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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Remains Of The Day (1993)

"In my philosophy, Mr. Benn, a man cannot call himself well-contented until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer. Of course, this assumes that one's employer is a superior person, not only in rank, or wealth, but in moral stature."
- Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: November 22, 2001

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson
Other Stars: James Fox, Christopher Reeve, Hugh Grant, Peter Vaughan
Director: James Ivory

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 02h:14m:07s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 043396710979
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AA A-

DVD Review

There are few production teams that can manage a consistently high standard in their films as do Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. The two began their over thirty-year collaboration in 1961, when Merchant invited Ivory to India to produce their debut feature. The Householder (1963), would also put the pair in contact with novelist and screewriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who would become an integral part of the Merchant/Ivory team. After a series of films produced in India, Merchant and Ivory set to the task of bringing their first film adaptation of a major literary work to the screen with The Europeans (1979), based on the Henry James novel. They hit pay dirt with another literary adaptation, E.M. Forster's A Room With A View, which waas nominated for six Academy Awards ® , including Best Picture and Director, winning three. Forster would again provide the source for their greatest triumph, pairing the talents of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in 1992's Howard's End. Here, they captured a rare and beautiful performance in opulent style, bristling with humor and romantic undercurrents, and shot with Ivory's impecable attention to composition and period detail. Once again, nominations for Best Director and Picture would result, as would another trio of Oscars ® for the film, including Best Actress honors for Emma Thompson's performance.

Their followup, The Remains of the Day, this time based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, got off to a rather dubious start. Ivory had read the in progress script by Harold Pinter that Columbia had originally designated Mike Nichols to direct, with Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep as the stars. However, scheduling conflicts for Nichols meant significant delays; instead, Nichols became a producer, brought Merchant and Ivory on board, and Jhabvala undertook a rewrite of the script. Reuniting their Howard's End stars and adding the talents of James Fox, Christopher Reeve and a then relatively unknown Hugh Grant, the production had the ingredients to create a masterpiece, and that it did. The Remains Of The Day is about as perfect a picture as can be made.

Lewis: When did you last see the world, Stevens? Tell me.
Stevens: Well, in the past sir, the world always came to this house, in a manner of speaking.

The walls of Darlington House have seen the unfolding of history, and indeed taken part in its making. With the coming of the 1950s, this grand English estate has a new owner, after the death of its former Lord. The butler who has served for decades, James Stevens, remains, and as the film opens he begins a correspondence with Miss Kenton (Thompson), the housekeeper who had served during the 1930s. Stevens suggests to his new master, American millionaire Jack Lewis (Reeve), that Miss Kenton would make a valuable addition to their staff, and asks to travel to the West on a short holiday to seek her employment. Thus begins the story of Darlington House, its occupants, and the events that have transpired under its roof. In a series of flashbacks to the 1930s, recollections of the time shared by the two members of the serving staff are reflected upon.

As the world heads towards the Second World War, their Lord (James Fox), a proper English gentleman, with a deep-seated sense of honor and tradition, believes Germany has a right to rearm and free itself from the humiliating terms of the Versailles Treaty. As he gathers influential nobles and statesmen in meetings to discuss the situation in Europe, those in his employ do their duty to serve. As the relationship between Miss Kenton and Mr. Stevens is revealed, their professional intimacy belies their buried feelings for each other; proper to their class, this only serves to suffocate and deepen their loneliness. As the effect of their master's philosophy takes its toll on the household, their loyalty and allegiance is tested, as are their emotional ties to each other.

The success of this film comes from the quality inherent in every aspect of its production. The casting is brilliant: Anthony Hopkins, in the performance of his career, shines with his subdued and outwardly emotionless portrayal of a loyal servant, foresaking all in the service of his master. Emma Thompson provides his equally strong-willed counterpart, the housekeeper Miss Kenton, whose attempts to draw out the man she knows lies beneath a stalwart exterior meets with frustration and disappointment. The chemistry between these two is formidable, and Ivory's direction allows their powerful but unspoken emotions to seep through the actors' every expression—we sense exactly what they feel, and almost see their thought processes, while we empathetically suffer in their tempestuous silence.

"All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me. That's all my high principles are worth, Mr. Stevens." - Miss Kenton

While the work of Hopkins and Thompson certainly set the tone for the high level of performance, they are supported by a cast that also excels in their roles. James Fox carries the position of Lord of the house through flawlessly, exposing his well-meaning but misguided undertakings with humble authority. Christopher Reeve stands out as the opposing voice in the congregation as the American delegate who sees the dangers of what is transpiring within the walls of Darlington House, and Hugh Grant is brilliant as the godson who transforms from a naïve young visitor into an inquiring and matured young man. Most of the cast have multi-layered roles as both their younger and present day selves, which again is carried off to perfection.

Miss Kenton: Can if be that our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood afterall and can't trust himself?
Mr. Stevens:"Do you know what I am doing, Miss Kenton? I am placing my mind elsewhere while you chatter away."

