Of that classic genre: lush sweeping Merchant-Ivory period film about how if only the men had stayed out of it and let the women manage things we could have saved a lot of trouble. Interesting that this seems to be what became of the Shakespearean comedy three hundred years later. That was a joke but now that I think about it, these Edwardian novels do hinge a lot of the plot and entertainment on mistaken identities and mix-ups and secrets and marriages. Only it is certainly a drama now. It’s funny, but it’s a drama.
And romantic. There are a lot of passions, and even more Reasons and Rules why these passions should be restrained, which is of course the most romantic thing the Western canon knows of. Personally the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen is in this movie, which is HELENA BONHAM CARTER’S HAIR. It is IMMENSE, just cascading down her back in thick wild rumples. She tries but that hair will NOT be restrained, it must grow free, and there of course is the metaphor.
What is not a metaphor, because it’s spelled out very directly, is how E.M. Forster feels about English class hierarchy, capitalism, and gendered behavior policing, which is: this malarky will be the death of us, it will lit-erally kill you, fuck it all. E.M. Forster is great. He was writing a whole century after Jane Austen but my mind puts them in the same British Lit category, and also has a clear preference. I like that Forster writes romances where a lot of stuff doesn’t work out. Austen, and she is the pinnacle of this and we love her for it, gives us that game of watching the characters figure it out bit by bit until they come together in the end, and it’s very satisfying. But what Forster does, which I find more exciting, is stuff like how he opens Howards End: with a couple getting together bang out the gate, only to promptly break it off and then the real story gets going.
Emma Thompson won an Oscar for this movie. As did the art direction, and another statue for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Merchant & Ivory’s screenwriter and the only person to have won both an Academy Award and the Man Booker Prize. Helena Bonham Carter’s hair did not win an award, but we still get to enjoy it forever.