Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: The Remains of the Day

In one of my classes for a couple of days, we watched this movie (and I am far from objecting to watching movies in class, especially if they're period dramas). So I hadn't known too much about this movie other than Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins were in there. And since it takes place before the 1950s, I decided I would review it and still call it period (my cut off for period dramas is the 1950s, but I'm thinking of expanding it to 1959. Thoughts?). So, here we go.

Box Art
Mr. James Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall located in Oxfordshire, has been the butler to previous owner Lord Darlington, but after Lord Darlington died, an American congressman, Mr. Lewis, buys Darlington Hall and becomes Mr. Stevens's new boss. Mr. Stevens receives a letter from his former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn) who reveals that her and her husband have separated and that she may be interested in returning to Darlington Hall.

The film flashes back and forth between post WWII England to pre-WWII England when Miss Kenton arrived at Darlington Hall and worked there for a couple of years before marrying Mr. Benn.

There are a few period drama actors/actresses in here that you may recognize:

Actor/ActressCharacterKnown for...
Emma ThompsonMiss KentonSense and Sensibility (1995) as Elinor Dashwood
Anthony HopkinsMr. James StevensA Doll's House as Torvald Helmer
Christopher ReeveMr. LewisSuperman movies as Superman/Clark Kent, Somewhere in Time as Richard Collier
James FoxLord Darlingtonbeing the brother of Edward Fox (who was in Daniel Deronda)
Hugh GrantMr. CardinalSense and Sensibility (1995) as Edward Ferrars

And, on a completely different note, I found it funny that there was a character in there named Richard Carlisle; any relation to Sir Richard Carlisle from Downton Abbey? hehe!

In a way, the premise of The Remains of the Day reminded me a little of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, except the focus was more on Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton, staff members, instead of the time being evenly divided among upstairs and downstairs. In fact, if you've seen Downton Abbey, you might recognize a couple of things (despite the fact that this story takes place about 20 years (in flashbacks) after Downton). You might recognize that Mr. Stevens wore a similar apron and sleeves that Mr. Carson wore (a green apron with black sleeves) and that Mr. Stevens ironed Lord Darlington's newspaper (a couple of students in my class snickered about that, but I knew from Downton Abbey that it was to dry the ink on the paper. Now I feel smart! :-D).

But now onto the characters!

Miss Kenton and Mr. Stevens
Mr. Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall, does not display many emotions throughout the movie. He is very focused on his job to the point where he misses out on a chance to marry Miss Kenton (I know normally that would be a spoiler, but since we know that Miss Kenton became Mrs. Benn at the start of the movie, than it's not much of a spoiler). We know that during the movie, Mr. Stevens is well educated because he spends his time reading and improving his mind, however when he disagrees with Lord Darlington, oftentimes he has to look the other way. When he is also asked questions about his opinions (often political opinion), he often times has to say that he cannot help.

Miss Kenton did not hide her emotions as well as Mr. Stevens. She expresses her emotions much more freely than Mr. Stevens. While she does not voice her opinions to Lord Darlington, she does express them to Mr. Stevens when she feels that Lord Darlington has done something wrong. In these conversations, even though Mr. Stevens can trust Miss Kenton, he does not express his disagreement with his employer.

The biggest disappointment in this movie was the ending. The movie ended so abruptly with nothing resolved. While I did like this movie, I could not help but feeling, "why did I watch this movie?" BIG SPOILERS So the ending went like this: Mr. Stevens finally meets up with Miss Kenton/Mrs. Benn and Miss Kenton says that her daughter is going to give birth and she would like to be near her grandchild and that Mr. Benn needed her, so she won't be going back to Darlington Hall. Mr. Stevens returns to Darlington and with Mr. Lewis releases a dove that was trapped in the house... The end. So, when the ending came, I felt very dissatisfied. Why did I just watch this? I know I enjoyed it, but still, why did I watch it? Nothing really happened in the plot. It wasn't like most period dramas where you say "Yay! They got married!" or "Aww, he died. How sad." or "They finally achieved their dreams!" Or not even, "Okay, things didn't work out, but he accepts what happened." There was none of that! It was, "He lost out on marrying the only woman he loved and will never see her again and he returns back to work." I was left very empty at the end! END OF BIG SPOILERS But in short, this was my opinion of the story: to quote Maggy from Little Dorrit, "Well, that's not much of a story, is it?"

Like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, there are references to real historical events in The Remains of The Day. Lord Darlington makes a mention about the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI what the effect it had on Germany. The film itself focuses on the events that lead up to WWII: there are some political events and dinners that are shown in the film which show the sentiments that people had at the time.

The table being set for dinner at Darlington Hall
Darlington Hall is very grand, indeed. It's very big and very elegantly decorated. There are some doors that I've noticed in other period dramas that seem to blend into the wall. The grounds are also explored and are made up of a bunch of nice little gardens. The servant's hall is not as nicely decorated as can be expected. The colors in the film, however, are a little darker than they could have been; sure, this was a serious story, but I think it wouldn't have harmed the film if there was a little bit of brighter color in the scenery.

Mrs. Benn and Mr. Stevens in late 1940s fashions
The costumes range from late 1940s fashions to 1930s fashions. I don't have much expertise on fashions from those eras, so I cannot vouch for their accuracy. The servants had plain uniforms: the maids wore work dresses and the men had suits on. We do get a little glimpse of some richer dresses and attire worn by German guests at Darlington Hall, but those scenes are not very long.

Overall: 3/5
I liked watching The Remains of the Day, but my complaint mostly lies with how it ended. The ending made me feel like, "Okay, why did I watch this movie?" (Okay, I know it was for class, but in other circumstances, that would have been my reaction). Other than the ending, it was a decent film. Everything looked nice and the acting was good. If only the ending were a bit better... But honestly, if you want to watch something that have servants as main characters, I would go for Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs instead.

There isn't much content to speak of in The Remains of the Day. It is rated PG for Themes, which might be because of the talk about the politics in Germany when the Nazis were coming into power. Other than that, there really wasn't much that was objectionable.

The Remains of the Day is available on DVD. It runs for 134 minutes.


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