147 of 155 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2003
This Merchant Ivory masterpiece is a must-own DVD: not only if you are intrigued by the labyrinthine world of English genteel lifestyles (butlers, under-butlers, footmen and the like), or some splendid British dialogue, but if you fancy an understated cinematic experience that still stirs emotion and circumspection comparable to that provoked by the written word.
Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson play the dignified servants of a manor between the walls of which "great affairs of the world are decided." Both had me in their clutches at the very outset (set against the backdrop of the English countryside and exquisitely complimented by the music of Richard Robbins) and never let go. I was also somewhat surprised to see an early Hugh Grant and a young Ben Chaplin -- both before they became famous, and you can see why they got where they are today.
Each and every screen of the movie is riveting, and all characters play their parts impeccably. With the possible exception perhaps of Christopher Reeves' character -- the brazen, world-saving American who calls other European topdog politicians "amateurs." Yet, thats a minor gripe, and entirely overshadowed by Anthony Hopkins who so subtly reveals all the feelings that his character works so hard to repress that the pain is almost palpable.
There is also a nuanced romantic subplot, nothing is ever shown in somatic expressions of hugging and kissing, yet the tension between Hopkins and Thomson is one of the most memorable you will ever see. Unrequited love, was it?
The average moviegoer might find the film slow, but anyone interested in watching great actors excelling at their craft will be mesmerized!
83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2001
Arguably Remains of the Day is the finest Mechant/Ivory film ever made. Anthony Hopkins delivers perhaps his finest performance with an excellent ensemble cast that includes co-star Emma Thompson and James Fox. You'll also see Christopher Reeve and newcomer Hugh Grant on board.
Merchant/Ivory films are often too precious and too tastefully presented to get overly excited about. Despite how beautiful they may look, I often find myself restless and then unsatisfied with their films that are often too stuffy and airless to ever experience more than once.
Remains of the Day is a little masterpiece of a film -- A wonderful character study and period drama worth repeat viewings.
The story is wonderfully framed in the present day of the 1950's, which sets the mood to enjoy the film's exquisite earlier period details. The film's stuffiness is natural because the story centers around the James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) a butler who has takes great pride in being in complete servitude to his employer Lord Darlington (James Fox) and the large English country home he attends to.
Most of the film concerns itself with the late 1930's and early 1940's during World War 2 and Stevens' recollections are centered around his very proper relationship with Sally Kenton (Emma Thompson) who worked as a domestic in the home along with him for many years. Perhaps he can convince the new present day owners of the manor and to let Sally Kenton again work with him once again.
Kenton and Stevens' made a great Domestic team, Stevens' recalls. In flashback we see Steven's life working as a butler for Lord Darlington and watching some of the influential politicians, Lords and ladies pass through the manor hallways.
Hopkins' performance is one to savor and study. His every inflection, glance, and expression carries several meanings. The longing he feels for Sally must be suppressed to perform his tasks to the utmost of perfection and Sally's personal feelings for Stevens must like-wise be held in check because they are first and foremost devoted to their duties. They share a perfectionism and devotion to their work that nothing is allowed interfere with.
If the film sounds dull and stiff, let me assure you that this is a film of such grace, beauty and near perfection that it will haunt you for several years. You will focus on the smallest of details in the film and be richly rewarded for taking the time to do so.
The film is rich in period details (the cinematographer was Tony Pierce-Roberts) and offers an impeccable production design by Luciana Arrighi ("Anna and the King"), set decoration by Ian Whittaker (Anna and the King) and wonderfully re-created period costumes by Jenny Beavan and John Bright.
You won't forget the performances of Anthony Hopkins or Emma Thompson in Remains of the Day.
"Remains of the Day" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. A few minutes worth of minor print flaws and very occasional visible edge enhancements are the only minor drawbacks of this high quality presentation of the film. The picture is sharp and crisp, black levels are strong and colors are rich.
The soundtrack of the film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 though most of the audio is front and center. The score is allowed to breathe around the room a bit but there is very little in the way of ambient noises of sound effects present which could have taken advantage of the the surround sound possibilities. No hisses or pops of noticeable distraction are present.
