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Jane Austen quote

TV review: Howards End (2017)

In Howards End, the lives of three very different Edwardian families become entangled: the Schlegel siblings are intellectual young adults, the Wilcox family rich capitalists and Leonard and Jacky Bast belong to the lower-class working poor. Margaret Schlegel, the eldest sibling, befriends an ailing Ruth Wilcox. When Ruth dies, she leaves Margaret the family home of Howards End through a note scribbled on a piece of paper. Her widower Henry, decides not to honour this wish, but later becomes romatically involved with none other than Margaret. Meanwhile, idealistic younger sister Helen Schlegel keeps trying to help the Basts, but unintentionally makes things worse.
I might have read Howards End once, in my late teens, but it's too bad, I just cannot remember... I know I read something by Forster, when I was just starting to read classic English literature and it went wáy over my head, haha! Anyway, I didn't remember the story, so watching this recent four-part BBC adaptation was a real discovery for me.

First things first: doesn't it all look lovely! Ofcourse this is something we've come to expect from BBC period dramas, but still, it should be said and praised! The costumes, the settings, it's a real feast for the eyes. What is also fun is how much the differences in costumes and interiors reinforce the difference between the Schlegels and the Wilcox family. By the way: I just loved the colourful, cluttery but cosy home of the Schlegel siblings, I definitely felt for them when they had to leave that place.

The BBC choose a mix of established and new-to-the-scene actors for this adaptation. I absolutely adored Hayley Atwell in her role as Margaret, she was so strong, a great portrayal of the 'heart' of this story. Though I liked her chemistry with Matthew Macfadyen, I'm not entirely sure about his role as Henry Wilcox. For one thing, wasn't he a little bit too young for the role? He really didn't look old enough to be the father of Charles and Evie, even with his rather fetching beard ;-) Secondly, somehow it is really hard to dislike Macfadyen's Henry, even when he is at his most self righteous and paternalizing. And I think we are meant to dislike Henry or at least be very wary of him. But Matthew Macfadyen just has such a kind face, so I don't know how suitable he really was for this character. I had never seen Philippa Coulthard (playing Helen Schlegel) before, though she does have quite a number of credits to her name already. I really liked her energetic portrayal of Helen very much and she looks very much at home in Edwardian dresses!

Howards End really is not a cosy period drama, not something like Downton Abbey, to curl up on the sofa with. It's too full of drama and human conflicts for that, too much is happening in all the relationships that you really should be on the edge of your seat for. This is very nicely punctuated in this adaptation by all the unfinished sentences and people rushing after each other, trying to explain. It left me at least with a lot of food for thought and a wish to understand what it was exactly that Forster was trying to say with this story. The ending I found to be very rushed though. It all went from total chaos to bliss-in-the-summer-sunshine in less than 5 minutes and for me, this detracted from the story. (Maybe this is a Forster thing though, A Room With A View also ends very suddenly).

All in all, Howards End was a very interesting offering from the BBC. A chance to enjoy their excellence in producing historical drama and some great acting. I might even venture forth and pick up the novel (again?), now that I'm old enough to 'get' it!

Did any of you watch this new Howards End miniseries? Maybe some of you know the novel and can tell me whether it was a good adaptation!


I did not watch it yet but I want to. I read the book in my teens (I read most of Forster's books) and I enjoyed it. That said, I don't actually remember it that well. I liked his other books much better and mainly what I remember is the 90s adaptation with Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, and Helena Bonham-Carter. Mainly just Emma and Helena! (I love both of them, especially in period dramas ...) This cast has a lot to live up to! Though I'm actually not that worried, they look excellent. Matthew MacFadyen does seem quite young though. I'm pretty sure he's old enough for the role, but you are absolutely right - he just doesn't look it!

I feel like I want to reread the book first though, before I watch, because I do remember so little. I have the feeling that Forster is the kind of writer where every time you reread you discover new levels of subtlety the older you get and the more experience you acquire.

Yes, this book already has a highly lauded and much loved adaptation, so I can understand there was some hestitation for this new adaptation.

Matthew Macfadyen is actually 'only' 43, which I guess is old enough to have adult children (especially in the Edwardian era). The problem was just that the actors playing his children were nowere near 20 or so!
I really enjoyed this adaption! I agree, it was absolutely gorgeous! Hayley Atwell looked so perfect in the Edwardian fashions and I loved Howards End itself. I've been really wanting her and Matthew Macfadyen to play opposite each other but I agree that his was a very strange casting choice. Mr. Wilcox is the worst, so it was hard to separate my hatred for the character from my love for the actor.

It has been a long while since I've watched a new British period drama that felt so lush and beautiful. It seems like not a lot of other people were big fans though, unfortunately.

I think it was overall a really faithful adaption. Margaret does argue/confront Henry more than she does in the book (which was in my opinion more satisfying so I don't mind the change). The flaws in the miniseries are the same flaws as in the book. Forster does tend to jump around from plot point to plot point without giving a lot of foundation. Too many times he tells us that people did things or made decisions but never makes the reader really understand WHY. The ending is pretty much exactly the same and it was definitely odd and jarring in the book too.
I think it's hard if a book already has such a loved and lauded adaptation, for a new one to find fans.

It's good to know that the miniseries is faithful to the book.
I can understand why they chose to make Margaret stand up for herself more, in this day and age.
I enjoyed it too. I read the book at college and it was pretty faithful.