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The Price of Being Perfect,
This review is from: The Remains of the Day (Special Edition) (DVD)THE REMAINS OF THE DAY is one of my all time favorite books, but when I heard about the film, way back in 1993, I was sure the book wouldn't translate well. It was far too interior and quiet. When I saw the film for the first time, I was really surprised. Merchant/Ivory, along with the extraordinary talented screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabuala, seemed to have done the impossible and I knew I'd buy the DVD the day it was released.
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY takes place in 1958 as James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), a man of late middle age and the head butler at the sumptuous Darlington Hall, begins a motor journey across southern England to the West Country. The purpose of his trip, we learn, is to persuade Ms. Sally Kenton (Emma Thompson), once head housekeeper at Darlington Hall, to resume her old position and, perhaps, a bit more.
Most of the story is told in a series of flashbacks and we gradually come to know Stevens, Ms. Kenton and Lord Darlington (James Fox). Although THE REMAINS OF THE DAY centers on the relationship between Stevens and Ms. Kenton, there are subtle, but definite, political undertones in this film, for Lord Darlington is, of all things, a Nazi sympathizer who wants to prevent war. I've heard criticisms of the film because this subplot wasn't explored in greater detail, but I think Ishiguro (and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) wrote just enough. To have expanded this subplot might have been interesting, but it would have definitely detracted from the more interesting main plot line, the relationship between Stevens and Ms. Kenton.
Almost from the beginning of the film, it's clear that Stevens and Ms. Kenton love each other. While Ms. Kenton does her best, however, she simply can't crack the wall Stevens has built around himself, the one he's been taught to build around himself, for, as long as Stevens can remember, his family has been "in service."
Stevens is the perfect butler, but at what cost? One of the film's most telling moments comes when Stevens' father, who is himself a retired head butler, dies in the servants' quarters of Darlington Hall. Although summoned by Ms. Kenton, Stevens, because of his strict adherence to perfection in work, and his dedication to "doing one's duty," does not abandon his post at a gala dinner party to be with his dying father.
Political disaster for Lord Darlington and personal disaster for Stevens dovetail in the film, but Stevens might just be given the second chance that most of us never get.
The end of THE REMAINS OF THE DAY is heartbreaking, but inevitable. This is a quiet, sad and extremely introspective film, yet it contains extraordinary emotion.
Anthony Hopkins as Stevens is perfection. Although Hopkins must show us a palette of emotions, he must show them with small gestures, mannerisms and facial expressions. Stevens is a highly complex man but he is, above all else, a man who represses his emotions.
Emma Thompson is Ms. Kenton is also perfect, but don't expect to see a lot of her in this film. This is Stevens' story and, as such, it's Hopkins who takes center stage.
Christopher Reeve is very good as Congressman Lewis, both as a guest of Lord Darlington and as the "new" owner of Darlington Hall. His part is small, though essential, and seeing him active and healthy only adds to this film's profound sense of sadness and loss.
The extras in this DVD include interviews with Merchant and Ivory as well as with Emma Thompson and they are so good, they make it worth owning the DVD rather than just renting it. THE REMAINS OF THE DAY is, at any rate, a DVD I think any film lover would want to own. It's absolute perfection and one I know I'll never tire of no matter how many times I watch it.