The Remains of Greatness
The magnificent moviemaking troika of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was always noted for developing its own projects and had come into its own as an acclaimed cinematic powerhouse in the 1980s and early 1990s with a string of distinctive and well-liked works: The Bostonians (1984), A Room with a View (1985), Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) and Howards End (1993). But in the rare case of a perfect project arriving over the transom from elsewhere, they were gifted with a jewel: The Remains of the Day (1993), which opened in theatres 22 years ago today. Majestically brought to the screen from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize-winning novel, it was originally adapted by Harold Pinter for Mike Nichols to direct. When budget concerns caused Nichols to drop out, Merchant/Ivory got the call. As Jhabvala reworked the screenplay to bring out its emotional elements, Ivory decided to reteam his Howards End co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in what could have been prestige casting overkill. But as the rigorously rigid butler and the lonely housekeeper who form a deep attachment not acted upon due to his overarching sense of duty, Hopkins and Thompson anchor the story incomparably with delicacy and detail that cannot be bettered. While veering slightly from the book’s ironic tone, Jhabvala nonetheless captures the subtlety and complexity of class-driven sensibilities out of touch with the turbulent real world and the damage they do. In the Merchant/Ivory manner, other actors – James Fox as the lord of the manor blind to the effect of his political dilettantism, Christopher Reeve as an American businessman who strives to bring a sensible and sane opposing view to his surroundings, Hugh Grant as a visiting, skeptical family relation, Peter Vaughan as an elderly servant – get to shine in powerful moments. Nominated for eight Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay, The Remains of the Day garnered Best Actor laurels for Hopkins from the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Board of Review (in conjunction with Hopkins’ other sterling performance that same year as C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.) How lovely that the remains of a project fell into loving hands. Its piercing human drama and stunning visual splendor are preserved on an exquisite, extras-packed Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.