Somewhat disappointing. This Merchant-Ivory affair did not affect me anywhere near as much as the magnificent novel it is based on – but taking the film in isolation I still think it isn’t as good as it ought to have been.
I think SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS is rather overrated in this film and doesn’t really give enough depth to a character that is otherwise so interesting. The script too is somewhat lacking – it’s very difficult to match up with the repressed elegance and beauty of Ishiguro’s prose and so the screenwriter struggles to fully render the heartbreaking emotional profundity that is unearthed throughout the course of the narrative.
However – Emma Thompson is perfect as always, and it does have some breathtaking moments. One such moment is when Miss Kenton happens upon Mr Stevens reading – and attempts to find out what it was. It was a love story. Mr Stevens is humiliated and tries to explain it away. Both feel the romantic tension – neither can act on it. In that moment Hopkins raises his game to Thompson’s and the script and direction all come together to give a moment of pure beauty and romantic melancholy. Mr Stevens confuses dignity with remaining emotionless and in doing so wastes his life, leaving him only with the remains of the day. Another great moment is after Miss Kenton accepts Mr Benn’s proposal. Angered by Mr Stevens’ non-reaction, she proceeds to bitterly let loose a nasty little comment about Mr Stevens – to which he also cannot react to. He’s left in embarrassment and heartbroken but covers it; she ends up in floods of tears. Collapsed – but still propping herself up on a stool – as if she has to keep up the pretense of ‘dignity’ even when all dignity is long since gone. And what good does dignity do anyway? It leads to supporting atrocities by remaining silent – in the case of Stevens’ relation to his master’s sympathy to the Nazis.
Moments like these are what I was looking for in the film. The repression of basic emotions that lead to nothing but heartbreak.
And whilst I believe that one ought to completely separate a film from its source material: I simply cannot with this film.
“Indeed—why should I not admit it?—at that moment, my heart was breaking.”
That line is one of the most beautiful in all literature in my opinion. The film does not, I believe, transfer gorgeous literary moments like this one cinematically – and so I cannot help but be disappointed.
It also reminded me to its detriment of the adaptation of my favourite Ishiguro novel – Never Let Me Go – directed by Mark Romanek. That film understands the restrained poignancy in Ishiguro’s work that this film tries its hardest to replicate.
That Ivory’s film still ultimately succeeds to an extent is a testament to the wonderful story underneath (its deviations usually working against it). I just cannot help feeling that the novel deserved better.