The Remains of the Day

1993

The Remains of the Day

Critics Consensus

Smart, elegant, and blessed with impeccable performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day is a Merchant-Ivory classic.

95%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 40

90%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 24,275
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Movie Info

Filmed with the usual meticulous attention to period and detail of films from Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, The Remains of the Day is based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Anthony Hopkins plays Stevens, the "perfect" butler to a prosperous British household of the 1930s. He is so unswervingly devoted to serving his master, a well-meaning but callow British lord (James Fox), that he shuts himself off from all emotions and familial relationships. New housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) tries to warm him up and awaken his humanity. But when duty calls, Stevens won't even attend his own dying father's last moments on earth. The butler also refuses to acknowledge the fact that his master is showing signs of pro-Nazi sentiments. Disillusioned by Hitler's duplicity, the master dies an embittered man, and only then does Stevens come to realize how his own silence has helped bring about this sad situation. Years later, regretting his lost opportunities in life, he tries once more to make contact with Miss Kenton, the only person who'd ever cared enough to seek out the human being inside the butler's cold veneer. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Cast

Emma Thompson
as Miss Kenton
James Fox
as Lord Darlington
Hugh Grant
as Cardinal
Michael Lonsdale
as Dupont D'Ivry
John Haycraft
as Auctioneer
Caroline Hunt
as Landlady
Paula Jacobs
as Mrs. Mortimer the Cook
Ben Chaplin
as Charlie, Head Footman
Steve Dibben
as George,- 2nd Footman
Peter Cellier
as Sir Leonard Bax
Peter Halliday
as Canon Tufnell
Jeffrey Wickham
as Viscount Bigge
Hugh Sweetman
as Scullery Boy
Brigitte Kahn
as Baroness
John Savident
as Dr Meredith
Tony Aitken
as Postmaster
Rupert Vansittart
as Sir Geoffrey Wren
Christopher Brown
as Wren's Friend
Paul Copley
as Harry Smith
Ian Redford
as Publican
Jo Kendall
as Publican's Wife
Steven Beard
as Andrews
Pip Torrens
as Dr. Carlisle
Frank Shelley
as Prime Minister
Peter Eyre
as Lord Halifax
Jestyn Phillips
as Foreign Office Official
Wolf Kahler
as German Ambassador
Frank Holtje
as German Embassy Official
Andreas Tons
as German Embassy Official
Roger McKern
as Police Constable
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News & Interviews for The Remains of the Day

Critic Reviews for The Remains of the Day

All Critics (40) | Top Critics (9)

  • The actors keep this interesting, but as a story it drifts and rambles.

    Feb 11, 2008 | Full Review…
  • All the meticulousness, intelligence, taste and superior acting that one expects from Merchant Ivory productions have been brought to bear.

    Feb 11, 2008

    Todd McCarthy

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • Who else but Merchant Ivory to give the big-screen treatment to Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning novel about class, fascism and the stiff upper lip?

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Here's a film for adults. It's also about time to recognize that Mr. Ivory is one of our finest directors, something that critics tend to overlook because most of his films have been literary adaptations.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 5/5
  • What do you call filmmakers who make literary entertainment box office in the age of Beavis and Butt-bead? Try miracle workers.

    May 12, 2001 | Rating: 4.5/5
  • A subtle, thoughtful movie.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Remains of the Day

