Howards End: An Ivy-Covered Cottage in the Country

by hookedonhouses on November 1, 2009

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.

Howards End ext close 1

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).

Howards End exterior 4

Peppard Cottage in Oxfordshire (England) became Howards End for the film.

Howards End closeup 2

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.

Howards End closeup 3

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:

Howards End front door

When Helen sees him, she is shocked. So is he. He didn’t know she was pregnant:

Howards End paneling

Howards End downstairs

In this scene in the dining room, the Wilcox family discusses their mother’s death-bed request and argues about how to handle it.

Howards End dining rm 3

Howards End dining rm

The upstairs landing:

Howards End 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:

Howards End 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.

Howards End exterior 5

Derek of Derek M Design 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:

Howards End aerial view

Derek also wrote a post about the real Peppard Cottage with some current photos and stories about how it looks today that you have to see: 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.

Howards End London House exterior

Check out my TV/Movie Houses page for links to the rest that I’ve featured, from Brideshead Revisited to Father of the Bride.

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Beth@The Stories of A2Z November 1, 2009 at 6:23 pm

This is actually one of the things I wanted to add to my Top 10 list…”You know you’re a home decor blogger if you check out the houses in all the movies/tv shows you watch :).”
.-= Beth@The Stories of A2Z´s last blog ..Thanksgiving (yes THANKSGIVING) Tablescape =-.

Amanda @ Serenity Now November 1, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Love, love, love the exterior. When I think of “English countryside,” a house like that pops into my mind (or the cottage from The Holiday). Can I tell you a secret? I don’t think I ever finished “Howard’s End” in college…that may have been the night of the Tequila…who knows? ;)
.-= Amanda @ Serenity Now´s last blog ..27 Days of Thankful, #1 =-.

Amy November 1, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I love the house and I’m very intrigued by the movie. I might have to rent that for myself.
.-= Amy´s last blog ..Halloween Downtown Franklin Style =-.

Andrea November 1, 2009 at 8:09 pm

This is my favorite movie! I’m thrilled to see the photos. I must have watched my DVD a dozen times, it always puts my husband straight to sleep but it’s my number one comfort film, right up there with, “Sense and Sensibility,” and all the others in what I call my Emma Thompson collection. Yet, with all those viewings, I never caught the, “Helena” slip. Must go watch again…

Sue Murphy November 1, 2009 at 8:30 pm

This is my favorite movie of all times!!!! I fell in love with the house at first sight. I always imagined my friends and I having tea on the lawn. Thank you for helping me recapture the magic of the first time I saw that movie. Sue

Rita November 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm

I love English cottage style … and the movie was one I loved as well.
.-= Rita´s last blog ..Rustic Charm =-.

Kirsten November 1, 2009 at 11:35 pm

said it on yr FB page, but just have to say it here: this post is my Happy Place!! Love love EM Forster, Merchant-Ivory Productions, and really, just anything in England, esp. in Oxfordshire. Thank you so much!
.-= Kirsten´s last blog ..NaBloPoMo =-.

Robin November 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

I’ve always loved the wisteria on the front of this house. Such a great “house” movie, good pick Julia!
.-= Robin´s last blog ..“What I really need are a pistol and a sword” and other random Halloween statements =-.

Kim November 2, 2009 at 2:34 am

I love this house and all of the details they put into it.

Kelly November 2, 2009 at 6:36 am

One of my favorite movies, I’ve always loved the cottage. :)
I had no idea the guy that played Mr. Bast was also Mr. Elliot in Persuasion!
.-= Kelly´s last blog ..1868 Second Empire, Portland, ME =-.

Suzann from The Olive Cottage November 2, 2009 at 7:59 am

I have not seen this movie, but I am in love with this cottage. Thanks for the pics.
.-= Suzann from The Olive Cottage´s last blog ..THE LETTER U… =-.

Stephanie November 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

Love love love the exterior…thanks for the pics!
.-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Hoilday Shopping has hit .. Geezes is cooking … My Fav Custom Wedding Canvas Photos of the Week! =-.

Dagny @ Beautiful Living November 2, 2009 at 8:54 am

The house is just amazing. LOVE the exteriors!!
.-= Dagny @ Beautiful Living´s last blog ..Before and after: A classical gilded frame goes noisy red! / Fra klassisk gullramme til blodrød statement! =-.

susan November 2, 2009 at 9:15 am

Julia-Now this is one I have not seen–Net Flix to the rescue! I do love this time period and anything with Anthony Hopkins! Thanks for the tip! Hope you had a fun Halloween weekend!
.-= susan´s last blog ..A Metamorphosis That Really Matters =-.

Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions November 2, 2009 at 9:34 am

I don’t think I every saw this movie all the way through. You’ve made me want to get it and watch the whole thing now!

Leah Marjorie November 2, 2009 at 9:48 am

I love this movie and this house! What a pleasant surprise to have woken up to this morning when I checked your blog! :) Can’t wait till Wednesday to tour Wickham Place.

Mrs. B November 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm

If you need any ideas for future posts, I would love to see pictures of the very famous Georgetown home that was featured in the movie, The Exoricist.

lindalou November 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Love Howard’s End. Just recently got to catch the ending. I also love Room with a View. They both have a look and feel about them. Very British, very detailed.

BTW, I love almost anything with Emma Thompson!
.-= lindalou´s last blog ..Watching The Food Network =-.

Karen November 2, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Homes like this inspired my love for authentic miniature dollhouses. If you could never live in a house like that, then build it in miniature. I’ve seen some beautiful, intricate miniature replicas that would astound you.

Bonnie Mattson November 3, 2009 at 8:19 am

This is one of my favorite movies along with Room With a View. I am adding Maurice to my Netflix queue right after I finish this comment. I love these period pieces. Have you seen Mrs. Palrey at the Claremont? The house speaks volumes~I am definitely hooked on the house and thank you, Julia, for reminding me of it again.
.-= Bonnie Mattson´s last blog ..A Simple Woman’s Daybook~November 2, 2009 =-.

Carolyn November 4, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Have always loved Howards End from the very first scene of Vanessa Redgrave walking in the deep dewy grass. Had to buy the video just so I could look at the cottage (the days before DVD’s). It is the epitome of the English country cottage and embodies every fairy tale dream — wisteria and rose covered, bow window, beamed ceilings and Tudor paneling, window seat, multi-paned casements, et.al. Be still my heart. I had no idea, though, that it was so big. Thanks for the post!

Tina Martin March 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm

The pictures are beautiful. Thank you so much for doing this. I love this movie, and I even have a tea cozy that looks a lot like the cottage at Howard’s End. If you can send me a regular e-mail, I can send you a picture of it.

amwh July 23, 2011 at 6:35 am

This is also a “comfort film” for me. Supposedly the house is handed to the Schlegel sisters symbolically as a change in England’s social class structure – new people taking over the Old Order. Whatever. I would loved to have been given that house. It is in the style of English Arts and Crafts (interior and exterior) because I do not think it’s Medieval look comes from Medieval times – it’s later. A-la William Morris et al. Beautiful. And I loved “the meadow.” The women’s clothing (just pre-WWI) is also my favorite fashion era – hats, hobble skirts and all!

Allison Costello July 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I thought Wickham place was to be pulled DOWN! And yet there it is! I must have fallen through a time warp. Now I can go back and warn Helen NOT to sleep with Leonard Bast, or if that doesn’t work, at least warn the poor boy against visits to Howard’s End! I feel Henry Wilcox has LIED to us all, yet again!

Allison Costello July 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Though I love this film, the only “comforting” parts involve the Shlegels when they are still together, or to some extent Margaret’s socializing with the innocent, naive Ruth Wilcox (taking her shopping for Christmas gifts).

Otherwise, the film begins, after a lovely scene with Ruth (the wonderful Vanessa Redgrave) strolling in the dusk through the grounds of Howard’s End. From that point on, we are plunged into world of deceit, conceit, manipulation and ultimately, misused economic power at the hands of the Wilcoxes, who represent Edwardian England’s remnants of n0n-Socialized wealth and privilege, to either gain their own ends, secure spouses (as Henry does with Margaret) or even evade responsibility for past misdeeds, as he does with both Leonard Bast, and worse, with Jackie Bast, his former lover.

In this, the rich and their lust for power and control are laid bare for us to see, and it is not a pretty sight. Though Margaret (Emma Thompson) may choose to ignore its ugliness (and who knows why?). But her sister, the supposedly “daft” Helen, refuses to buckle under to the pretensions and false niceties of the upper class. Even when her reputation is on the line, she remains defiant, even toward her own brother and sister.

Margaret’s marriage to the symbol of wealth and entitlement, Henry Wilcox, does not help matters at all. To Helen, Margaret is a traitor, and at the very least, a part of “The Other Camp”. Now, Helen has nobody to trust and so goes abroad with her dark secret.

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