Howards End is a movie for people who love houses. Its name comes from an old cottage in the country owned by the wealthy Wilcox family. Vanessa Redgrave plays Ruth Wilcox, who inherited Howards End from her brother, and she has a deep, emotional attachment to it. When the movie opens, she’s walking around the house and admiring it.
Ruth’s last wish when she dies is scribbled on a piece of scrap paper on her death bed: Howards End should go to her new friend, Miss Margaret Schlegel. Her husband Henry and children are understandably baffled by this request, and a little angry. Why would she leave the house to someone outside the family? Her daughter Evie rips the paper up and tosses it into the fire.
Emma Thompson plays Margaret Schlegel, who befriended Ruth Wilcox in her final days. She doesn’t know that the house was supposed to be hers, but she falls in love with it anyway–and with the widowed Henry (Anthony Hopkins).
Peppard Cottage in Oxfordshire, England, became Howards End for the film.
Howards End is based on the classic novel by E.M. Forster, who also wrote another favorite of mine, A Room with a View.
The story explores the relationships among three families who belong to distinctly different social classes in the early 1900s. The Wilcoxes are wealthy Victorian capitalists; the Schlegel sisters are forward-thinking philanthropists who talk about issues like suffrage and helping the poor; and the Basts are the poor, working-class couple that the Schlegels try (unsuccessfully) to save.
Leonard Bast, who is unemployed and desperate, comes to Howards End in search of younger sister Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham-Carter). Bast was played by Samuel West, who you may recognize from movies like Persuasion (as the wily Mr. Elliot who is not as charming as he seems!) and Jane Eyre (as St. John in the 1996 version). Here he is, walking through the front door of the cottage:
When Helen sees him, she is shocked. So is he. He didn’t know she was pregnant:
In this scene in the dining room, the Wilcox family discusses their mother’s death-bed request and argues about how to handle it.
The upstairs landing:
In one scene, Emma Thompson mistakenly refers to Helen as “Helena,” which is the actress’s real name. Here’s Helen in the front parlor:
This was Merchant Ivory Productions’ third gorgeous adaptation of a Forster novel (following A Room with a View and Maurice). It was filmed in 1992.
A reader named Derek sent me this aerial photo of the house (via Google Earth). As he says, from this overview you can see that the house is much larger in real life than it appears in the film:
He also wrote a post about the real Peppard Cottage with some current photos and stories about how it looks today: Peppard Cottage Revisited.
UPDATE: You can take a tour of the London townhouse that the Schlegel sisters lived in at 6 Wickham Place here. It’s now on the market, so we can compare how it looked in the movie in 1992 to how it looks today after an extensive renovation.