These accomplished performances are equalled by brilliant screenwriting, cinematography and editing. Dialogue is effective and minimal, brimming with tension and underlying humor. Exchanges underscore the motivations of the characters, while withholding just enough to lead the audience into the emotional direction intended for each scene. The exposition of relationships, based on the repression demanded by servitude, form a basis for the inner conflict each character faces. One's place in society is to be adhered to, as is illustrated in both the hierarchy of the household staff and in the often humiliating degradation they face from the ruling class for their lack of worldly knowledge. The moral decisions presented to each character are also dealt with individually, giving cause for even greater tension between the players.

Filmed entirely on location, the visuals are sumptuous, from the magnificent and elegant interiors to the lush but somber greenery of the outdoors. Tony Pierce-Roberts' cinematography captures the emotional shadings and inner drama with intimate awareness. Framing and composition are highlighted in every shot, as in the entrance of a motorcar into a driveway and the backlit silhouettes during some of the more intimate exchanges between characters. The look is rich and filled with period detail. The editing transports us effortlessly back and forth through time as the story unfolds, presenting each scene as a work of art. Finally, Richard Robbins' score perfectly lends the right atmosphere at all times, either in its presence or lack thereof, satisfying and heightening the mood. This adds the coup de gráce, to an exquisitely beautiful and powerful film.

"History will be made in this house over the next few days. You can, every one of you, take great pride in the role you will play on this momentous occasion." - James Stevens

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is very well presented, providing justice to the earthy palette of the film. Past transfers have tended to be murky, but this one strikes a balance between the intentional darkness, and the deep browns and reds present in the gorgeous interior shots. In contrast, the vibrancy of outdoor greens or the stairwell's vivid turquoise also stand up well. Fine grain is present throughout, but is naturally rendered. Aliasing is minimal as is edge enhancement, which is limited to high contrast areas. This is easily the best I have ever seen this film.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanish, Portugeseyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Multiple language tracks are available, with the new 5.1 mix being the most open sounding. While the judicious score placement expands the soundstage considerably, for the most part surround channels are utilized solely for ambience. As the film is primarily dialogue, this focuses the soundfield to the center front, making the return of the score that much more dramatic.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, Emma Thompson
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Thankfully, Columbia has included a number of extra features here.

First is the feature-length commentary track by star Emma Thompson, director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant. Recorded in a group setting, there is a wealth of behind-the-scenes information presented, with Thompson in charge of sparking up conversation when the participants get caught up in watching the film, which they do on several occasions. As always, Thompson is bubbly and enthusiastic, and her coworkers display a sincere respect for their work and the story it represents.

An exclusive documentary, The Remains of the Day: A Filmakers Journey, running 29m:51s follows. Members of the production crew, including novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, producers Ismail Merchant and John Calley, director James Ivory and composer Richard Robbins provide insight into the making of the film through interview clips, along with stars Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox and Christopher Reeve, who offer modest critiques of their own performances as they praise their coworkers and director. Scenes from the film intercut the interview footage, as are many behind-the-scenes shots. Wardrobe and set designers also add their recollections of the process, discussing the complications of using the many locations that were combined to create the atmosphere of Darlington House, and the challenge of authentically recreating the people and places portrayed.

A second featurette (14m:61s) entitled Blind Loyalty, Hollow Honor: England's Fatal Flaw looks at the theme of appeasement as a central theme in The Remains of the Day. Cast and crew again discuss the period of history in which the film takes place, and how the attitudes of the time led to the rise of Hitler's Germany, as well as how these events were used in the film. These interviews are consistent with that of the Filmmaker's Journey.

"What happens within this house during the conference could have considerable repercussions on the whole course that Europe is taking." - Lord Darlington (James Fox)

A 1993 HBO special (28m:35s), comes next. Again we see the cast and crew discussing the making of the film, and the content here nicely enhances that in the other documentaries. Filmed during the production, this one focuses more on the main characters and their reactions to each other, and the two stories that make up the film: that set in the 1950s, and the recollections of Anthony Hopkins' Mr. Stevens in the 1930s.

Three deleted scenes are included, with optional commentary. These are presented open matte, allowing viewers to see the elements that would normally be cropped out for theatrical viewing, such as boom mikes, which James Ivory notes he thought would be interesting for audiences to view. The first is a photographic opportunity sequence between Christopher Reeve and Anthony Hopkins that occurs prior to Stevens' departure; this explains what will show up in the film as Stevens drives away. The second is an argument between Miss Kenton and Stevens, which again fills in a continuity detail we see in the film concerning methods of communication appropriate between house staff. The final scene between Hugh Grant and Hopkins would have been the bridge segment in the "birds and bees" side gag. Its choice of omission was a good one, not for the content, but it does contain an obvious continuity error and is stylistically similar to the scene that did make final cut. While in the context of the film they may not have been enhancements, they are certainly a welcome addition here.

Filmographies for the major cast and crew are provided, as well as an article by James Ivory on how the film came together, which is included on the inset leaflet.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

"Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way..." - Pink Floyd

Perhaps one of the finest character studies ever captured on film, The Remains of the Day features brilliant performances, breathtaking photography and a heart-rending story that places it at the forefront of period drama. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson command the screen as we look into the world of 1930s England. Columbia has delivered a disc that does the film justice. Very highly recommended.


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