September 25, 2020  (Web Review)

Howards End

PBS, 229 min., not rated, DVD: $29.99, SDH captioned, 2020.   

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Adapted from E.M. Forster’s well-known novel Howards End, this mini-series conveys Forster’s theme, language, and setting skillfully and is as enjoyable as the 1992 film (Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave).  Written for television (PBS and Starz) by Kenneth Lonergan and directed by Hettie MacDonald, the four-part series tells the story of three families; the self-made Wilcox family, the modestly wealthy Schlegel siblings, and the underprivileged Bast couple.  Casting is very suitable and lead stars include Hayley Atwell as the independent Miss Margaret Schlegel, Matthew MacFadyen as the serious Mr. Henry Wilcox, and Philippa Coulthard as the spirited Helen Schlegel. 

Howards End is the original home of Henry’s wife Ruth and sits in the countryside within easy commuting distance of London.  In 1910, new communities were changing the English landscape.  Houses in London were being replaced with flats. Margaret, her sister Helen, and younger brother Timmy Schlegel live in a London house that soon will be replaced with flats.  While overseas, Margaret and Helen meet the Wilcoxes during a visit at Howards End.  Ruth and Henry have three grown children: Charles, Paul, and Evie.  While Helen spends time with the Wilcoxes, she becomes fond of the country house and gardens and has a brief flirtation with Paul that ends in a cancelled engagement.  Embarrassed and hurt, Helen returns home.  

Not long after, Henry and Ruth Wilcox rent a flat across the street from the Schlegels in London.  Margaret becomes friends with the homesick Ruth. Just before Ruth passes away, she pencils a note to her husband asking that Howards End be given to Margaret, who is unaware of her wishes. When Henry Wilcox discovers the request, the children protest and the oldest son Charles burns the note.  The house is rented out and Henry Wilcox finds another house to live in.  A few years later, Margaret and Henry become reacquainted and marry.  

The Bast couple become entwined with both families, meeting Helen and Margaret at a music concert. Later, Helen gives Leonard Bast advice that he should leave his job based on Mr. Wilcox’s inside knowledge.  Bast quits his job, secures another position, but is let go, ending up more destitute, leaving Helen feeling responsible for their plight. 

As the title implies, Howards End is at the heart of the story and all of the plot elements come together at the picturesque house in the end.  With wonderful characterization and illustrative scenes of Edwardian England in juxtaposition—houses and flats, carriages and motor cars, and tree-lined country roads and railways. Howards End is a pleasure to watch.  Highly recommended.  Aud: H, C, P. (T. Root)