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Modern/Masterpiece: ‘Howards End’

"The questions and challenges these young women were facing in the story are the very things my daughters face today."

The four-part miniseries Howards End, says Sophie Gilbert, “is its own masterpiece, visually lavish and narratively restrained. [Screenwriter Kenneth] Lonergan and the director Hettie Macdonald find something profound in the story’s clash of cultures between the liberal, bourgeois Schlegels and the emotionally repressed, establishment Wilcoxes that feels vital in this particular moment. If people disagree on such fundamental levels, it asks, can they still love each other? Should they?” To read the full article, click here

Based on E.M. Forster’s novel, Howards End follows the Schlegel, Wilcox and Bast families, all living in and around London in the first decade of the 20th century. Although from completely different social classes and walks of life, their stories intertwine and ultimately converge at Howards End, the country home of the Wilcox family.

Executive producer Colin Callender explained his desire to adapt the classic, noting “what was so striking about the novel is that although it was set 100 years ago, the questions and challenges these young women were facing in the story are the very things my daughters face today.”

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Read more: A Howards End True to Then and Now

“Macdonald, who has known Lonergan since they were both young interns at London’s Royal Court Theatre, was struck by the humor, verve and intelligence of his adaptation,” writes Meredith Blake. “‘His writing is just so full of life, and that seemed to me brilliant and unusual for a period drama,’ she says.” To read the full article, click here

Discussing the series production, Macdonald tells Roslyn Sulcas “she was slightly nervous about tackling the genre. ‘I think often we approach period drama in a way that is very objectified and nostalgic,’ she said. ‘Often there isn’t a strong point of view, either in the writing or in how it’s realized; the camera or storyteller is stepping back and admiring the world — the carriages, the sets and costumes.’

Lonergan’s script, Macdonald explains, “‘felt very interested in the people,’ and impelled her to reimagine the story. ‘I felt if I’m going to do this, it should come from a very 21st century place,’ she said. “Every scene, every shot must show something about the story and its themes; never just do the great big wide shot where you enjoy showing off how many horses you got!” To read the full interview, click here

“I’d love for people to feel that they connected with a different world, and that they connected with human beings that are like themselves that are living in that world,” Lonergan tells Katie Kilkenny. “I think a lot of issues that the film and the TV show explore are obviously very relevant to today without modernizing them at all: People are still struggling with their place in society, they’re still struggling with how much to try to change the society, what they can do to change it, as Margaret [Schlegel] says, how to ‘connect’ to each other across the chasm created by the difference in their experience — those are all things I would like people to know. 

Read more: Howards End Is a Lavish Portrait of Cultural Division

Read more: Q&A With Kenneth Lonergan on Adapting Howards End

Read more: Howards End: How a 1910 Novel Became a Progressive Miniseries

“I would like people to know that there were human beings who lived and breathed in a different world from ours, and to have those two things not cancel each other out.” To read the full interview, click here.