Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, James Wilby, Prunella Scales
Director:  James Ivory
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Cohen Media Group
Features:  See Review
Length:  142 Minutes
Release Date:  December 6, 2016

"Don't take up a sentimental attitude towards the poor.  The poor are poor.  One is sorry for them...but there it is."

Film ****

Howards End is many good things rolled up in the package of one splendid motion picture. It is a beautiful period piece, complete with great costumes, sets and cinematography. It is a wonderful character study, with rich performances. It is perhaps first and foremost a great example of storytelling on film.

Based on the classic novel by E. M. Forster, this movie deals with the classes in England just after the turn of the century. We meet the middle class Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen (Thomson and Carter), who end up with connections to the upper class Wilcox family, led by Ruth and Henry (Redgrave and Hopkins), and to a struggling lower classman, Leonard Bast (West). It also deals with love of tradition, as personified by the house that is the title's namesake.

Ruth and Margaret become good friends, and on her deathbed, Ruth scribbles a note saying that she wants the house, which is in her name, to go to Margaret. Why her, rather than her own family? Margaret has similar values, and appreciates the history and tradition of Howards End, which has been in Ruth's family for generations. She knows the stories of the house and the people who live there. Distraught, and not entirely sure Ruth was of sound mind when she made her decision, Henry and family decide to quietly destroy the note, and make no mention of it.

But as fate would have it, Henry falls for Margaret, and eventually the two marry. But Henry, who is often quiet and unable to express his feelings, ends up showing his cold side by turning his back on the Basts, who are in dire straits after Leonard leaves a good job upon Henry's warning, and is now unable to find work. He and his wife are now starving.

It gets more complicated when two affairs surface: one that happened long ago between Henry and Leonard's wife, and a new one between Henry and Helen.

If all this sounds like a lot, trust me, it is only because I am over simplifying for this review. It all plays out beautifully over the course of the movie, with its Oscar winning screenplay that really appreciates the dramatic irony of the story. It's not without a little humor, too. But the point is not so much the plot, though it's a good one--it's about the characters, and how they react to one another and grow. Particularly Margaret...can she remain loyal to her husband Henry after he shows such callous disregard for the plight of another? Or when he turns his back on her sister for her affair, even though he once had one of his own?

The cast is superb, led by the terrific Anthony Hopkins and the exquisite Emma Thompson, who richly deserved the Oscar she won for her role. They both exemplify the struggle between manners and compassion, as well as what is traditional and beyond reproach, and what needs to be changed for the sake of being human.

Howards End, in short, is everything an excellent film should be: well written, acted and directed, intelligent, unpredictable, funny, touching, and most of all, entertaining.

Video ****

If you still have any memory of the original release of this movie on DVD from Columbia Tri-Star, you can now officially forget all about it.  This Cohen Blu-ray offering has brought the beauty of the Oscar-winning cinematography to your home theatre the way it was meant to be seen, with a high definition transfer supervised by director of photography Ton Pierce-Roberts.  This movie is a shining example of what talented filmmakers can do with natural light settings in bringing a period to life.  The color palate, crispness and details of imagery are all breathtaking to behold.  I've always loved, as an example, the shot of a man walking through a field of small blue flowers, but now it's come to life like never before.  

Audio ***1/2

This is mostly a dialogue-oriented film, but Richard Robbins' score sounds quite beautiful and dynamic with the new DTS HD treatment.  Spoken words are clean and clear throughout.  The rear stage only opens up for a couple of crowd scenes, but really, the treatment helps accent the experience instead of overwhelming it.

Features ***1/2

The extras include some behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries, a commentary track, new interviews with the director and cast, the original and re-release trailers, and a 2016 on-stage Q&A.


Howards End is just one of those movies that cried out for a good high definition release, and Cohen was the perfect studio to bring it to fans.  I for one hope to see more of Merchant Ivory's titles coming to Blu-ray from Cohen...this beautiful release more than justifies my desire.

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