Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * *
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Matthew Macfadyen, Joe Bannister, Bessie Carter, Philippa Coulthard, Alex Lawther, Donna Banya, Tracey Ullman, Joseph Quinn, Rosalind Eleazer, Yolanda Kettle, Sandra Voe, Miles Jupp, Jonah Hauer-King, Julia Ormond.
For all television’s preoccupation with fiction that tries to capture the times in which our great grandparents would have lived through, from the dichotomy of the wonders of invention and adventure in the Victorian era and its more fragile, disgusting more sneering side in which the poor were treated with absolute revulsion and through to the period in which an entire generation were almost wiped out in the horror of the First World War; television in the last few years has done its best to glorify in this time and tried to draw parallels with our own sense of time on the planet.
The difficulty begins when looking at the period between these two eras, when the viewer is left to its own devices with an adaption that looks at the manners and the make-up of the country in regards to race and class in Edwardian England. Victorian England is fashionable, Elizabethan England never goes out of style, the genetics at the heart of post war Britain and its relationship with the rest of the world is dogged and determined to stay in focus because it what we know and understand, yet Britain under King Edward VII is too short to a period to really get to grips with and yet in all its glory it can dominate, it still has roots in our world today and for that the 2017 television adaption of Howards End should have been a prelude to a blockbuster of winter entertainment.
It is a pity that much of what we know is bookended by the two huge historical eras either side of the period when the country was filled with hope and despair in equal numbers seemingly replaced the dourness of Victoria’s later reign, when confusion and reality set in and the events of Howard’s End would have made much more interesting reading with the coming of the age of Suffragette into their own and the relative piece of the country was but an illusion for what was to come.
Despite a great cast, with the marvellous Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen dominating the screens in their respective roles and Alex Lawther performing near heroics as the boy who would soon be seen as part of the problem in a changing world, Howards End doesn’t hit the mark nearly as well as it should. The problem lays in its place in history, a fascinating period if people have been able to experience through other mediums but as we lose that sense of sentimental exposure to a 13 year era, one that can only be defined by true excess, then adaptations of that period are going to be relegated in their ability to have the audience care.
The world of the Wilcox’s and Schlegal’s have very little in common with today’s near dystopian feel, a place which has more in common with the fragile spectre of Victorian Britain and the consuming disaster of the First World War.
Ian D. Hall