So close and yet so far… 💔
According to the desk calendar, Mr. Stevens hired Miss Kenton on October 25th.
… originally Meryl Streep was supposed to play Miss Kenton?
The part of Miss Kenton is one of only four movie roles for which Meryl Streep has ever been turned down.
Surely Meryl would have lived up to that part but I can’t imagine any other actress in that role.
Miss Kenton is the character that made me fall in love with Emma.
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.
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.
1 – Miss Kenton – The remains of the day (1993)
2 – Fiona Maye – The children act (2017)