And so, the final Best Picture contender of 1992 was...
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
(based on the novel by E.M. Forster)
Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, James Wilby, Prunella Scales
3 wins, including Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay
From Merchant Ivory, the production team whose name has become synonymous with the period drama, comes Howards End, a tale that concerns itself with the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, and their relationships with two other families, the well-off Wilcoxes and the not-so-well-off Basts. Margaret befriends the Wilcox matriarch, who scribbles a last-minute will, bequeathing her family home, the Howards End of the title, to her new best friend. The Wilcox family dismiss this will as the ramblings of a dying woman and throw it on the fire, neglecting to mention it to Margaret. Perhaps as a response to his guilt, the widower Wilcox offers to help the Schlegels find new housing after their lease is up, and, lo and behold, he ends up proposing to Margaret, who graciously accepts.
Meanwhile, Helen befriends Leonard Bast, a struggling clerk of a lower class than she, and takes him on as a sort of project, attempting to better his lot in life. Of course, she ends up offering him more of herself than she first intended ... if you catch my drift.
It's that kind of unspoken innuendo that permeates any good British period film, and Howards End is certainly no exception. The subtext in each word of dialogue could fill volumes. Nobody seems to speak their mind until it's too late. It's all about keeping up appearances, you see. To wit, Henry Wilcox's proposal to Margaret is almost like a business transaction.
It's interesting that I viewed this film, a fine example of a uniquely British genre, immediately after Unforgiven, a fine example of a uniquely American genre. Both contain intense depth to their conflicted characters. Consequently, both are rather moderately paced. Of course, one doesn't expect car chases and exploding buildings in these films, but you do have to concentrate.
As you would expect, the design in Howards End is exquisite, winning an Oscar for its Art Direction, plus a nomination for the Costume Design. Gazing on the lush scenery and wardrobe does indeed assist your imagination in transporting you to another era. In fact, when the film began, I felt a relaxing and pleasant feeling of comfort as I settled in to the story. That may have been the glass of wine I was drinking, but either way, it felt nice.
Another brilliant cast, as well. Emma Thompson won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as the talkative Margaret. And maybe if Anthony Hopkins hadn't won the previous year for playing Hannibal Lecter, he may have had a shot as the obdurate Henry Wilcox. And I can't forget to add my sprinkling of pop culture - Mrs. Fawlty herself, Prunella Scales, plays the Schlegel sisters' prissy Aunt.
So, that was the fifth and final nominee for 1992. Tomorrow shall come the verdict and it's another tough one ... Will there be any other kind?