As soon as we hit September, the cultural calendar heats up. And one of the best events I have gone to recently was a screening of the 25th anniversary restoration of the beautiful Merchant Ivory film "Howards End." I had seen it on the big screen 25 years ago and multiple times on the small. But this screening was memorable. The film looks ravishing, even more so than I remember. The music and setting create an unforgettable ambiance. The directing and acting are excellent. And the story and emotional power of the book have lost nothing in the intervening years.
"Howards End" by E.M Forster is one of my favorite books. Forster considered it his best book and I agree. It is about the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, who live in London and are financially comfortable with independent incomes. They take on an impoverished young man, Leonard Bast, as their cause. Advised by the wealthy and successful industrialist Henry Wilcox that the company Leonard is working for is about to go bust, they recommend that the young man quit his job and look for a new one. When Leonard quits his job and gets another one from which he is fired, the girls are horrified to discover that the information from Henry about Leonard's former employer was faulty and the company is just fine. When they ask Henry Wilcox about the mistaken information he is unfazed and doesn't even remember giving it.
In the meantime, the young man's life begins to unravel and the two sisters encounter many challenges to what was formerly their very happy life. Helen is spurned by Paul Wilcox and returns to her London life with Margaret. Unfortunately the Wilcox family moves across the street, an unpleasant reminder to Helen of her heartbreak. Henry Wilcox's wife, Ruth, who dies shortly after the film begins, forms an unlikely friendship with Margaret Schlegel. Ruth loves her home in the country, Howards End, and decides to leave it to Margaret, whom she sees as a kindred spirit. After her death the Wilcox family finds her handwritten note with instructions that Margaret is to inherit Howards End and they tear it up. But ironically Henry ends up marrying Margaret and eventually leaves Howard End to her after all. The emotional twists and turns to this book are riveting and one of the central stories is the love of a house and the land. Both Ruth Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel believe that some houses have a spirit that only certain people can feel. It's a wonderful book, both a love letter to England's "green and pleasant land" as well as a cautionary tale.
If this newly restored film is playing in your neighborhood, please go see it. It has stood the test of time and delivers a message just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago when the film came out and 100 years ago when the book was published. E.M. Forster's theme "only connect" is one that resonates.