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On Nov. 5, 1993, Columbia Pictures unveiled James Ivory’s adaptation of The Remains of the Day in theaters. The film would go on to earn eight Oscar nominations at the 66th Academy Awards, including best picture. The Hollywood Reporter‘s original review is below:
One has to go back as far as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai to find an English character so frustrating and fascinating as Stevens, the proud and rigidly duty-bound butler at the center of The Remains of the Day.
Featuring a truly colossal performance by Anthony Hopkins as Stevens — the self-sacrificing ideal of professionalism and dignity employed by an influential Nazi sympathizer — this new Merchant-Ivory film is bound for glory at the box office, as well as sure to earn honors rivaling last year’s Oscar-winning Howards End.
Taking more than the usual liberties with the source material, Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1989 novel of the same name, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has reached new levels of narrative magic. Starting with a mid-’50s road journey by the aging Stevens — his first real departure from the confines of Darlington Hall — the film jumps back and forth in time to illuminate pre-World War II events of both a personal and far wider import.
On the personal side, Stevens hires and then struggles inwardly with Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), the housekeeper who strives to crack his armor and find the caring man underneath. He also employs his father (Peter Vaughan), a former head butler beginning to show his age, in what could become a personally satisfying and comforting situation.
But Stevens has intensely formal standards to maintain in the service of Lord Darlington (James Fox), whose own sense of honor leads to reconciliation with former enemy Germany and helps that country rebuild its military might in the 1930s.
The complexities of the issues involved are aptly paralleled by the personal conflicts and poignant attraction between Stevens and Miss Kenton. While not as romantic as past Merchant-Ivory offerings, The Remains of the Day packs enough passion and emotional resonance to appeal to a wide variety of audiences.
In addition to Hopkins’ tour de force — which is largely achieved through his penetrating eyes, body language and facial expressions — the performances are uniformly excellent. Thompson is once again at top form, equal parts self-pity and heart-tugging empathy for the tragically self-deluded Stevens. Even still-boyish Christopher Reeve as an American congressman is on the mark.
Director James Ivory brings out the best of his collaborators — cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, costume designers Jenny Beaven and John Bright, composer Richard Robbins and production designer Luciana Arrighi. Beautiful to look at and deeply moving in many scenes, The Remains of the Day is evidence that this group of filmmakers are on an amazing winning streak. — David Hunter, originally published on Sept. 24, 1993.
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