TV& Ra­dio


Sunday Herald Life - - TELEVISION & RADIO -


Sun­day Howards End 9pm, BBC One N OT to be con­fused with Howard’s Way, Howard The Duck, Frankie How­erd Strikes Again or Howard Jones’ “Best Of” Tour 2017, Howards End is the BBC’s taste­ful and stul­ti­fy­ingly dull new four-part adap­ta­tion of EM Forster’s 1910 novel, last seen on screen in 1992 when Mer­chant Ivory – the masters of dull good taste – gave us the hot Emma Thomp­son Vs An­thony Hop­kins movie. (It­self not to be con­fused with 1993’s siz­zler The Re­mains Of The Day, the Thomp­sonHop­kins re­match Mer­chant Ivory rushed out as fol­low up, to sate the pub­lic hunger for more scenes of these fine ac­tors glanc­ing at each other.) The BBC pre­vi­ously had a crack at Forster’s book in 1970, with Glenda Jack­son wear­ing the frock as pro­tag­o­nist Mar­garet Sch­legel, who, as played by Hay­ley Atwell in this lat­est ver­sion, we in­stantly recog­nise as ad­mirably in­tel­lec­tual, be­cause one of the other char­ac­ters says she is, in this sub­tle ex­change: “You are so in­tel­lec­tual.” “Really?” “Yes. I ad­mire you for it.” Leav­ing aside the ob­vi­ous de­lights of zingy di­a­logue like this, that the novel has been adapted for the screen three times now begs

one of two ques­tions. The first is, “What is it about this book that keeps its themes and char­ac­ters so rel­e­vant?”

In an­swer, you might sug­gest that Forster’s story, which de­tails the cul­tured, eman­ci­pated Sch­legel sis­ters’ in­ter­ac­tions with both a rich, dense and stuffy fam­ily, The Wil­coxes, and a poor one, The Basts, of­fers a pen­e­trat­ing study of the pe­riod’s rigid class struc­tures and suf­fo­cat­ing so­cial con­ven­tions, and of more last­ing in­te­rior emo­tional strug­gles. You might also add that the fo­cus on in­de­pen­dent fe­male char­ac­ters of­fers op­por­tu­nity for in­fi­nite nu­ance, and that ev­ery re­make gives us Sch­legels to re­flect our own era. But don’t be suck­ered. All this is pre­cisely what the BBC would like you to be think­ing about, so as to dis­tract from the other, more in­ter­est­ing ques­tion: “Why does Bri­tish TV keep re­mak­ing the same bloody books over and over again?”

Aside from the ob­vi­ous rea­sons – crush­ing lack of imag­i­na­tion and am­bi­tion – the an­swer here is more mys­te­ri­ous. But in the case of things like Howards End (see also ev­ery Jane Austen adap­ta­tion ever, and any drama in­volv­ing roy­alty) we may ven­ture a guess: it’s be­cause Amer­i­cans like them be­cause they make them feel classy.

This is a the­ory that gains cre­dence in this in­stance, as the Forster adap­ta­tion is a co­pro­duc­tion with US chan­nel Starz, and the ex­tra dol­lars al­low for ad­mit­tedly sump­tu­ous pe­riod recre­ation. The leafy sum­mer lanes, bright Lon­don squares and treach­er­ous brick back­streets of 1905 are hand­somely brought to life – to the ex­tent I was soon wish­ing Jeremy Brett would come bound­ing into shot and per­suade the cam­era to jump into a pass­ing han­som with him and gal­lop away on a new Holmes ad­ven­ture. As it is, across the first end­less hour of Howards End, only two in­ter­est­ing things hap­pen. The first goes on in­side your own brain as, search­ing for some­thing, any­thing, to do, it be­gins to won­der ob­ses­sively about why there is no apos­tro­phe in the ti­tle. The sec­ond ex­plodes on screen with­out warn­ing, when, just when you least ex­pect it, some­body picks up some­body else’s um­brella by mis­take.

Don’t get me wrong, I value a tra­di­tional Sun­day night cos­tume drama as much as the next Ebenezer. But while there is a fine erup­tion of blouses here, it is hard to care any­thing about any of the peo­ple wear­ing them. If this doesn’t shed view­ers af­ter Episode One, I’ll eat my bon­net.

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