Plentiful extras include an exclusive 29 minute short documentary: The Remains of the Day: A Filmakers journey. Crew and cast members along with novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, producers Ismail Merchant and John Calley, director James Ivory and composer Richard Robbins disucss the making of the film. Stars featured include Hopkins, Thompson, Fox, and Reeve who offer some criticism of their performances and high praise for the work of their fellow cast members and the director. It's a love-fest but one that has some restraint and gives some interesting behind the scenes details of interest particularly in how the period details were recreated so beautifully.
There's a 15 minute featurette which examines the issue of appeasement and how the attitude was partially responsible for allowing Hitler and Germany to become so powerful.
The 28 and a half minute HBO behind the scenes special from 1993 is more promotional in nature but of interest which features scenes for the film, behind the scenes footage and interviews.
3 deleted scenes can be viewed with or without optional commentary. They are presented in the open matte style which means viewers can see things like the boom mikes which are normally cropped out of the picture. Many will find this particularly interesting which is why James Ivory wanted to show the deleted scenes in this manner.
The commentary track on Remains of the Day is better than most. There are some long pauses in the commentary and some of it duplicates the information that is discussed on the documentaries. There are also many minutes over the course of commentary devoted to participants complimenting each other and those involved in the production. Emma Thompson is at times very funny, and livens things up when they get a little too slow and dry. Mechant, Ivory and Thompson provide an informative detailed and worthwhile feature length commentary to the film.
Remains of the Day is beautiful little masterpiece which features some incredible acting. The film is rich with details and the DVD is packed with worthwhile extras which makes this a Special Edition DVD very much worth adding to your collection. .
Christopher Jarmick, is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a critically acclaimed, steamy suspense thriller.
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson give superlative performances as the head butler and housekeeper at Darlington Hall in pre-WWII England, where personal and international dramas are enacted. Set in the present, the film uses flashbacks to tell the stories of servants and Lord Darlington, a misguided gentleman who believed appeasement with Germany was the solution in the years leading to the Second World War. Hopkins is his very officious butler, a man who places duty and propriety above all things, even his true feelings for housekeeper Thompson. She is more forthcoming with her emotions, but she cannot bring him to open himself up, including a painfully well-acted scene where Thompson tries to get Hopkins to reveal to her the book he is reading.
If you are looking for loads of action and music-video style editing, this film will not be for you. It is a character and class study, and it succeeds admirably well on both levels. Hopkins and Thompson are both able to communicate subtle emotions with a simple pause or a look. The supporting cast is also fine. The screenplay allows the characters and drama to unfold slowly, establishing a feeling for the time and for the differences in class that existed in the era.
Remains of the Day is directed with understated style, allowing the setting and characters to dominate. Although it may be more literary than most films, don't mistake it for something stuffy or inaccessible. It's great drama about all too real characters that reminds us of the impact of the unspoken word.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
From the very beginning of the opening titles, set against the backdrop of the English countryside and exquisitely complimented by the music of Richard Robbins, you get the reassuring feeling that you are in for a cinematic treat. Well, 134 minutes later, your reassurances are confirmed, and within this time frame this movie manages to span the full range of emotions with such grace and dignity that you are certain you have seen one of the great motion pictures. Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson reunite (first paired in Howard's End) with the acclaimed Merchant Ivory film making team for this extraordinary and moving story of blind devotion-to-duty and forsaken love. Hopkins stars as Mister Stevens, the perfect English butler, an ideal carried by him to perfectionist lengths, as he serves his English master, Lord Darlington (impeccably played by masterful James Fox). Lord Darlington, like many other members of the British establishment in the 1930s, is duped by the Nazis into trying to establish a rapport between themselves and the British government. Thompson stars as Darlington hall's housekeeper, a high-spirited, strong-minded young woman who watches the goings-on upstairs with quiet disbelief. Marvelously well acted by a supporting cast that includes, among many others, Christopher Reeve as American Congressman Jack Lewis and then newcomer Hugh Grant as Lord Darlington's Godson, Mr. Cardinal, this movie captures on film a bygone lifestyle few are aquainted with, in as flawless a fashion as any you will ever see. Masterpiece!
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2003
Reunited from their celebrated stint in "Howards End", producers Ismal Merchant and James Ivory have once again teamed Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins for this exceptional follow up. As a reviewer of both films, I find myself torn to comment on which is the better movie. Quite simply, each is brilliant. In "The Remains of the Day" Hopkins is Mr. Stevens, a butler at Darlington Hall who is so deeply steeped in the traditions of the Edwardian class that he cannot bring himself to express his love for the head housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). James Fox is cast is Lord Darlington, an English gentleman who unfortunately becomes one of the Nazi's pawns during World War II. Also in the cast are Hugh Grant and Christopher Reeves.
