompson could have played their perspective roles.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 03, 2014
    Its a dry period drama about class relations in England, so, uh, do you think that it's a Merchant Ivory film? I think you can figure that out just by seeing that this film is an adaptation of a novel by E. M. Forster, not necessarily because Merchant Ivory adapts a lot of Forster's books, but because this film is already so British that its story was authored by a novelist who goes by his first two initials, so it may as well be from Merchant Ivory. Ironically, this was the first film set outside of America that Merchant Ivory had done in a while, but they made such a booming comeback to British filmmaking stereotypes that they went ahead and put Anthony Hopkins of the payroll. They went way back into formula with this film, so I need to remind myself that the Merchant Ivory film with Hopkins after this is "The Remains of the Day", not "The Remains of 'Howards End'". Shoot, this film is already two-and-a-half hours of high-class British people problems so there better not be another two hours and fifteen minutes of this story to tell. Yeah, you can also tell that this is a Merchant Ivory film because it's way too blasted long, but hey, I'll take it, because cinema this British can be a little more entertaining than one might expect. Well, this film is certainly more compelling than I feared, although entertainment value does face its share of challenges. Yeah, the film doesn't do too much to pump up its dramatic plot, as I'll touch more upon momentarily, yet what conflicts there are have a tendency to adopts histrionics, many of which are indeed realistic in this portrait on a melodramatic setting, while many others are hard to embrace in the context of this affair, feeling a touch contrived, partly because they feel derivative. With all of my joking about how British this film is, this really is more of the same for Merchant Ivory and British melodramas which fall into the tastes of Merchant Ivory, being narratively formulaic, and even overtly celebratory of formalities. This is a very formal melodrama, and no matter how much juice thrives in a lot of the storytelling and acting, brows finding themselves stuck at a height beget characterizations of class roles which run together, and are thin in humanly gritty depths to begin with, not unlike the characters' conflicts. I've criticized this melodrama for manufacturing certain conflicts, but the big issue here is a shortage on a sense of conflict, which is compensated for by strong storytelling that is still rarely able to fully overshadow a lack of consequence, no matter how hard it tries to bloat the plot. This story concept probably shouldn't be as layered as the film itself, thus, a lot of the layers, or at least their shifts, feeling like inorganic supplements to the excess which drive the final product to its runtime of almost two-and-a-half hours on the back of repetitious meanderings which give you plenty of time to soak in the inconsequentiality of the film. At the same time, the length gives the film plenty of time to flesh out its strengths, of which there are many, perhaps enough to make a truly strong melodrama, despite the natural shortcomings which threaten resonance, yet are ultimately too stressed by overt histrionics and uneven excesses for the final product to fulfill its full potential. With that said, the film does a lot right, and does so consistently in a drama whose degree of engagement value is not consistent, but firm enough through and through to secure your investment, particularly in the aesthetic integrity of the film. No matter how tasteful, most scores are merely attempts at pseudo-realized classicalism which go restrained by their being manufactured to compliment narratives, but Richard Robbins nails the formula, for although his efforts are formulaic and underused, their true classical integrity is aesthetically stellar, and realized enough in the context of storytelling to compliment both atmospheric resonance and the selling of the era portrayed in this period melodrama. More direct of a compliment to the immersion value of this period piece is, of course, John Ralph's outstanding art direction, which restores the high-class communities of England during the turn into the 20th century with great extensiveness and just as great handsomeness, made all the more captivating by tasteful and hauntingly subtle cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts. The film is genuinely beautiful, at least aesthetically speaking, boasting musical and visual style that is realized enough to be engrossing, yet still subtle enough to pay compliment to the telling of a story of considerable intrigue which extends beyond aesthetics. This story is nothing new, and if it's not overblown in both melodramatics and structural layering altogether, it's formal to the point of being subdued in its conflicts and what have you, but make no bones about it, it's thoroughly intriguing in its generally convincing and tasteful portrait on struggles within and relations between British people of class and human flaw, if not on the distinctions between nature and human nature. The narrative is promising in its dramatic and intellectual value, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala helps in doing it justice through an overblown, but razor-sharp and audaciously extensive script, while James Ivory keeps engagement value sustained more than one might expect, through tight scene structuring during the filler, punctuated by well-placed thoughtfulness that, especially when backed by Robbins' tasteful score work, transcend dramatic shortcomings to be rather touching. At the very least, Ivory makes this intimate, yet still somewhat subdued character so endearing by working well with a strong cast of talents, all of whom deliver on charisma, if not solid dramatic kick, with Helena Bonham Carter and leading lady Emma Thompson being especially nuanced in their engrossing performances which further secure the immersion value of this drama. This film is so overdrawn and subdued, yet it somehow manages to be surprisingly, not simply rarely dull, but consistently compelling, with enough great aesthetic integrity and worthy dramatic intrigue to reward anyone willing to embrace this piece for what it is. Once the end is actually reached, overt melodramatics stand among many tropes, which also include an overt formality which subdues characterization and a sense of high conflict, no matter how much the narrative is bloated to the point of unevenness and repetitious excessiveness, thus, the final product is held back, but surprisingly not that much, for outstanding score work, art direction and cinematography, and an intriguing story concept which goes brought to life by intelligent writing, tasteful direction and strong acting prove to be enough to secure "Howards End" as a very rewarding British melodrama. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 13, 2011
    First and foremost Howard's End is a finely-tuned drama film with wonderfully developed characters, all of which the actors do an excellent job at brining to life. If you can't handle "slow" films and couldn't care less about character development and dramatic weight, then this definitely isn't the film for you. If, however, you are interested you will find a wonderful and beautifully filmed drama which is both touching, moving, and most importantly, relatable. The actors involved all give spot-on performances that truly bring their respective characters to life. The cinematography is visually arresting and does a wonderful job at conveying the emotional impact of a particular scene with it's use of angles and close-ups. The luscious landscape and architecture of the estates and other homes are lovingly detailed and captured on film very nicely as well. Howard's End is smartly written, has well developed characters and beautifully shot. It happens to be arguably the best of the Ismail Merchant/James Ivory films based on the E.M. Forster novel written in 1910, showcasing the British class system and the division it causes. In 1993, Howards End won three Oscar awards - Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Thompson), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala), and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker).
    Chris B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 27, 2011
    The Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster's "Howards End" is a flat out masterpiece. It's the perfect storm of literature, production design, ensemble acting, costumes, lavish cinematography and beautiful dialogue. The film is emotionally resonant, existentially complex, and profoundly thrilling at times. For a two and a half hour film, the pacing is engaging and lively thanks to the precisely placed camera and magnetic performances. This is tremendous filmmaking.
    Steven C Super Reviewer

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