REMAINS OF THE DAY – movie - 1993
Directed by James Ivory – based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – the players are, James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), Lord Darlington (James Fox), William Stevens (Peter Vaughan), Spencer (Patrick Godfrey), Congressman Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve) – the movie was stitched together by Andrew Marcus - camera work was by Tony Pierce-Roberts with outstanding support from his lighting crew and their flawlessly lit interior, scenes. It was nice to see this happy and healthy incarnation of Christopher Reeve. His death was a sad loss. The film was nominated for eight Oscars.
This movie was originally to be directed by Mike Nichols using a script by Harold Pinter, but due to rewrites by the producers they both withdrew from the project. The interiors were shot in various country estates scattered around the English countryside – Dyrham Park, Powderham Castle, Corsham Court, and Badminton House.
Our movie begins in 1956 and is told in flash-back to scenes leading up to the World War II. Lord Darlington has died and US Congressman, and anglophile Jack Lewis, has purchased Darlington Hall, saving it from destruction. He has retained a reduced staff, but is missing a major component - the housekeeper - a position that is second in command to the butler.
Our story is about Mr. Stevens and his reign as the butler at Darlington Hall. It is a powerful tale of a man who has loved little and lost much. Using his slavish devotion to his daily duties and claiming the moral high ground, Stevens escapes personal attachments, and abandons human
feelings and personal obligations to himself and other members of the staff. Although Stevens is not mean or vindictive, he is an insufferable, stiff-necked ass, consequently the pain that he inflicts on others has the same result.
Soon after Mr. Lewis assumes ownership Stevens receives a letter from Miss Kenton, who is now a loose ends, recalling her memories as house keeper at Darlington Hall before the war, and how happy she is that it will not be destroyed. Although it is now 20 years later, like all of us, he is susceptible to subconscious desires and try as he may, Miss Kenton has not escaped from his thoughts.
At Mr. Lewis’ suggestion, Stevens has set off on a cross-country trip from Oxfordshire to the West Country in search of Miss Kenton. When she joined the staff before the war she made attempts to penetrate Stevens’ emotional wall but was rejected.
In frustration, she left Darlington Hall, married, moved far away and then divorced. She now has a daughter who is expecting a child.
Thanks to Tony Hopkins portrayal we can see that Stevens, deep inside his emotional fortress, feels a gentle tug at his core …. a deep sense of loss…. the heights and valleys of love and satisfaction denied … here was something that he missed. An emotional yearning that is still repressed and that he has yet to consciously admit to. And now Stevens is taking, for the first time in his life, steps that may lead to his long denied emotional fulfillment.
Historically, our story takes place during that period in England leading up to WWII and the country is again facing its old enemy, Germany. Because of the ill-planned and executed Treaty of Versailles, Germany was unable to rescue itself economically. The country has re-armed and is again threatening its neighbors.
The year is 1936. Lord Darlington, who is not a worldly man, has been caught up in a group of German sympathizers including Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain, with encouragement from President Roosevelt, signed the Munich Pact two years later – condoning the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. With great fanfare he announced that he had guaranteed “peace for our time.”
When Lord Darlington hosts an international gathering at Darlington Hall, he is informed by the American representative (Congressman Lewis) that Darlington and all the other gentlemen politicians in the room were a bunch of rank amateurs and they should leave international relations to the professionals.
With Stevens and the other service personnel standing by at meals and other activities, the German representatives at the weekend meeting openly state their plans for racial purification and to rid their world of Jews and other minorities.
When questioned about what he thought of the conversations taking place that weekend Stevens said; “I hear nothing”…. “It not my place to have an opinion.”
Lord Darlington, caught up in the emotional rhetoric, subsequently tells Stevens to fire two recently hired servant women because they are Jews. Repulsed by his unquestioning action, Miss Kenton threatens to leave in protest.
backs out of her promise to leave “because I’m a coward and I have no place to go.”
Bowing to his higher order of discipline, our emotionally crippled Stevens is unable to convey his repressed love for Miss Kenton and the longing he has to fill a painful void in his barren life. The only words he can force from his lips, are to tell her how important she is “to this house”. Unhappy and frustrated, Miss Kenton leaves the Hall, moves away, and marries and has a child with a man she’d worked with in the past.
This movie provides a showcase for the practiced discipline and the nuanced acting abilities of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson who have managed to virtually inhabit the characters of Stevens and Kenton. The director, James Ivory, has inspired flawless performances from the entire cast.
In the closing scenes our tragic couple sits quietly in the evening, enjoying the remains of the day. They talk, but they are evading what actions they might take to retrieve their misspent lives and rescue what little time they have left. Just before parting Stevens comes to realize his last chance to fill an aching gap in his life may be slipping away.