195. The Remains of the Day (GB/US 1993)



English butler's blind devotion to duty leads to a wasted life.

director: James Ivory

starring: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Christopher ReevePeter Vaughan

screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

novel: Kashuo Ishiguro

bit part: Tim Piggott-Smith as 'Mr Benn'

Normally I'd run a mile from a literary adaptation  and/or a Merchant/Ivory 'venture', but this is just too good to be dismissed.

Hopkins plays Mr Stevens, a 'gentleman's gentleman' in the employ of Lord Darlington (James Fox) a supporter of appeasement (for entirely the wrong reasons) as World War 2 approaches.

Stevens' devotion to service precludes all other activities and he allows the last vestiges of his family (his ageing, dying father) and his chance of love and happiness to slip away.

Both film and novel suggest that blind constancy prevent self determinism and can be used to prevent us from having to make difficult life changing decisions. Steven s seems to realise his mistakes and tries to make amends, but does not have the intellectual or emotional wherewithal to effect a change.

Thompson plays 'Miss Keaton', Darlington's housekeeper. She is in love with Stevens, and try as she may, she cannot force him to declare any form of feelings for her and ends up marrying the unsuitable 'Mr Benn' (who keeps her unwashed 'panties' at 52 Festive Road to "help him remember" when they drift apart).*


The film has much to say about emotional and political collusion, racism, Englishness and the destructive nature of the class system.

Ishiguro uses the idea of 'the devoted man of service' as a metaphor for the wasted life; a man or woman who has spent his or her days fooling themselves into believing they are doing something valuable when in fact they are being used, abused or manipulated.

The acting is impeccable. Hopkins does his vaguely distracted bit to a tee and brings Stevens' 'hollow man', missing persona to an ironic form of 'life'. Fox does his tragic toff bit and Emma Thompson is quite affecting as lonely spinster Sally Keaton.


My favourite though, is Peter 'Grouty' Vaughan as Mr Stevens senior, a very old man trying to do his best as assistant butler despite "Time's unflinching rigour" and approaching senility. Stevens senior drops a silver service tray in front of his master and guests, and one of the best scenes of the film is a long shot of Vaughan trying to convince himself that it WAS a raised paving stone which caused the accident and not the ravages of his advancing years.

*He doesn't.