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Howards End is a 1992 film adaptation of E. M. Forster's 1910 novel Howards Endmarker, a story of class relations in turn-of-the-20th-century Englandmarker. The film was produced by Merchant Ivory Productions, their third adaptation of a Forster novel (following A Room with a View in 1986 and Maurice in 1987). The screenplay was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant.


The story takes place in England at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is about three families who represent three social classes: the Wilcoxes, who are rich Victorian capitalists and who represent the class that is displacing the aristocracy; the Schlegel sisters, who represent the enlightened bourgeois class; and the Basts who are the lower middle-class. Forster is clear, however, that the novel is 'not concerned with the very poor.' The film asks the question 'Who will inherit England?' and answers it through the ownership of the house, Howards End, as it passes from person to person.

At the start of the film, the younger sister, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter), rashly becomes engaged to the younger Wilcox son, Paul. The next day both realise their mistake and break it off but Helen has sent a letter to her family announcing their relationship. Her Aunt Juley (Prunella Scales) arrives at Howards End and so makes the Wilcox family aware of an engagement that the two young people would rather have kept from them. Later, when the Wilcox family takes a house near to the Schlegels in London, the older sister, Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), feels compelled to visit because of the social embarrassment of the previous year. She befriends the mother, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). Ruth is descended from English yeoman stock and it is through her family that the Wilcoxes own Howards End, a house which she dearly loves and which is the symbol of rural England and English tradition. Over the course of a few months, the two women become close and Ruth sees in Margaret a kindred spirit. Hearing that the Schlegels are to be turned out of their apartment when their lease ends, and knowing she is soon to die due to an illness that she has kept from her family, Ruth bequeaths Howards End to Margaret. This causes great consternation for the Wilcoxes, who refuse to believe that Ruth was in her "right mind" or intended her home to go to a relative stranger. The Wilcoxes burn the piece of paper that Ruth's bequest is written on, and decide to keep her will secret. Because he knows that he has prevented the Schlegels from finding a home in Howards End, Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) offers to help Margaret find a new place to live. As a result, the two become close and Henry proposes. Margaret accepts.

A parallel plotline involves the younger sister, Helen. Whilst the Schlegels are still living in the London flat, and about the same time as the Wilcoxes arrive in the neighbourhood, Helen attends a lecture about Beethoven and accidentally leaves the hall with an umbrella belonging to the clerk Leonard Bast (Samuel West). He follows her and calls at the house to retrieve it. Later, his lover Jacky finds the Schlegels' card in Leonard's possessions and is convinced he is having an affair.

In a fit of jealousy she calls on the Schlegels but leaves after an embarrassing scene due partly to the sisters having forgotten Leonard after the umbrella incident. Leonard returns to the house to make an apology and during tea the sisters find that he has an ambition to better himself through the kind of literature and sentiments that they share. They begin a project to improve his lot, and take advice from Henry Wilcox about Leonard's financial situation. Henry advises that Leonard should leave his post at the insurance company because it is heading for a crash. Leonard does so but the advice is premature and he finds himself in a worse position and eventually unemployed.

The two plotlines come together at the marriage party of Evie Wilcox (daughter of Henry and Ruth). Helen has found the Basts starving and brings them to the party. Jacky Bast becomes drunk and she comes to the attention of Margaret, who approaches her with Henry to find out who she is. Jacky recognises Henry and it becomes clear that some years previously he had an affair with her and that she had effectively to prostitute herself in order to survive. Humiliated, Henry breaks off the engagement but that evening he and Margaret are reconciled and she forgives his sexual impropriety and infidelity. She insists that Helen take the Basts away and refuses them help, in accordance with Henry's wishes and sense of pride.

Because of this, the Schlegel sisters drift apart. Helen has spent time with Leonard and we see an idyllic moment spent on a boat in a romantic scene. After this, Helen drifts away from Margaret and stays in very distant contact with her, much to Margaret's puzzlement. After several months, Helen comes back for her possessions, intending to move to Germany for good. She asks if she can keep them at Howards End and stay there for the night, in order to avoid contact with everyone. However, it is revealed that she is pregnant with Leonard's child. He is not aware of this. When Henry Wilcox finds out, he insists that she cannot stay in the house, and that the man responsible must be found out and punished for dishonouring her.

Margaret and Henry argue bitterly about the different standards of sexual propriety applied to men and women and Margaret says she is leaving Henry. Margaret, Leonard and the oldest Wilcox son Charles (James Wilby) all make their way separately to Howards End and the final tragedy unfolds. Charles inadvertently kills Leonard, and is later taken away by the police.

Ultimately, Ruth Wilcox's wish is fulfilled: Helen is eventually reconciled with Margaret who now owns Howards End, where Helen will raise her son as its heir. In both film and novel, the final ownership of Howards End is a symbol of new class relations in England: the wealth of the new industrialists (the Wilcoxes) married to the politically reforming vision of liberalism (the Schlegels) that will benefit the children of the lower classes (the Basts).

Filming locations

Part of the movie was filmed at the Baltic Exchangemarker, 30 St. Mary Axemarker, Londonmarker. Soon after filming there it was bombed by the IRA, razed, and another building erected on its site. Other scenes were shot in the quadrangle of the Founder's Building at Royal Holloway, University of Londonmarker, in Surreymarker. [19946] The "Howards End" house in the countryside is Peppard Cottage in Rotherfield Peppardmarker, Oxfordshire, and the Wilcox's house is nearby .

The film received massive critical acclaim. On June 5, 2005, Roger Ebert included it on his list of "Great Movies."



The score was composed by Richard Robbins, elements of the score based on Percy Grainger's works Bridal Lullaby and Mock Morris. The piano pieces were performed by the English concert pianist Martin Jones.





Other adaptations

  • Along with several other Merchant-Ivory movies, Howard's End was parodied in the 1998 comedy, Stiff Upper Lips. Castmembers Prunella Scales and Samuel West appeared in the film.
  • A television adaptation of the novel was broadcast in 1970 with Leo Genn and Glenda Jackson.


  1. IMDB Filming locations for Howards End (1992). Retrieved on March 6, 2007.
  2. :: :: Great Movies :: Howards End (xhtml)

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