The Remains of The Day - A Story of Unrequited Love

                         In the late 1930's, in a stately home of England called Darlington Hall, Stevens is the butler. He's the supreme commander of a vast staff that includes the housekeeper, the under-butlers, the cooks, the maids, the footmen, the scullery helpers, even those people who work outside the great house. He serves without question. Or, as he says at one point, "It's not my place to have an opinion." 

                        Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's 1989 booker-prize winning novel, 'The Remains of The Day,'  examines the life of a very proper English butler who sacrifices anything resembling a personal life in total dedication to his master's needs. Remains of the Day is a judicious mix of upper-class English sensibilities and the repressed, whirling emotions that circulate hidden, often deeply so, in social settings such as these.

                       This spellbinding  tragic-comedy of high and most entertaining order, has top class performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

        In 1958, Mr. Lewis (Christopher Reeve), a rich American, purchases Darlington Hall, a luxurious country house in England. He tells Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), the butler who has served there for over 30 years, to take a holiday. This ever-efficient professional decides to combine business with pleasure by visiting Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), who left her job as housekeeper years ago to marry. Stevens has learned in a letter that she is now estranged from her husband. He hopes to convince her to return to her position at Darlington Hall.

           As he drives the toward the coast, Stevens reviews his years with Lord Darlington (James Fox). Darlington is an arrogant man, who was among those aristocrats to sought an alliance with the Nazis before Britain entered World War II. All of his life has been consumed by an attempt to be a "great" butler. Stevens pretends to be, or actually is, oblivious to the moral rot of his master. 

          Asked to fire two young Jewish maids, Stevens obediently complies. Only much later does Stevens recognize that he may have spent the prime of his life in the service of a man whose intentions were misguided at best and evil at worst. Stevens may have ruined his chances for a romantic life by stifling all feelings for Miss Kenton, but he has deeper moral issues to face.

                The Remains of the Day boasts virtuoso performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the two lead roles. Hopkins gives the performance of his life as the closely guarded gentleman. With only an arched brow, a slight weariness in his stride, the flicker of a smile, he leaves you shattered. Stevens is tortured by his love, but the need to express his feelings cannot overcome his deep reserve. Bringing out these complexities of a character is the mark of a master, which Hopkins surely is. 

                Emma Thompson is marvelous as the high-spirited Miss Kenton, a gifted housekeeper whose desperate attempts to get Stevens to respond to her affections are doomed. She expertly reveals the conflicting feelings of her conventional, if occasionally spirited, character. James Fox is ideal as the distracted, fatally sentimental Lord Darlington. Christopher Reeve is a perfect choice to play the "typical American". 

                Special mention should be made of the performance by veteran actor Peter Vaughan, whose character as Stevens father, is sad, touching and most eloquent. One of those melancholic scene happens, when Stevens learns that his old man(Peter Vaughn) has died upstairs while he was attending to the guests downstairs. Stevens replies that his father would have supported his decision to carry on with his duties.

               The Remains of the Day is a flawless screen adaptation, which is beautifully staged by director James Ivory and producers Mike Nichols, John Calley, and Ismail Merchant. The screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a triumph of craft. It offers an especially poignant portrait of upper class bigotry, repression, elitism, and disgust for democracy. James Ivory's direction looks grand without being overdressed, it is full of feeling without being sentimental. The film retains the sense of the novel and is as rich in texture and incident. 

              The attention to detail here is astonishing, from the way the servants keep up Fox's mansion to the protocol observed during dinners to the sly humor that slips in from time to time. This film speaks out boldly against misguided professionalism and exhausting perfectionism -- two behavioral patterns found in many of today's workplaces.

              Gorgeously lensed and delightfully structured, The Remains of the Day is an engaging and powerful motion picture, and certainly the most emotionally-wrenching tale.


The Remains of The Day - Imdb 


Vetirmagal said...

A lovely movie, worth watching over and over.

Panchali said...

nice review:)

Mak said...

Good review Arun. As always :)