Doctor Richard Carlisle takes Stevens to the car, helps him fill the fuel tank and after hearing his story about lord Darlington he seems intrigued and asks Stevens a question: “If a mistake was to be made, wouldn’t you rather have made your own?”
Carlisle is a fringe figure in the film, who Stevens meets on his way to the appointment with Miss Kenton but his words make Stevens aware that he made a mistake that he intends to remedy.
Becoming servants was the only way out to redeem a life of poverty and people who lived downstairs wanted to improve their working position.
“Downstairs” there was a world teeming with hope, jealousy, strife, dedication to work, sufferings and small joys.
Sometimes the servants got married and left the house. For the butler and the housekeeper, instead, it was difficult (if not impossible) to make a life outside work because they were the highest servants in rank, they were perpetually committed of service to their employers and they had many responsibilities, also over other staff such as training new staff members, organising the staff schedule, and hiring or firing the underservants. So almost always they retired without ever getting married.
Mr Stevens is the quintessence of the perfect butler and he never really gives Miss Kenton’s love a chance. Their relationship is so frustrating and every time she tries to start a romantic conversation with him, he systematically brings the conversation back to a professional level. The sweet fondness between Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes of Downton Abbey brings to mind the story of Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton so I’m sure that their relationship is inspired by The Remains of the day.
Unlike Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton, Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes choose to give themselves a chance perhaps because they are older and on the threshold of retirement, maybe because they fear the prospect of facing old age in solitude. Anyway the decide to get married.
But the relationship (emotional and professional) between the butler and the housekeeper is not the only similarities between “The remains of the day” and “Downton Abbey”. Many scenes are inspired by “The remains of the day”, starting with the butler who irons the newspaper, the table set using the measuring tape and another pivotal scene in which we see Carson mirroring himself in the tray as Stevens did stealthily.
There is another scene borrowed from “The remains of the day” which concerns two other characters: Edith on her bicycle makes us immediately think about the arrival of Miss Kenton at Darlington Hall, both bikes are black and have a basket on the handlebars and the two women are both wearing hat and black gloves, although some details in the clothing show us the different social class of the two.
But if “The remains of the day” has highlighted Steven’s blind fidelity to Lord Darlington showing the incommunicability between the servants and the lords, divided as two different worlds, “Downton Abbey” focuses on two worlds that often communicate and sometimes meet, it shows the analogies between the servants and the nobles facing love and life problems, and gives everyone the chance for redemption and the hope and the possibility of a better life.
In-depth study of Stevens personality and barrier objects (The remains of the day).
Mr Stevens pays maniacal attention to his duties as a butler. He is meticulous and impeccable at all times and nothing escapes his expert eyes. He never takes off his butler suit, even in private.
He sets the table down to the tiniest detail, his focus is dignity and lack of external emotions. To achieve perfection he sacrifices his private life until an external factor comes to upset his routine: is the new housekeeper, Miss Kenton, a young woman who, day by day, develops an emotional attachment to him.
He perceives Miss Kenton as threatening and intrusive especially when she invades his private time by entering the room bringing flowers to brighten the parlor.
He is frightened because Miss Kenton might raise emotions and distract him from his duties, so he admits that he places his thoughts elsewhere while she chatters away.
In fact, although they always are “Mr. Stevens” and “Miss Kenton” to one another, the pair develop strong feelings for each other without stating them directly.
His restraint prevents him from revealing his feelings to Miss Kenton but maybe he’s not even aware that he loves her.
This undeclared, compelling romance wears down Miss Kenton, who craves his love, threatening to wed another but he denies his feelings and he always wears his mask made of a proper inscrutable facade.
He always knows what he is doing, he knows if he is allowed to talk or if he just has to serve at the table but Miss Kenton is unpredictable and often disrupts his plans forcing him to batten down the hatches.
So he puts barriers to their closeness to keep the distance, but what are the main physical obstacles between the two protagonists?
The desk, the window, the keyhole and the smoke of his cigar.
The desk is the place behind which he hurries to seek shelter when she comes too close. It also reminds the formal nature of their relationship as butler and housekeeper and his highest position than she at Darlington Hall.
The window is the glass barrier that allows him to look at her when she leaves the house.
The keyhole is the slot through which he looks at her secretly.
The thick smoke of the cigar is a ruse to keep her at a safe distance and he often puffs smoke towards her while speaking.
Hopkins makes his character’s vulnerability visible in the eyes, and in the smallest of gestures but his attitude remains professional and detached.
Anthony Hopkins, as well as Emma, is able to give his best in the speechless scenes, they are both able to speak with their eyes and their facial expressions better than any other actor in the world.
Stevens shows no emotion but we can feel his suffering when he gazes at the departing Miss Kenton from the window.
Actually Mr Stevens is extremely attracted to Miss Kenton and he constantly stifles his desire for her. The audience perceive his inner turmoil, feeling sorry for him. His heartbroken expression at Miss Kenton’s harsh words and the wounded pride written on his face when she later apologizes, always bring tears to my eyes because I feel his despair despite his usual exterior coldness.