  • Feb 21, 2014
    Hopkins' portrayal of the loyal butler who never has his chance to express genuine emotion or expression until later in life is marvelous. Truly touching.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 15, 2012
    What happens when you get Hannibal Lecter, Nanny McPhee, Superman, Charles from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and Ben Chaplin as a guy named Charlie (I really hope they did that on purpose) in a film together? Something not quite as exciting as it sounds, unless, of course, you take into consideration that this is a Merchant Ivory film, in which case, it's about as exciting as you would expect it to be: not terribly. Well, it sure seemed to thrill critics, though it's a shame it had the misfortune of coming out the same year as "Schindler's List", which was even more overlong, slow and old fashion, so much so that it was actually primarily in black-and-white. If you get provocative, slow period pieces and a few dirt-old filmmaking sensibilities, then you're pretty much a shoe in for critical acclaim. Hey, as much as the film stands to be better, it's still pretty undeniably elegant, which of course shows that Hugh Grant can be classy (Yeah, sure) and that Christopher Reeve was way more than just Superman, which sadly didn't stop him from getting stuck with that title. As for Ben Chaplin, I wouldn't so much say that he was so much succumbing to people's common misconceptions by playing a guy named Charlie as much as he diving in, because lord knows his birthname wasn't Chaplin and that when you're an aspiring English performer lucky enough to have your mother's maiden name be Chaplin, you're not likely to turn down a name change, as that's going to bring in quite a few role offers. Well, he certainly knows how to pick some good ones, or at least potentially good ones, for although this film is enjoyable, it gets to be too elegant for its own good. Okay, now, with all of my going on and on about this film being so slow, to my surprise and relief, the film really isn't terribly slow, yet it does still hit those points quite often, rarely, if ever to point of leaving the film to dull out, but definately to where the film's momentum plummets, and with it, engagement value. Of course, maybe this film would have its slow points if it didn't give them plenty of time to creep their way in, as one of the most prevalent flaws with this film is simply that it is just too blasted long. At nearly fifteen minutes shy of a whopping two-and-a-half hours, the film sounds too long, considering its story, and is exactly that, dragging its feet from one place to another, going padded out by repetition, as well as much filler that distances the film from substance for an extended period of time and leaves you to, with the substance, fall out of the film momentarily, especially during points in which the film, almost in a montage-esque fashion, showcases the unraveling of certain events to obnoxiously gratuitous urgent-seeming score work, an event that's overlong and overbearing the first time, yet returns oh so many times throughout the film. Still, with all of the moments in the film that expel your attention, it's not like your investment is all that firmly locked in, because, as I said, the film gets to be too elegant for its own good, not just to where it slows down here and there and drags on consistently, but to where it takes so much restraint that, all too often, it restrains from bite, and that is just the thing that ruins this potentially fine effort. Don't get me wrong, the film has its fair share of effective moments, yet on the whole, there is a certain degree of emotional distance looming over the film's resonance, diluting conflict, intrigue and impact, thus leaving the film to fall limp, and your attention with it. As I said, the film picks up here and there, yet it gets to those points all too steadily, outstaying its welcome and tossing in the occasional slow spots, made all the worse by hazed emotional resonance, until, after a while, the film finds that it has fallen limp more than picked up, and just enough to finally fall beneath genuinely good. However, the film's collapse is not much more than by a hair, because for every miss, there is a hit, and just enough for the film to ultimately stand as worth watching, and I do mean "watching", as it's not too shabby on the eyes. Now, in total honesty, one of the best pieces of photography pertaining to this film is probably the poster (Ooh, shiny Anthony Hopkins), yet there is a ceaseless grace within Tony Pierce-Roberts' cinematography, broken up by occasions of lighting that are truly breathtaking. The film is a visually striking piece, with fine art direction to compliment the production designs, which are dazzling yet far from overbearing, bringing to life the environment, and by extension, atmosphere of the world found within this story that deserves more than what can be provided by director James Ivory, who keeps his distance and restraint, to the detriment to this film, as many of his directorial efforts fall limp and betray the story's worthiness, of which, there is plenty, and just enough for you to still lock in just fine. Ivory does little to spark essence into this story, yet that's largey why the story does leave something of an impression, for although Ivory neglects to raise the intrigue of the film, he also manages to avoid diluting the film's intrigue with a lot of faulty moves or incompetence, thus making the film's tone more slave to the story than the actual execution, and while all of this slowness and dragging keeps the story from really picking up all that often, when the story does pick up, you feel it, certainly not as much as you