I won’t go over the story in too much detail, it’s pretty well known by now. Basically it all hinges on who gets to inherit Howard's End, a beautiful old house. Themes of class and gender conflict are also ever present. Obviously we’ve come a long way since then though some elements remain relevant. This story is not really all that romantic like A Room with a View, marriage is more a practical consideration, it’s offered much like a business proposal. Lenoard Bast also seems fairly unenthusiastic about his partner, regarding it more as a sort of duty. Mr Wilcox is not only revealed to have been unfaithful to his wife but also remarries soon after her death. So again not very romantic.
The central characters are two sisters and the story focusses on the different choices they make. They start off quite similar and become progressively more different. They are both young, beautiful, posh, affluent and cultured, (everything we secretly aspire to be and everything most of us are not.) This makes them sound superficial, how can a modern 21st century audience relate to them? I mean even the rich have to work to be so now, rather than just attending concerts, discussing literature and being waited on by servants. The sisters are artistic, idealistic and liberally minded. Their assumptions come into conflict though when they encounter the Wilcox family, a family with an intelligent and charming yet hard-headed and stern father at its head. In the long run there's no real chance of a happy union between the two families who are polar opposites in outlook. The eldest son Charles inherits his father’s hardness and is essentially the closest thing the story has to an antagonist. To me the best aspect of the series was the unfolding dynamic between the two families, especially Margaret and Henry.
On the technical side the production values are excellent, pretty much everything is filmed practically, the wardrobe and set design are pretty flawless. The period motorcars, horse drawn carriages and steam trains also look brilliant and give the show high production values.
Though you can tell the series was filmed digitally for TV, the lighting is still really nice and natural looking without ever going all grey and shadowy like in the Crown. The overall look of the show manages to cool off things slightly in terms of colour. Flesh tones tend to be on the pale side, the camera movement is smooth and gorgeous, never drawing attention to itself and the editing is also slick and smooth. One thing I couldn’t help notice is how Helen is so often wearing red, really once you notice it you can’t help spotting it again each time. Red to reflect her passionate personality I suppose.
Having the two youngest siblings of both families hock up at the start and then suddenly break it all off hints that no love affair will go smoothly here.
One of the best things about this show are the performances from the 3 siblings they get Tibby right too, he’s probably a fair representation of how a young spoilt, rich sheltered boy would turn out in Edwardian England.
The soundtrack again is very pleasing without doing anything too strange or unusual, it's not very memorable though, just pleasant background music.
The costumes are all very nicely done, the female characters pretty much all wear long skirts up to their ribs and then long sleeve white blouses buttoned up to their throats. The men pretty much all wear three piece suits, usually dressing in black, white, grey or brown. The sisters are usually dressed more colourfully, perhaps to help pick them out in a crowd, perhaps to reflect their bohemian nature. I’ve often felt that the popularity of Edwardian dramas is really a return to the nostalgic warmth of this period, sandwiched between the gritty Victorian world and WWI, this period of just 12 years has produced some of best loved children’s fiction, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit, the Railway children, Peter Pan. It’s remembered nostalgically now for it’s elegant fashion, a time of top hats, gas lamps, coal fireplaces, telegrams, grandfather clocks, steam trains motor cars, cricket, concert halls, afternoon tea and imperial power.
When you look out your window now and see your neighbours half dressed, cigarette in one hand, smart phone in the other, tattoos all up their arms, huge bellies sticking out their t-shirts, you do just can’t help thinking isn’t this lost Edwardian world surely better than the present? A time before the roads became cluttered with cars, when you could open your window in London and listen to the birds sing or the odd horse clip clop past rather than the sound of lawn mowers, thumping music and the ever-present din of modern traffic. A time without the constant distraction of emails, messages, social media, etc. The appeal of a return to a simpler time with also have a strong appeal and I think it’s this which really draws people to Edwardian dramas. Or perhaps it’s more specifically the idea that you can longue around all day in beautiful surroundings just reading literarure and eating cakes while of course staying nice and thin.
The show delivers really well in lots of ways but I do want to mention a few negatives. Some of the casting is a bit misplaced, the Basts are bland really and not all that well developed or interesting. The actor who plays Leonard just looks bored and disinterested throughout most of it. The casting of so many ethnic minorities was also a bit much really. Do the BBC really believe the Chelsea Women’s Political Club would have been that racially diverse in 1910?
There’s only a 7 year age gap between the actor playing Mr Wilcox and the actress playing Margaret yet they try and make out it’s this big problem. Charles looks more like his brother than his son. I did like the interpretation of Margaret as very motherly towards her siblings in this one though. Also the way the series is split into 4 is a bit weird and doesn’t really work, episode 1 doesn’t have enough happen really. It’s better to just watch it all at once without the pauses. Ruth’s death was very sudden, there was no real hint of illness before. At times there was something almost plastic about Leonards face, I know they want the cooler look but his face was unnaturally smooth, white and plastic, and his eyes seemed too black, it just looked weird, I’m not sure if it was partly the camera lense they were using which probably makes the women look better and less lined, only poor Ruth Wilcox is shown with any wrinkles. On the plus though they took a few risks and did things differently, there’s no point doing just a shot for shot remake of the original film. The scene where Leonard is angry but unable to leave while he waits for his hatch, being goaded by Tibby heightening Helen's anxiety for example, good writing.