Superlative acting, an absorbing story and exquisite English settings are all hallmarks of "The Remains of the Day." Along with "Howard's End" or "A Room With a View" this is probably the Merchant-Ivory team's greatest accomplishment. Here they deliver a richly-textured screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, full of subtlety and understatement, about a butler's devotion to service and the price he pays for it.
The story takes place in the country home of Lord Darlington (James Fox) and involves a relationship of sorts between the butler Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) and the housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). Events, in flashback, play out over 20 years or so from the 1930s with the ominous rise of fascism to the post-war breakdown of class structure. Pervasive throughout is an ambience of doomed resignation that is simultaneously exasperating and heartrending. A poignant sadness unfolds as the main characters come to terms with profound loss, personal and otherwise, that mistakes in their lives have brought them.
Period detail is scrupulously adhered to in terms of locations, costume, mannerisms and so forth. From his research Hopkins recalls carrying into the role advice from a professional butler that his presence in a room should make it seem more empty. Whatever its impact on him personally, the result on screen is extraordinary. The emotional restraint he portrays has to be seen to be believed! Thompson is the perfect foil for Hopkins with an outspoken assertiveness and self-possession. Impressive performances are also given by Christopher Reeve, Peter Vaughan, Tim Piggott-Smith, Hugh Grant and Lena Headey.
Overall this is an intelligent, stimulating and moving piece of film-making. Wonderful stuff!