would have if James Ivory put some blasted effort into the atmosphere, yet enough so that you can stick with the story, and with it, the film itself. Outside of that, the film owes much of its standing its ground to Anthony Hopkins, who has little to do, yet purposefully so. The James Stevens character is a willing slave to his work, seeking to get the job done and keep things in order while keeping as emotionally distant as he can, which of course leaves his humanity to take severe damage and himself to find much potential in his life squandered, thus making for a character that, in concept, presents quite a bit of material, only to go tainted by screenwriters Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's writing the role to be too broad, with limited depth and layers, and by extension, material for Hopkins to work with. However, come on, this is Anthony Hopkins we're talking about, and although his material is thin to the point of leaving him with little to play up, he stays faithful to the slickness of the James Stevens character with a smooth believability and charisma, and when material does finally present itself, needless to say, Hopkins delivers, providing subtle depth and sharp expressiveness that captures both the distance and humanity within Steven, into whom Hopkins gives us somber insight that defines our lead as a flawed human, noble spirit and compelling lead in a film that very often relies on him. Now, being that its story and subject matter is so minimalist, the film never stood much of a chance being especially upstanding, yet still deserves better than what it is given, though what good things it is given really do strike in a small but far-reaching fashion that gives this film the intrigue and depth that the key filmmakers can't hold together enough for the film to reward, yet the other talents who construct and carry this film can hold together just enough for the film to keep you going through and through. At the end of the day, remains and all, the film has its slow spots, which are bound to be found amidst the film's ceaseless steadiness, spawned largely from considerable looseness that leaves the film to drag on, going plagued by repetition and filler that slows down the film's momentum, though not as much as James Ivory's emotionally distant direction, which leaves resonance to often fall limp and the final product to ever so unfortunately collapse as underwhelming, yet still stand as watchable, boasting fine art direction and sharp production designs that spark certain life into the story, which is strong enough to hold your attention all its own, though not without the help of a perhaps too restrained yet charismatic, occasionally subtly deep and altogether rather compelling lead performance by Anthony Hopkins, who helps in making "The Remains of the Day" the enjoyable and occasionally effective film that it is, even if it should be more than just workmanlike. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jun 27, 2012
    Remarkable acting and a compelling story that stays interesting due to Hopkins' performance as a schizoid butler who struggles to continue his work without being hindered by romance or conscience, during the years of British appeasement to the growing Nazi powers that be in Europe.
    Kyle M Super Reviewer
  • May 04, 2012
    A beautifully wrought piece about the dangers of living through the affairs of aristocracy, this film is the embodiment of the Merchant-Ivory set of films while also being a fairly faithful adaptation of the book by Kazuo Ishiguro. Though the book is well represented and the overall message and grandeur of the film was in no way affected, I did take issue with several liberties that changed scenes in the book, raised questions that needn't be, and arguably some choices were simply unavoidably strange. Characters were merged, POVs were changed, and undertones were glaring. But I digress, this film does justice to the text by showing the incomparable Anthony Hopkins in a role that could only belong to him. His instincts as a servant and as a man with "dignity," as he espouses, truly embodied the character of Stevens. He seemed bland, yet affected, kind yet unbothered, and clinical while being personable and repressed. Oh, was he repressed. So enters Emma Thompson as Miss. Kenton, the housekeeper who keeps Stevens on his toes and challenges his pre-conceived notions. Their relationship really is the entire film, while also being about loyalty to someone who is blindly being led astray themselves in a long train of unforgiving ignorance. Stevens though, is a character whose psyche just goes deeper and deeper, a well of misgivings and fraudulent narration, unreliable in his own emotions and the way the facts of the film are presented. You want him to rendezvous with the one he longs for, but he is tethered by the belief that he has a grand purpose, and if he doesn't see it through than his entire life has been wasted. Next to Random Harvest this is the saddest film I have ever seen, because it rallies around an idea as old as time, and then doesn't see it to fruition. It's about longing, love, manipulation, and the callous reality that a life worth living is not expected to always be great. I find this film, and the book it is based off of, to be beautiful and poignant in its tender recognition of humanity. Though I don't agree with some decisions by the screenwriter and director, I do agree that this was a film that was difficult to put together, as there was first person narration in the book and none here. It really was a film that achieved on a level unexpected, and stayed heart warming throughout.
    Spencer S Super Reviewer

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