You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Howards End’ on Starz

Kenneth Lonergan adapts the classic E.M. Forster novel in this lush four-part miniseries starring Hayley Atwell

Hayley Atwell, Philippa Coulthard, Alex Lawther, Tracey Ullman, Julia Ormond, Matthew Macfadyen, Joseph Quinn, Rosalind Eleazar

If there were no Merchant Ivory film, Starz’s “Howards End” would be a more welcome adaptation. The four-part miniseries, an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel about class collision and national identity in turn-of-the-century England, is impeccably cast and studiously performed. But the bones of the production, adapted by prominent playwright Kenneth Lonergan and directed by Hettie Macdonald, lacks the impeccable grace and subtlety of both the earlier adaptation and the source material. Lonergan’s screenplay is so disinterested in logistics that it just skips them; especially towards the end of the four-parter, “Howards End” lets weeks, months, or years drop between scenes without even nodding to the audience. The aim is to raise the dramatic stakes, but combined with Macdonald’s lens — which knits together the story with a pleasant, too-romantic glow — what ends up happening is a messy smoothening of an intricate story. Forster’s book — a masterpiece, albeit a flawed one — is a nuanced chronicle of enmeshment. But Starz’s “Howards End” is a syrupy effort — golden and sweet and a little gummy. This latest adaptation is an indication that without Forster’s boundless humanity in every detail, the plot points of “Howards End” crash together in something approaching melodrama.

It’s still an enjoyable journey, of course. Hayley Atwell, plays lead Margaret Schlegel, an intellectual, sensitive woman who finds herself drawn into marriage with widower Henry Wilcox (Matthew Macfayden), a successful businessman who usually misses the finer points of life in order to better focus on profit. Atwell and Macfayden are reprising the roles performed by Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins in the film, which is no easy feat, but to their credit they both find ways to make both their individual performances and their relationship dynamic appreciably different from their predecessors. The purported age difference between the two stretches credibility, but Macfayden — who is best known for playing Mr. Darcy in Joe Wright’s 2005 “Pride and Prejudice” — makes the most of silently checking a pocketwatch while smoking outdoors, and Atwell brings a self-conscious charm to Margaret’s somewhat tortured affections. Margaret’s sister, Helen (Philippa Coulthard), is a welcome talent, presenting less of the affectation that Helena Bonham-Carter brought to the role, and of the supporting cast — which includes the unlikely but successful casting of comedian Tracey Ullman as Aunt Juley — Julia Ormond is especially resplendent as the grave, distracted, intuitive Ruth Wilcox. The story unites the Schlegel sisters with both the wealthy Wilcoxes and the hapless Basts — Leonard (Joseph Quinn), a romantic clerk, and his wife Jacky (Rosalind Eleazar), a former prostitute. In an intriguing adaptive choice, Jacky, like Eleazar, is a black woman. It adds a welcome layer of commentary to the story, albeit one that is implied more than explored.

The essential problem with Starz’s “Howards End” is that it presents the story as a fable, when the appeal of the novel is how unromantic its tale is. Howards End, the estate that the story circulates around, is both a home and a piece of property, and the couples that fall in love in and around it struggle to reconcile themselves to its dual nature. But the miniseries gives the story a bit too much montage and sentiment, in a way that de-emphasizes the story’s most dramatic moments of disconnection and tragedy so as to revel in the sugary notes of the narrative. The last hour in particular is an alarmingly sloppy execution of some of the story’s most careful reveals.

“Howards End” is a story about progress, not nostalgia. But despite the considered and sumptuous locations, costuming, and period details, this is a miniseries that makes one look back to the 1992 film.

TV Review: 'Howards End' on Starz

Miniseries, 4 parts (4 reviewed): Starz, Sun. April 8, 8 p.m. 60 min.

Crew: Executive producers, Colin Callender, Joshua D. Maurer, Alixandre Witlin, David A. Stern, Sophie Gardiner, Scott Huff

Cast: Hayley Atwell, Philippa Coulthard, Alex Lawther, Tracey Ullman, Julia Ormond, Matthew Macfadyen, Joseph Quinn, Rosalind Eleazar

More TV

  • Ruth Wilson and Idris Elba'Luther Series

    'Luther' Creator Neil Cross Working on Show's Movie Version, Idris Elba Says

    A movie version of crime series “Luther” is moving forward, with writer-creator Neil Cross working on the script, the show’s star Idris Elba confirmed at the launch of Season 5 in London. More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' “We are really advancing on getting a movie version [of the show] [...]

  • THE VOICE -- "Blind Auditions" --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces Midseason Premiere Dates

    In today’s roundup, NBC reveals midseason premiere dates for six shows, including “The Voice.” More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' DATES  NBC has announced midseason premiere dates for four returning and two new series. “The Voice” will air Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m., and March [...]

  • David Rhodes CBS News

    CBS News Faces New Challenges in Weeks Ahead

    At CBS News, President David Rhodes has a series of important decisions to make that could affect the trajectories of some of TV’s best-known news programs. More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' As its parent company seeks to move forward from recent seismic events – the ouster of its former [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and [...]

  • Queer as Folk UK Version

    'Queer as Folk' Reboot in Development at Bravo (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a competitive situation, Bravo is developing a new version of “Queer as Folk,” Variety has learned exclusively. More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' Russell T. Davies, the creator of the original UK series, is onboard the new project as an executive producer. Stephen Dunn is attached to write, direct, and [...]

  • Penny Marshall Dead

    Hollywood Pays Tribute to 'Trailblazer,' 'Pioneer' Penny Marshall

    Stars across Hollywood are mourning Penny Marshall, who died Monday night at her Hollywood Hills home due to complications from diabetes, Variety has confirmed. The “Laverne & Shirley” star was 75. More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' Marshall first rose to fame playing Laverne DeFazio in the hit ABC series [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content