Columbia's special edition is an above average attempt for the studio. But the transfer lacks the vibrancy of its predicessor. Colors are accurate. Details can be sharp. Sometimes the picture is excessively soft or slightly smeared, the result of noise reduction equipment employed during the film's remastering to DVD. Contrast levels can appear slightly low at times. There is even some minor aliasing and pixelization that creeps in. I should like to point out that, while none of these imperfections is glaringly prominent throughout the movie, they are all present nevertheless. The sound has been nicely remixed to 5.1. Extras include a documentary and audio commentary as well as the original featurette produced at the time the film was being made. All of these are substandard in terms of image quality, suffering from compression related artifacts. It's beyond me why more studios don't simply put the movie on one side of the disc and the special features on the other instead of cramming everything together and risking such digital anomolies. Overall, a worthwhile disc to add to your private collections. Just not an outstanding example of all that DVD technology is capable of delivering.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2006
Memories both good and bad light up what yet remains of the day. This is the story of how a man finds comfort in remembering what he has achieved, and what he has lost.
Remains of the Day saw the reuniting of the Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala/Hopkins/Thompson team that had made Howards End two years before (1991). It was almost the Pinter/Irons/Streep team that had made the French Lieutenant's Woman in 1981, with Mike Nichols directing this time, but other commitments forced Nichols to just a co-producing role. It would be interesting to compare the Pinter and Jhabvala treatments of Kazuo Ishiguro's book. This is Merchant/Ivory in their prime, and it's a sumptuous production that creates the period and milieu (the 30s and 50s in a stately English country house) without falter, and proceeds at a suitably stately pace.
There are two parallel developments throughout the film: in the first we see Lord Darlington (James Fox) use his wealth and position to try and soften the resentment that Germany feels over the harsh Treaty of Versailles, only for him to be disillusioned in the end. The second concerns a romance between two of the servants at the house (Hopkins as Stevens the butler and Thompson as Kenton the housekeeper).
Darlington is convinced that more damage has been done since the war than during it, and that the situation will inevitably give rise to another war unless something is done to ameliorate Germany's position. His standards are the old fashioned ones of the English aristocracy: fair play, don't hit a man when he's down, and always act with honour. However he fails to understand that something has already been done to ameliorate the situation, and it's been done by a German, Adolf Hitler. And he believes Hitler. To be fair to Darlington, most of Europe before WWII believed Hitler (even his staunch opponent Winston Churchill was once a fan). At one point Darlington, who is a very kindly man, dismisses two Jewish refugees whom he has employed, simply because they are Jews. But it bothers him, and from that point of the film onwards, he begins to realise his mistake. During and after the war Darlington is hated as a Nazi sympathiser and collaborator, and it breaks him.
Darlington has gone through the same experience as Prince Salina in The Leopard. What we are seeing here is the values of one generation replacing those of another. Darlington's tragedy is that he has outlived his time. His values are sneered at, his position is no longer unquestioned. He doesn't know what to do when dealing with those who don't share his standards and culture. In a sense, worthy as he is, he's a dinosaur. It's a smaller age, when working men decide policy they know nothing about by voting in a general election, where the very people he is trying to aid treat him with contempt as a dupe ("we call them concentration camps, you call them prisons, but it's much the same").
The butler Stevens is a staunch defender of English class values of the period. He has built his life on the ideal of service, and as a more democratic age dawns, he has difficulty adapting to it. Stevens knows that order and dignity must prevail, that he has what amounts to a small army under his command, each of whom must know his duty and his place for the whole machine to function. Stevens' ally in this formidable task is Miss Kenton the housekeeper. From this alliance of two capable people flows the love story which is the second plot strand of the film.
Slowly Stevens loses faith in Darlington, the pivot of his order. Several times he denies knowing him. He sees the great house and its army of servants dismantled. New, more egalitarian times bring a new owner and a new master (in the film the American millionaire Lewis). Yet throughout Stevens keeps his feelings to himself. He is no more expressive. It is Kenton who makes all the moves in their romance. Stevens remains the passive subject of her decisions.
