Howards End (film)

Howards End

Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Based on Howards End
by E. M. Forster
Music by Richard Robbins
Percy Grainger (opening and end title)
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Edited by Andrew Marcus
Distributed by Mayfair (UK)
Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • 13 March 1992 (1992-03-13) (United States)
  • 1 May 1992 (1992-05-01) (United Kingdom)
  • 26 August 2016 (2016-08-26) (United States re-release)
Running time
140 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $8 million
Box office $26.1 million

Howards End is a 1992 British romantic drama film based upon the novel of the same name by E. M. Forster (published in 1910), a story of class relations in turn-of-the-20th-century England. The film—produced by Merchant Ivory Productions as their third adaptation of a Forster novel (following A Room with a View in 1985 and Maurice in 1987)—was the first film to be released by Sony Pictures Classics. The screenplay was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant.

Howards End was entered as Official selection for Cannes International Film Festival and won 45th Anniversary Award. In 1993, the film received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture for Ismail Merchant and Best Director for James Ivory. The film won three awards, including for Best Art Direction (Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker). Ruth Prawer Jhabvala earned her second Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, while Emma Thompson won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Actress.


The story takes place in Edwardian England and concerns three families who represent three social classes: the Wilcoxes are wealthy capitalists, the class that is displacing the aristocracy; the Schlegel sisters standing for the enlightened bourgeoisie; and the Basts, a young couple down on their luck, who may be traced to the lower middle class. (Forster is clear that the novel is "not concerned with the very poor".) The film asks the question "Who will inherit England?" and answers it through the ownership of the house, Howards End, as it passes from person to person.

The younger sister, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter), briefly becomes engaged to the younger Wilcox son, Paul. They realise their mistake and break it off by mutual consent. Later, when the Wilcox family takes a house in the vicinity of the Schlegels in London, the older sister, Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), resumes her acquaintance with Paul's mother, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), whom she had briefly met before. Ruth is descended from English yeoman stock and it is through her family that the Wilcoxes have come to own Howards End, a house she loves dearly. It stands symbolically above class distinction (in both the film and the novel), representing rural England, the rich tapestry of its manifold traditions, and the deeply rooted cultural heritage associated with them.

Over the course of the next few months, the two women become very good friends, and Ruth eventually regards Margaret as a kindred spirit. Hearing that the lease on the Schlegels' London house is due to expire, and knowing she is soon to die, Ruth bequeaths Howards End to Margaret in a handwritten will. This causes great consternation to the Wilcoxes, who refuse to believe that Ruth was in her "right mind" or could possibly have intended her home to go to a relative stranger. The Wilcoxes burn the piece of paper on which Ruth's bequest is written, and decide to keep her will a secret. Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) is aware, as Margaret is not, that he has prevented the Schlegels from finding a home at Howards End. Therefore, he offers to help Margaret look for a new place to live. As a result, they get to know each other quite well. Henry proposes marriage. Margaret accepts.

Some time before this the Schlegels had befriended a young, poor, yet highly intellectual clerk, Leonard Bast (Samuel West). Both sisters find him remarkable, infused with a spirit of "romantic ambition" as Margaret puts it. Wishing to improve his lot, they pass along advice from Henry to the effect that Leonard must leave his post, because the insurance company he works for is supposedly heading for a crash. Leonard acts on this advice in good faith, but finds himself in a far worse position; indeed he is unable to find any employment.

The two plot lines converge unexpectedly at the scene of the beautiful wedding party of Evie Wilcox (Henry's daughter with Ruth). Helen has found the Basts destitute, on the verge of starvation, and brings them from London to Shropshire, where she storms into the garden party, the Basts in tow. Jacky Bast (Nicola Duffett) overeats and gets drunk; Margaret approaches her with Henry trying to resolve the situation. Jacky recognises Henry immediately and Margaret learns that many years previously, Henry had had an illicit affair with her. Humiliated and suspicious, Henry breaks off the engagement. Nevertheless, he and Margaret make their peace with each other the same evening, and she forgives his moral transgression, valiantly determining: "this is not going to trouble us". Margaret then writes to Helen, insisting, in accordance with Henry's wishes, that she take the Basts away, so as to avoid further anguish and embarrassment.

Helen in turn feels betrayed and consequently, the Schlegel sisters drift apart. Hurt and upset, Helen has a brief affair with Leonard Bast, following which she finds herself pregnant and decides to leave the country ~ telling no one of her condition. Before going away however she offers Leonard Bast (who knows nothing of her pregnancy) some very substantial financial assistance, which he refuses, returning her cheque. Several months following these events Aunt Juley's illness prompts Helen to travel back to England. She must reclaim her possessions, and asks if she may stay one night at Howards End (where they are kept) for sentimental reasons, as she has at present no other home. This of course cannot be done without Henry's permission; but as soon as he learns from Margaret that Helen, still unmarried, is pregnant, he indignantly rules that she cannot stay at his house, and that the man responsible for her condition must be found out and punished for dishonouring her.

