Monday, June 29, 2009

Emma Thompson, in Howards End
approximately 63 minutes and 42 seconds
46.2% of the film
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The film
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A man ignores his wife's deathbed wish to leave an estate to a woman friend.
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You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

Without a doubt, Howards End is one of my favourite films… not just of the 90s, but of all times. It's a period drama that just suits my taste, with an interesting screenplay, very smart direction and great acting.
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Emma Thompson as Margaret Schlegel
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The Best Actress category of the 1990s was dominated by 3 names: Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon had 4 nominations each; and then there was Emma Thompson, with 3 Best Actress nominations. She came out of nowhere and quality-wise ruled the 92-95 period. Howards End is considered by many to be her best performance. And you know what? They might just be right.

As the film starts, you get the feeling that this movie is not about her character. Howards End dives right into the story and for the first part of it, Emma gets lost among all those characters. Emma plays Margaret Schlegel, a spinster-to-be, an independent woman at the turn of the century London, who lives an upper middle class life with her younger brother and sister (played by a free spirited Helena Bonham Carter). It would be impossible to tell the whole story of the film as there’s too much happening; you must watch it. Margaret will be courted by the widower of a good friend of hers, and complication will result.

We discover Margaret as an ordinary woman. She’s not beautiful and she has a simple way of being. She talks a lot, sometimes too much. She’s very well behaved, very polite and when she worries it’s just for the others. She has a lot of good-will, she’s very lively and almost always has a smile on her face. In the first part of the film I actually found her to be some kind of a geek, if that word is allowed. She’s simple, she doesn’t always fit in, she’s like an old maid with a good heart.


Emma does a good job in keeping Margaret under the radar. And we like her, we might actually identify with her, especially in the scenes involving the dying Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). These scenes help humanize Margaret, but also damage the performance, at least in my eyes. Because Ruth is such a strange woman, next to her Margaret seems the most natural person in the world; it helps the performance because we start to like Margaret and she’s the alter ego of the viewer. On the other hand, Vanessa Redgrave is that brilliant in the role (!) that for 15 minutes she totally overshadows what Emma is trying to act. Vanessa steals every scene she’s in and you can’t take you eyes off her. Once Ruth dies, Emma can return and claim her acting glory; but who we remember for 20 minutes is Vanessa and not so much Emma.




As the story becomes more complicated, so do Emma’s acting and storyline. As she becomes the unexpected object of desire of a wealthy man, she blooms; not from a virgin to a woman, but from a good-natured geek to a woman who’s still kind and lovely, but also fierce when the situation asks for it. She is loving and she knows how to talk to people (take her fiancĂ© for example) without seeming cunning. Arguably, Emma’s best acting moment is also her one flashy scene: her crying after having the most serious fight with her fiancĂ©. Her desperation is honest, natural, obvious given the situation; it’s a vulnerability she keeps for herself and that’s the moment of solitude, in front of a mirror, where she can let it go. Excellent acting moment.




To me, another great acting moment of hers is when she’s defending her pregnant sister and asking for something on her behalf. In this scene, she’s more like a mother, like a protective female lion, perfectly manoeuvring the art of reasoning without any intention of letting go. With the help of the great direction of James Ivory, in our eyes she’s no longer too talkative or ignorable, but a strong woman you like to watch and you can’t wait for her to come back on screen. Needless to say, the success of the character arc and this likeability of the character are thanks to Emma who puts real emotion in every scene. And she looks so adequate for this type of proper British film!




Emma is just as good as the film itself, and that says a lot. She understands the character and she knows when, how and how much to give or to show onscreen. Her performance is great and the character difficult, though, at first, it might not leave that impression. However. However! :) I’m going towards 5 stars, but I’m not giving them. The main reason was previously mentioned and it’s called Vanessa Redgrave. It may not be Emma’s fault, but for a good part of the film she’s not the one carrying it. So , at least for now. And I keep thinking this was a predictable, but rather an unusual Oscar choice, because of the unspectacular way of the character. They usually go for flashier performances.

7 comments:

Encore Entertainment said...

Grrr. Barely missed that 5 star. Loved the review though...as I love everything about Howards End...except Anthony. Which strange because I usually like him. Did you find his Henry a bit weird? Maybe it was the character. Off topic, but what did you think of Helena Bonham Carter? I thought she and Emma had amazing chemistry even better than Emma and Kate Winslet. Thoughts?

Encore Entertainment said...

Okay I read your post on the other blog. Yeah, Anthony sucked.

Alex in Movieland said...

well, I might change Emma to 5... who knows. I wanna see how this year goes. It's always harder to give ratings to the first nominees you review. That's why I tend to leave at least one controversial one for later.


yeah, I was just about to say that. I noticed myself how Hopkins sucked. Everything. From his lack of expression to often the voice... which felt like the dialogue was badly recorded in the studio.

They did have great chemistry but I wasn't that impressed with Helena's performance. It lacked something; probably the likeability of the character. I haven't seen Sense & Sensibility in a very long time. I should see it just for the fact that I can't remember if I liked Kate or not; was Kate overacting a bit at the starters of her career?!

p.s.: couldn't you have been a bit more generous with Linda Hunt and break that tie? :)

Encore Entertainment said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Encore Entertainment said...

Crap, I forgot to come back and check your answer.

Okay, a five is possible - nice to know.

Back to Anthony - Emma what did you see in that toad?

I thought Helena was likeable actually...especially in her scenes with Emma. Alone she seemed sort of closed, but then Emma would come and they'd hug and quote weird things like the forest drooped glimmeringly

Alex in Movieland said...

Back to Anthony - Emma what did you see in that toad?

well, let's not forget the context. She was getting too old to get a serious match, so she was risking being unmarried for the rest of her life.

Helena seemed strange here. I think I didn't like her character or the way she held a scene by her own. She was much much better in other period films like Wings of the Dove or Room with a View.
I did love the love making in the boat scene, though. Excellent direction.

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