Now here is a difficult matter. Throughout the film we see Stevens tormented again and again at his inability to express his emotions (and a superb job of acting by Hopkins). We never know why. There is no indication in the film that Stevens considers his ideal of service as more important, or a substitute, for his emotional life (we are told his father worked as a butler, and yet he married). There are moments when the frustrations of both Stevens and Kenton are treated humorously by the film makers.
The motivation given for both Stevens and Darlington indicates a structural flaw in the film, its one weakness. We are given no clue for Stevens' silence about his feelings. And we are expected to feel it a weakness of Darlington to attempt to appease Hitler. But it is historically unlikely for him not to do so. At the time of Darlington's meetings Hitler was the elected Chancellor of Germany, not the Fuhrer. He hadn't put anyone in a concentration camp. He had published Mein Kampf in which he expressed incoherent theories about race that not many could understand (even, it is said, Hitler himself). He had made demands to take over part of Czechoslovakia to which Germany had a plausible right. He was shaping up as a strong man of Europe; many politicians were relieved to see him successful. It was a time when 'totalitarian' had no pejorative meaning. (There were only two ways to avoid the Hitler regime: a more lenient Treaty of Versailles which would have strengthened democratic government in Germany; or a declaration of war against Germany by America in 1932).
The film features some of the best acting in any film, not just from the principals but on the part of virtually every cast member. Merchant/Ivory are strong on casting. They say they build their films around it. Here it works. You won't see the kind of 'expert' acting that draws attention to itself; rather, you unhesitatingly believe every person is who they claim to be. Hopkins and Thompson are wonderful at expressing what each is feeling behind the conventional exchanges they manage to have. The set, the great house (houses, the film makers say) is perfectly convincing. The period detail is expertly done. One finds out more about how a great house was run in those days than you could ever expect to know (as one did about painting in The Girl with the Pearl Earring). Structurally, however, the parallel set up by Ishiguro concerning Darlington and Stevens and their inability to change with the times is not maintained and there is a mystery about Stevens' reticence about his feelings which stop his story from being the tragic one it might be.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2005
Remains of the Day joins Goodfellas and Breaking the Waves as movies that did not win Best Picture Oscars in the 90's, however will be be remembered as truly three of the finest flims ever produced. Merchant and Ivory has always been an aquried taste, however this movie truly crosses all boundries. As the years go by (I'm writing this review in 2005), Anthony Hopkins brillance as an actor gets dimmed somewhat with every mediorce script he takes, although if anyone has earned the right to sell out for money, it is he and Deniro.
This movie will truly haunt you, and I don't say that lightly. Lesson for all young movie directors who think you have to have raunchy sex scenes with wafer-like women and thick headed men to generate heat on screen: the chemistry between Thompson and Hopkins in the library scene is the most intense, heartbreaking, sexually-charged scene I have ever witnessed on screen, AND THEY DON'T EVEN TOUCH EACH OTHER! The fact that BOTH did not receive Oscars for their roles is borderline criminal. The last 35 minutes of this movie will stay with the you for weeks, if not years. That last scene of Stevens the Butler releasing the trapped bird out the window, while he is left inside looking out and wondering all he has missed, and eventually lost, is almost to much to bear. The beautiful harp-centric soundtrack is worth noting as well. The excellence of this movie is hard to overstate; it is simply one of the 10-15 greatest movies ever made, while Hopkins and Thompson's performance in my estimation rank as the two single greatest performances of the 1990's.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2006
Remains of the Day requires the viewer to be observant. Anthony Hopkins takes on the challenge of playing a man who is emotionally repressed and self-effacing, a butler who has complete, blind faith in his master and thinks only to serve him. Hopkins is such a gifted actor that he can slip into the role seamlessly while still suggesting - so long as you watch closely - private emotions in this restrained and stilted figure. These emotions are often not fully understood by his character or dealt with properly, but Hopkins puts them there - they might be revealed in a gesture of the hand, a jaw unhinging slightly, eyes lingering more than is strictly necessary. Hopkins is simply fascinating to watch.
