Three Oscar -winning actresses illuminate the screen in Merchant Ivory's second adaptation of a Henry James novel, The Bostonians, set in New England in the period after the Civil War. Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), a Back Bay Boston spinster and leader of the women's suffrage movement, becomes enamored of Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter), an inspirational young speaker, and adopts Verena as her protegée, her friend, and her companion. When Olive's distant relation, the chauvenist Southern lawyer Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve) falls in love with Verena and wishes to marry her -- to relegate the young woman to the kitchen and the nursery -- Olive and Ransom find themselves competing for Verena's affections. The charismatic Miss Tarrant must then choose whether to get herself to the nunnery of Olive's social cause or submit to the sensual but subservient life promised by Ransom.
Jessica Tandy and Linda Hunt co-star as Miss Birdseye and Doctor Prance, two fiercely independent Bostonian women who become involved in both the relationship between Verena and her mentor and that between Verena and her suitor. The courtships and sapphic friendships are further complicated by Mrs. Burrage (Nancy Marchand), the New York society matron who tries to secure Verena for her son.
Henry James first conceived the novel through his fascination with the cause of suffrage, and the fierce devotion that the cause engendered in women he had observed in his younger years. The film re-creates that highly charged political atmosphere -- one which Emerson called "a little wild with numberless projects of social reform" -- in scenes of verbose Harvard men arguing at the dinner table, a dazzling Fourth of July celebration on Cape Cod, and standing-room-only lectures where the rhetoric is half politics, half divine inspiration.
Redgrave received an Oscar nomination for her depiction of Olive Chancellor; she shines, finding a depth and sympathy in Olive that often eluded even James himself (his Olive is less sympathetic than Redgrave and Jhabvala's character). Reeve, in a performance that was widely underrated because of his celebrity status as Superman, proves a worthy nemesis for Redgrave; and Jessica Tandy breathes life into Miss Birdseye (a character in whom James was accused of lampooning a prominent New England woman): in their portrait of a character almost as old as the nation itself, Tandy and Ivory imbue Miss Birdseye with the unassuming New England dignity that the director last explored in Mrs. Acton, the ailing matriarch in James's The Europeans.In The Bostonians,Ivory creates a broader, more fully realized follow-up to that earlier vision of a nation finding itself through its art, literature, religion, and politics.
The final episode in Merchant Ivory's encounter with Henry James will take his Americans abroad in The Golden Bowl
In the entracte between world wars, Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is the perfect English butler at the estate of the politically-inclined Lord Darlington (James Fox). Stevens's obsessively dutiful, thoroughly unsentimental way of life is challenged with the arrival of the new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), who is as spirited as she is capable. Stevens's myopic worldview, his unequivocal loyalty to his master, comes to blows with Miss Kenton's sense of moral outrage as Lord Darlington is made an unwitting Nazi pawn. While England wavers between "peace in our time" appeasement and war against Hitler, Darlington Hall becomes the fulcrum upon which the fate of the continent rests and Stevens, who has spent his adult life more concerned with attending to his master than with attending to his own personal happiness, begins to awaken to the possibility of a relationship with Miss Kenton.
Based on the 1989 Booker Prize winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day is told in a series of flashbacks as Stevens, near the end of his life, makes a trip across the English countryside for a meeting that he hopes might reconcile his past mistakes.
Hopkins received an Academy Award nomination for his subtle and penetrating portrayal of Stevens: in his tight shoulders and breathy hesitations, Hopkins discovers a deep humanity in a man who would leave his father's deathbed to wait on his master at a dinner gathering. His rapport with Thompson, who also received an Oscar nomination, creates some of the most iconic and psychologically charged romantic tension in recent film history. The supporting cast includes Hugh Grant as Lord Darlington's nephew, the enterprising journalist Cardinal; and Christopher Reeve as the American politician who tries to open the eyes of the English aristocracy to the imminent Nazi threat.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala received an Oscar nomination for her transformation of Ishiguro's first-person narrative into a drama that preserves the ironies of Stevens's interior landscape while expanding the socio-political world he inhabits. Impeccably photographed by Tony Pierce-Roberts on location in four great English houses (principally at Badminton House in Avon and Powderham Castle in Devon), the film's lavash interiors are not only a visual flourish but a dramatic element: as the fate of the world is decided in its rooms, Darlington Hall becomes a catalogue of all European civilization, which hangs in the balance of the Nazi threat.
The senior reviewer of The New York Times called The Remains of the Day the "deepest, most heartbreakingly real of the many extraordinary films directed by James Ivory." Ivory won Director's Guild of America, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominations for his work. The film is pervaded with the air of something lost, both in the England of Stevens's road trip -- in pub chatter, in bedside photographs of the war dead -- and in the butler's missed opportunities. In an often--quoted scene, Stevens refuses to reveal to Miss Kenton the title of the book he is reading; persistent, she eventually peels his fingers away to find a sentimental love story. Stevens can only bring himself to say that he is reading it to increase his vocabulary. It is one of the cinema's most affecting portraits of solitude, regret, and the tragedy of what might have been.
Stay up to date on new releases and re-releases of your favorites