The moment they fail to declare their love they miss the last chance for happiness and even in that moment, when she goes over the desk and reaches him behind it and they are so close that their faces almost touch, he raises a hand, as desperate defense, to protect himself from a dreaded kiss and he brings back the arm by his side only when she has left the room releasing him from his fears.
Although they are in love with each other, their feelings will never lead to engagement: their chance is lost, Miss Kenton cannot overcome the barriers created by Mr Stevens, the erected wall is saved forever.
In the last picture the flowers she brought stand out overbearing ironically towards him almost to blame his inadequacies becoming the umpteenth fence that separates him from life and love.
Emma Thompson’s performance as Miss Kenton is ranked #52 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 greatest performances of all time.
Miss Kenton is the main female character on The remains of the day.
She does not substitute Lord Darlington’s values for her own, she makes her own decisions, fighting to defend her ideals. She is fragile but also very determined. In the end she makes a painful but inevitable choice and Emma’s performance is terrific, the spectators are involved in her inner suffering but they are also fascinated by Miss Kenton’s desire to find fulfillment beyond working life, despite an apparent unrequited love.
During their “Merchant Ivory period”, Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins developed a fantastic chemistry on screen, they generated electricity on screen and their performances in both Howards End and The Remains of the Day are stunning!
They have been poignant and believable as a loving couple despite the age difference.
While Howards End was Emma’s movie (it earned her an Oscar), The Remains of the day belongs to Anthony Hopkins and he gives probably his best performance ever.
Emma affirmed that there is something similar about their characters in both films, “especially the fact that it’s based on tremendous attraction.”
In that period they were defined the new Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
Ivory said “Hopkins and Thompson jointly create such an absolutely magical world, onscreen and off, that I never try to twist out of shape what they do.”
They played together recently on King Lear and Emma told they were happy to meet and work together again after so many years, and she also said aging has its bright sides, “isn’t it wonderful being old? it doesn’t matter what we do, we don’t care what we do because we have no fear anymore, we are not frightened and if it fails it doesn’t matter!”.
When Graham Norton asked Hugh Grant how he felt about the leading ladies he’s worked with, he said Emma Thompson is “clever, funny, and mad as a chair”.
Emma and Hugh worked together in Impromptu, The remains of the day, Sense and sensibility and Love actually.
Edward’s proposal scene is very romantic. When Elinor finds out that he is not married, she bursts into uncontrollable tears. This has become an iconic scene, but during the shooting Hugh Grant said: “Are you going to cry all the way through my speech? You absolutely can’t, you’ll ruin it!” and Emma answered: “I promise I won’t but let’s do it, that’s funny!”.
The years go by, her acting becomes more conscious and thrilling but Emma completely inhabits the characters she plays from the inside and so some body movements and gestures remain the same even after so many years. For instance, these two photos show the way she bites or purses her lips when she’s thoughtful.
This is my personal ranking of the 5 best roles played by Emma.
Do you agree? Please, let me know which one do you prefer and why.
1 – Miss Kenton – The remains of the day (1993)
Head housekeeper at Darlington Hall.
She developes an emotional relationship with the butler, Mr Stevens, who rather hides and overlooks his feelings.
She realizes Mr Stevens’ blind trust in Lord Darlington and often faces him with harsh words.
She loves him (and he probably reciprocates her love) but they are unable to express their feelings. Lovelorn struggle is a heavy burden to stand so eventually she makes a rash decision to spite him and this will sadly lead their lives to unhappiness.
2 – Fiona Maye – The children act(2017)
Leading High Court judge.
She is a smart career-oriented woman who neglected her husband for work.
She is called on to decide the fate of a 17-year-old boy Jehovah’s Witness who, for religious reasons, refuses a blood transfusion.
She decides to visit him in hospital and this encounter will change their lives.
3 – P. L. Travers – Saving Mr Banks (2013)
Author of Mary Poppins.
Shrew, annoying, hard to please, flies to Los Angeles to negotiate the sale of Mary Poppins’ rights to Walt Disney.
She is complicated, contradictory and inconsistent but she is also a vulnerable creature; she befriends Ralph, her personal driver but, above all, the only American she doesn’t hate.
4 – Katherine Newbury– Late night (2019)
Popular talk show host.
Her show is in decline and she tries to revitalize it by hiring a young Indian woman.
She is despotic and overbearing but also ironic and witty.
This is a funny character to play. Emma Thompson truly seems like a born talk-show host.
5 – Margaret Schlegel – Howards End (1992)
Intellectual woman of the early 1900s.
She is profoundly forgiving and understanding, passionate about art, literature and political discussions, friendly and cheerful.
She spends her days in intellectual conversations aided by her wealthy inheritance.
She takes care of her younger siblings, Helen and Tibby, taking on the role of a mother figure and she marries a pragmatic close-minded businessman not inclined to philosophy and literature.
This character earned Emma the Oscar for the best leading actress.