He plays the butler Stevens, who in the years leading up to WWII serves Lord Darlington in a grand English country house. Stevens is loyal to his master; he never questions him, never eavesdrops on his conversations, and assumes that his master has a great and complete understanding of the word. Lord Darlington, however, turns out to be a Nazi appeaser; he wishes to play it safe and make a deal with Germany rather than go to war. He holds a gathering of like-minded noblemen and high officials in his house, where only one American politician, Lewis (Christopher Reeve), contradicts him and his policies of appeasement. When Darlington asks Stevens to remove two housemaids who are Jewish refugees, Stevens does so with some confusion but without argument. After all, his master understands more than he. He has to attend to the guests at the gathering, deal with his elderly father, an underbutler, who is growing too old for his duties, and handle the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, who has no problem contradicting Stevens and disturbing what little private time he sets aside each day for himself.
Emma Thompson plays Miss Kenton with honesty, intelligence, and vitality. The conversations between Kenton and Stevens often seem to be in some kind of code - on the surface they speak of housekeeping matters, or perhaps that sentimental book that Stevens reads in private and attempts to conceal... but matters of greater urgency are touched upon. Stevens is affected by Kenton, but seems immoveable as stone; he has sacrificed too much of himself to his service, and he is couched in duty and routine. He can easily see if a single spoon is missing from the dinner table, but cannot put words to his emotions, such as they are. Would it ever be possible for him to change? Just as Darlington's loyalties were grossly misplaced and repented too late, perhaps Stevens will also find himself only with regrets.
Remains of the Day is a fine, moving, nuanced picture, with rich performances.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2006
Wow, what a wonderful movie this turned out to be!
I didn't check this movie out until the fall of 2004 after reading a number of positive reviews, enough to pique my curiosity. I was glad I did. In fact, I was so impressed with this film that a week later I went out and bought the book, which is even better.
First of all, the film is a tremendous visual treat. There are some great interior scenes of the Darlington mansion, and great colors inside and in the surrounding outside scenery. This is simply a beautiful film.
Second, the acting of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was spectacular. They were riveting. The way they deliver dialog and the expressions of their faces.....magnificent acting. Thompson's sad look in the back of the bus near the end of the movie is the saddest, most haunting look on a person's face I have ever seen in 50 years of movie watching.
Hopkins, one of the best actors of this generation, provides a tremendous character study of a man who has been taught that to be the best in his profession, he must suppress all emotion. In doing so, he never learns to think for himself and he misses out on what could have been the love of his life. In that regards, this is a very frustrating story.
However, this isn't just a tragic romantic story. Hopkins' character is wonderful example, too, of unselfish devotion and dignified servitude in the face of any kind of circumstance.
This is an extremely beautiful, intelligent and sensitive film. If when people tell you, "They don't make 'em like they used to," show them this film.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2002
Set against the backdrop of an impending WWII, this Merchant Ivory production tells the story of unrequited love between two servants working in a British stately home.
Anthony Hopkins is the punctilious butler James Stevens and Emma Thompson is the feisty housekeeper Sally Kenton, who work in the service of the slightly pompous and very misguided Lord Darlington (James Fox). Stevens and Kenton fall in love with each other but neither is prepared to reveal their true feelings. Meanwhile, Stevens the butler demonstrates blind loyalty to his master Lord Darlington, even when Darlington makes very ill advised contact with the Nazis.
This is very much a low-burn movie. On the surface it may seem that very little happens in this 1993 Merchant-Ivory production but paradoxically there is actually so much to view and so much to think about. Apart from the love story that is central to the plot of the whole movie, it is also a story of misguided actions, repression and misguided loyalty. Director James Ivory (Howard's End, A Room With A View etc.) once again beautifully recreates an important time in British history and fills it with sartorial elegance. As always, Anthony Hopkins in another Oscar nominated performance, is magnificent as the emotionally repressed butler Stevens and he is well matched by the equally magnificent, also Oscar nominated, Thompson as Sally Kenton, who like Hopkins gives a performance of incredible depth and subtlety. What's more, there are also excellent supporting performances from James Fox, Christopher Reeve, Ben Chaplin, and Hugh Grant. (The DVD also has some very good extras, including three featurettes, feature commentary by Thompson and Ivory, the original theatrical trailer and filmographies. It also contains deleted scenes which would have made certain themes more explicit and that would have ultimately detracted from the film).
If you are feeling a bit low this is not the movie to watch but for fans of well-acted adult drama, this has a mournful resonance and is highly recommended.