The Remains of the Day (UK 1993)

In One Line: An English butler's blind devotion to 'duty' leads to a wasted life.

Director: James Ivory
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Christopher Reeve, Peter Vaughan
Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Novel: Kazuo 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. Stevens 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' (whose nomenclature is an acid test of your intellectual prowess - if you think of the crudely animated Watch With Mother/52  Festive Road-based character when you hear that name, you're both stupid AND old*).

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.

A fabulous film.