Margaret is dismayed by the ruthlessness of Henry's conduct and perceives his attitude as insensitive and unjust. She remonstrates with him bitterly about the different standards of sexual propriety applied to men and women, and declares her intention to leave him. At this juncture Leonard and the elder Wilcox son, Charles (James Wilby), make their separate ways to Howards End, where the final tragedy unfolds: Charles attacks Leonard with a sword, inadvertently killing him. This is discovered by the police and Charles is arrested. Henry's pride is shaken; his feelings of heartbreak and remorse surface at last, and he and Margaret are reunited, becoming truly close, even closer than they were before the crisis which has plunged a sword (literally and figuratively) through the very heart of their family, had occurred.

Ultimately, Ruth's wish is fulfilled: Henry leaves Howards End to Margaret in his last will and testament. Helen is happily reconciled with Margaret, who regards Helen's son as the rightful heir. Henry is aware of his wife's intent to leave the house to her nephew upon her own death and fully approves. In both the film and the novel, the final ownership of Howards End is emblematic of new class relations in Britain. It is the wealth of the new industrialists (the Wilcoxes), married to the politically reforming vision of liberalism (the Schlegels,) which will make amends and reward the children of the underprivileged (the Basts); whereupon Howards End is revealed as an instrument of poetic justice and redemption.




Anthony Hopkins accepted the part of Henry Wilcox after reading the script, passed to him by a young woman who was helping edit Slaves of New York and The Silence of the Lambs simultaneously in the same building. Phoebe Nicholls, Joely Richardson, Miranda Richardson and Tilda Swinton were all considered for the part of Margaret Schlegel before Emma Thompson accepted the role. Jemma Redgrave (Evie Wilcox), who plays the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave (Ruth Wilcox), is her niece off-screen. This is the only time they have shared the screen, although Jemma did act with her aunt Vanessa on stage in Chekhov's Three Sisters in 1990, a production in which the third sister was played by Vanessa's sister Lynn Redgrave. Samuel West is the son of actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales.


The score was composed by Richard Robbins, with elements of the score based on Percy Grainger's works "Bridal Lullaby" and "Mock Morris". The piano pieces were performed by the English concert pianist Martin Jones.

Filming locations

Part of the film was shot at the Baltic Exchange, 30 St. Mary Axe, London. Soon after filming there it was bombed by the IRA, razed, and the Swiss Re building, or The Gherkin was erected on its site. Other scenes were shot in the quadrangle of the Founder's Building at Royal Holloway, University of London, in Surrey. The "Howards End" house in the countryside is Peppard Cottage[1] in Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire, and the Wilcoxes's house is nearby.[2] Some scenes were also shot at Brampton Bryan in Herefordshire.[3]


The film received massive critical acclaim. On 5 June 2005, Roger Ebert included it on his list of "Great Movies".[4] Leonard Maltin awarded the film a rare 4 out of 4 star rating, and called the film "Extraordinarily good on every level."[5]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 92%, based on 51 reviews, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A superbly-mounted adaptation of E.M. Forster's tale of British class tension, with exceptional performances all round, Howard's End ranks among the best of Merchant-Ivory's work."[6] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 89 out of 100, based on 10 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[7]

According to the website Box Office Mojo, the total gross of the film stands at $26.1 million.[8]

In 2016, the film was selected for screening as part of the Cannes Classics section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival,[9] and was released theatrically after restoration on August 26, 2016.[10]

Awards and nominations

65th Academy Awards (1992)

46th British Academy Film (BAFTA) Awards (1992)

50th Golden Globe Awards (1992)

1992 Directors Guild of America Awards

1992 Writers Guild of America Awards

1992 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

1992 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

1992 National Society of Film Critics Awards

1992 National Board of Review Awards

Cannes Film Festival


  1. "Howard's End". The Castles and Manor Houses of Cinema's Greatest Period Films. Architectural Digest. January 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  2. IMDB Filming locations for Howards End (1992). Retrieved on 6 March 2007.
  3. Country Life. "Interview, Edward Harley". Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  4. "Howards End (1992)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  5. Martin, Leonard (2015). Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. Signet Books. p. 653. ISBN 978-0-451-46849-9.
  6. "Howards End". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  7. "Howards End". Metacritic. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  8. "Howards End". Box Office Mojo.
  9. "Cannes Classics 2016". Cannes Film Festival. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  11. "Festival de Cannes: Howards End". Retrieved 14 August 2009.

External links

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