Picks and Pans Review: The Remains of the Day
Long (2¼ hours) but with little wasted motion, this generally faithful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's remarkable 1989 novel about a dedicated, benighted butler has the heft lacking in the season's other big literary adaptation, The Age of Innocence. Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, the acclaimed producer-director-writer troika responsible for Howards End, do here what they do best: period drama played out in lavish European settings, with meticulous attention to detail. In this story, told in flashback, Hopkins is a butler in one of those stately English homes satirized by Noel Coward. Also on the staff is an immensely competent housekeeper (Thompson). Their employer (Fox) is a well-meaning if grossly ill-informed lord, who in the years before World War II plays host to countless unofficial international conferences in an effort to keep England out of uniform and to extend a warm hand lo the Third Reich. After all, how better could he serve his country? In his own way, Hopkins, the very model of a model servant, serves as blindly and foolishly as his employer. Bound up in a glacier-thick carapace of dignity, he looks straight ahead, asks no questions and does as bidden. Tell his employer's adult godson the facts of life? Yes, your lordship. Fire the Jewish parlormaids? Consider it done, your lordship. When his aged father, the under-butler (Peter Vaughan) dies during an important conference at the manor, Hopkins barely breaks stride before continuing his appointed rounds. And he certainly hasn't a farthing's awareness that the gently teasing housekeeper is (for reasons best known to herself) in love with him.
Thompson is heartbreaking as a woman with much charming girlish-ness left in her, all gone lo waste. In his utter opacity and failure to comprehend, the extraordinary Hopkins, as a butler, is more frightening than even Hannibal Lecter. (PG)