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!”.
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.
The remains of the day is my favorite film, the one that made me discover and appreciate Emma’s skills.
The film tells the story of Mr Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), a loyal butler who has dedicated the whole life to his employer, Lord Darlington, an old misguided gentleman who sympathizes with the Nazis. Stevens never questions his lord but remains faithful to him.
Stevens is emotionally blocked, dignity is the only word in his vocabulary and he blindly trusts his master. There is no room for feelings in his life, only work counts for him.
Something changes with the hire of a new housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), whose references satisfy Mr Stevens’ high expectations, he defines her “a young woman with excellent references, very pleasant demeanor, who appears to be very able”. She soon falls in love with him, makes him waver but not enough to declare his love. He certainly develops an affection towards her but his emotional detachment keeps the relation from growing.
The body language is essential to understand the attitude of the characters, Miss Kenton is always connected with other people, she seeks physical contact while Mr Stevens avoids it. He is aloof and unemotional most of the time and he only relaxes when he is alone in his private room, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and listening to old records.
As time passes they work well together and their relationship becomes friendly but they don’t have the courage to confess their love, even if sometimes their friendship looks like a romance. Stevens often hesitates but never yelds even when Miss Kenton comes forward and tries to draw closer to him.
Whenever the two are in the same room, there is always a hurdle that stands in their possible proximity. The more used prop in this film, to separate phisically Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton is the desk in Stevens’ private room. He always hides behind the desk when he feels in danger, and the threat, for him, is the physical closeness of the housekeeper and the desk metaphorically represents the insurmountable wall for miss Kenton.
He is only able to look at her through a barrier, for instance there’s a scene in the movie where Mr Stevens watches her through the door’s keyhole. Another scene shows Mr Stevens secretly spying her through the windows while she is leaving Darlington Hall by bicycle. This explains how is he emotionally disconnected.
She, on the contrary, feels comfortable with him and seeks his company, brings him flowers, she often enters his room and jokes with him.
There’s a moment (their only) in which they are really closer, it’s the climax of the movie but something comes up and they start to pull away ruthlessly and forever.
The most compelling scene of the movie opens with Miss Kenton who enters Mr Stevens’ room bringing in flowers while he is dozing with a book in his hands. He wakes up and she asks him what is he reading. He feels exposed and won’t tell her what sort of book he’s reading but she becomes pushy and keeps on chasing him with questions about the content of the book. “Is it racy?” She says with a suggestive smile on her face and she looks very excited by this. She stares at him funny and he hurries behind the desk alarmed by her gumption but this time she doesn’t stop, she is bold as never before, maybe she thinks this is the right time to declare each other.
She steps around the desk and joins him. Stevens is in the corner, completely helpless while she tries to gently tear the book from his hands. It’s a great emotional scene, he is torn between the will to touch Miss Kenton’s hair and the fear of their proximity and the fall of every barrier.
James Ivory’s direction is spectacular and makes this scene even more intense thanks to the play of lights and shadows that create an intimate atmosphere and arouse deep emotions.
Stevens is still as petrified but he can’t hide the liveliness of his eyes that peer into Miss Kenton’s face trying to fix eternally in his memory the beauty of her face and the uniqueness of that once-in-a-lifetime moment for him.
I think this is the most beautiful and romantic scene in the history of cinema. There are neither kisses nor hugs but their emotions are burning and the mutual desire is about to explode, she ogles with him looking forward to that kiss that will never come. He wants her and yet he stands still and so the mood abruptly breaks.
Stevens is aware of her feelings but is not able to reciprocate. Only during their final rendez-vous Stevens reaches awareness of wasted time and long last sees Miss Kenton in a romantic light but it’s too late because she has married another man to spite him.
This is the story of lost opportunities, unlived love, unspoken words, regret, despair, hidden and never confessed deep longing.
A must see film even if too heartbreaking.
Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins at their best, with their furtive glances, superb control of the nuances, restrained emotions, they are really a wonder to behold.
Put together two great actors, a marvelous screenplay and a high level director, then you will get a masterpiece!
“The book scene” is one of the most touching love scene ever shot, although there are no kisses but Emma admitted that Anthony Hopkins “is a human volcano, quietly ready to go off”, so she was completely breathless at the end of each take.
Miss Kenton (the housekeeper) and Mr Stevens (the butler) are in love with each other but they never come out explicitly. This scene shows us the moment when they finally are phisically closest and she wants to snatch a book out of Mr Stevens’s hand to see if he is reading a racy book. They start flirting together, the emotional tension reaches the climax when she gets closer and closer and puts him in the corner while he’s keeping his eyes glued to her face.
The music becomes dramatic, Ivory skilfully uses lights and shadows and we can feel that the unspoken love has filled the room.