The Remains of the Day (1993)


In virtually an all-star cast, with stunning glimpses into British servant hood, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson star in the story of a refined and dedicated head butler who sacrificed body and soul to service in the years prior to WWII and later realizes how misguided his loyalty had been. Stevens hopes to attain perfection and the men and women beneath his care are the most approved servants in England. The enormous country house, presided over by a prestigious and somewhat creepy Lord Darlington, is home to much controversy and amusement, as the master of the manor frequently engages the company of illustrious and important foreign and national delegates. About this time, the housekeeper is married to the footman and takes herself away, leaving her position open to young Miss Kenton, of whom Stevens seems to have a particular dislike. 


Under the direction of Lord Darlington, Steven's father is also taken into the house staff as the under-butler but as Miss Kenton observes, he is constantly forgetful and overworked; yet his son will not agree to a change in routine. Indeed, the older gentleman seems to share his son's ideas of perfection and non-emotional disinterest in all manners that do not pertain to house and grounds. Lord Darlington is known throughout the provinces as a sympathizer of Germany, and attempts to bring about a peace conference, which is rudely interrupted by the outspoken American politician whom will later take over the manor after Darlington's death. 


The story is told in the now and then, changing between the memories of Stevenson and the reality as he takes a much-needed holiday to visit Miss Kenton. It is a misguided romance, in which the players are awkward in one another's presence and proves the frailty of human emotions. His obvious oblivion to the strong attraction between himself and Miss Kenton is made more charming than of an annoyance, and their many little quibbles and discordances will bring a smile to one's lips, from her subtle flirtations and cunning conversation, to a chancy little intrigue over his reading material. The story is slow-moving and undoubtedly will bore more impatient individuals, but for one who loves gently-unfolding plots and gorgeous settings, it is ideal, from the crystal and silver to the great sprawling manor of Darlington. The characters are engaging, although it takes time to know them truly, and many familiar faces appear in minor roles -- perhaps a boost into their careers.


There are no improprieties and nothing worthy of complaint (aside from the slow-moving storyline itself), and indeed, I cannot understand how The Remains of the Day managed a PG rating -- or PG13 for that matter. (There seems to be some uncertainty over the fact -- Amazon has it listed as PG, while the copy I rented was PG13.) There are hardly any instances of profanity (one or two of "Good Lord" and two of "d*mn") and while various servants do share a few kisses here and there, they're innocent and not worthy of notation. The performances are strong, and the music positively haunting. All in all, for those of us with patience -- the lovers of Sense & Sensibility, or The Winslow Boy -- it's a charming, if saddening, way to spend an afternoon, a story of love, politics, duty, and history.


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