‘I was too busy serving to listen to the speeches…’
There is nothing more tragic than the idea that someone has wasted their life. I often wonder whether my slavish devotion to books, films and music is the best way to spend my brief time in the world of the living. But then a new episode of Rick & Morty comes out, and I forget all about such philosophical ruminations. The Remains of the Day takes this concept, and stretches it out over two long hours…
Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is a butler whose utter loyalty and devotion to his employer, Lord Darlington (James Fox) is misplaced. Set before and after World War II, The Remains of the Day highlights how it is that decent man can do nothing in the face of unspeakable evil. Stevens is so captivated with his role as head butler that he fails to see the advances of fellow employee Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) and the ailing health of his father (Peter Vaughan). Hugh Grant and Christopher Reeve round off a starry cast as Stevens’ conscience and an American diplomat respectively.
The problem with The Remains of the Day is that while it is wonderfully acted, it is also wonderfully dull for long stretches. This is not a film of action. Rather, it is a film moulded in the image of its star – Anthony Hopkins. Measured, restrained, but with a swelling emotion behind the eyes. James Ivory’s film was nominated for eight Oscars and somehow contrived to win none of them, but it is Hopkins’ performance that was surely the most deserving, with Emma Thompson close at his heels. The two compliment each perfectly with Hopkins’ stoic determination acting as the perfect counterpoint to Thompson’s frustrated passion.
Based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name, The Remains of the Day asks some uncomfortable questions of those of us with a monomaniacal obsession with one thing. Can this ever be healthy or useful? The answer appears to be no. It is the journey to that answer that makes Ivory’s film so compelling.