Howards End (film)

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Howards End is a 1992 film adaptation of E. M. Forster's 1910 novel Howards End, a story of class relations in turn-of-the-20th-century England. The film — produced by Merchant Ivory Productions as their third adaptation of a Forster novel (following A Room with a View in 1986 and Maurice in 1987) — was the first film to be released by Sony Pictures Classics. The screenplay was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant.



The story takes place in Edwardian England. Three families represent three social classes: the Wilcoxes are rich Victorian capitalists, the class that is displacing the aristocracy; the Schlegel sisters represent the enlightened bourgeois; and the Basts are the lower middle-class. Forster is clear, however, that the novel is 'not concerned with the very poor.' The film asks the question 'Who will inherit England?' and answers it through the ownership of the house, Howards End, as it passes from person to person.

At the start of the film, the younger sister, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter), rashly becomes engaged to the younger Wilcox son, Paul. The next day both realise their mistake and break it off but Helen has sent a letter to her family announcing their relationship. Her Aunt Juley (Prunella Scales) arrives at Howards End and so makes the Wilcox family aware of an engagement that the two young people would rather have kept from them. Later, when the Wilcox family takes a house near to the Schlegels in London, the older sister, Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), feels compelled to visit because of the social embarrassment of the previous year. She befriends the mother, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). Ruth is descended from English yeoman stock and it is through her family that the Wilcoxes own Howards End, a house which she dearly loves and which is the symbol of rural England and English tradition. Over the course of a few months, the two women become close and Ruth sees in Margaret a kindred spirit. Hearing that the Schlegels are to be turned out of their apartment when their lease ends, and knowing she is soon to die due to an illness that she has kept from her family, Ruth bequeaths Howards End to Margaret. This causes great consternation for the Wilcoxes, who refuse to believe that Ruth was in her "right mind" or intended her home to go to a relative stranger. The Wilcoxes burn the piece of paper that Ruth's bequest is written on, and decide to keep her will secret. Because he knows that he has prevented the Schlegels from finding a home in Howards End, Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) offers to help Margaret find a new place to live. As a result, the two become close and Henry proposes. Margaret accepts.

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