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Howards End

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Director James Ivory's -- and producer Ismail Merchant's -- and scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's -- third try at E.M. Forster, after their Room with a View and their Maurice. The third time's the charm. The diminished satirical element as compared, say, to Room with a View, and diminished comical element, and diminished whimsical element, will mitigate the usual complaints of timidity, coziness, preciosity. There remains nevertheless plenty of amusement, because E.M. Forster was an amusing fellow and because the British cast -- Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, Nicola Duffett -- are archly expert. But what mainly makes this one, in contrast to those others, so utterly absorbing are the old-fashioned pleasures of its plot. And for all its British understatement, its "classical" good taste, its fine irony, its subtle, sly, and leisurely unfoldment, it does not stint on sensationalism. (It simply -- thanks to all that understatement and good taste and so on -- does not have to strain so hard to get the effect.) This kind of thing, unlike the particulars of class divisions, sexual double standards, and the rest, is not something that goes stale with age. (1992) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG

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