This excellent film is probably best described as subtle elegance. Framed in the present, the movie deals with the lives inside an English country home just prior to World War II. Reunited with the filmmakers from Howards End are Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton, the head housekeeper, and Anthony Hopkins as Stevens, the impeccable butler. The bittersweet story centers on Stevens and his dedication to his master, Lord Darlington (a suitably officious and slyly pompous James Fox). Stevens summarizes: "I don't believe a man can consider himself fully content until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer." Enveloping Stevens's world are the pending war with Germany, Darlington's horribly misguided interests in said war, and, most effectively, his relationship with Miss Kenton. Stevens is the very essence of repression, but as played by Hopkins he is neither piteous nor self-righteous. Like his master, Stevens becomes misguided in his loyalties, although his is an emotional deprivation, possibly condemning him to lifelong regret. There's so much going on in this film, and yet the action is skillfully depicted through understanding and knowing glances, through emotions expressed only through eye contact. Like other Merchant-Ivory-Ruth Prawer Jhabvala collaborations, this film is sumptuous to look at, capturing the period effectively and affectingly. Jhabvala respectfully adapts from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Excellent in supporting roles are Christopher Reeve, Ben Chaplin, and Hugh Grant. --N.F. Mendoza
Look at it! Is that or is it not the wrong chinaman?
Miss Kenton, I'm very busy. I am surprised that you have nothing better to do than stand around all day...
Mr. Stevens, look at that chinaman and tell me the truth!
Miss Kenton, I would ask you to keep your voice down. What would the other servants think to hear us shouting at the top of our voices about... chinamen?
And I would ask you, Mr. Stevens, to turn around and look at the chinaman.
You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over. Europe has become the arena of realpolitik, the politics of reality. If you like: real politics. What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you're headed for disaster!