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

  • A.P. BIO -- "Melvin" Episode 208

    'AP Bio' Canceled After Two Seasons at NBC

    “AP Bio” has been canceled at NBC. Series creator Mike O’Brien shared the news with fans on Twitter, writing that “This has been my favorite project of my life.” In the single-camera comedy, Glenn Howerton portrayed a disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar who lost out on his dream job and was forced to return to Toledo, [...]

  • James Holzhauer $2 million

    'Jeopardy!' Champion James Holzhauer Hits $2 Million Winnings Milestone

    This current “Jeopardy!” player has just won over $2 million on the popular game show. Who is James Holzhauer? The 34 year old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas has hit a “Jeopardy!” milestone by becoming only the second person in the show’s history to win over $2 million in regular season play. Holzhauer won [...]

  • Kanye West Shares a Memory of

    Kanye West Shares a Touching Memory of His Mother in Letterman Interview

    In a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31, the musician’s wife Kim Kardashian West, tweeted a clip of him sharing a touching memory of his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 after a surgical procedure. While his wife looks on smiling, West answers Letterman’s question about [...]

  • CNN Lays Off Some Health Journalism

    CNN Lays Off Some Health Journalism Staffers

    CNN has laid off a handful of staffers from its health-journalism unit after deciding to place its health, climate and Southeastern newsgathering operations under a single aegis. ” As part of the normal course of business, our newsgathering team made a small restructure earlier this week that ultimately impacts 6-7 employees within CNN’s Health Unit,” [...]

  • Henry Ian Cusick

    'Lost' Star Henry Ian Cusick Signs With Buchwald (EXCLUSIVE)

    Henry Ian Cusick, best known for playing Desmond on the hit ABC series “Lost,” is signing with talent agency Buchwald for representation. Cusick also starred in the CW sci-fi/drama “The 100” and was most recently seen in the Fox series “The Passage.” His other notable television credits include “Scandal,” “24,” “Fringe,” “The Mentalist,” “Body of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content