The Schlegel sisters, Margaret (Thompson) and Helen (Bonham Carter) return from social exile and Margaret is bequethed the tiny estate of Howard's End. This doesn't go down at all well with the dead lady's husband (Hopkins), who despite eventually growing to like Margaret, refuses to hand over the property.
For the last EM Forster novel that remained to be filmed, the reliable firm of Merchant, Ivory and Jhabvala engage a cast that is perfection in a very handsome, intelligent, witty piece.
Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Thompson are Forster's Schlegel sisters, educated, progressive thinking, middle class gels who do kind deeds and have stimulating discussions at the tea table. An embarrassing romantic mini-drama has estranged them from the wealthy Wilcox family, but Vanessa Redgrave's ethereal Mrs W. renews the acquaintance and takes to Thompson's Margaret so warmly she leaves her the cosy little rural retreat of Howard's End. Pompous pater Anthony Hopkins is too mean to unhand the land but falls for high-spirited Margaret. Meanwhile, Bonham Carter's Helen nobly interferes in the affairs of a poor young bank clerk desperate to better himself, entangling the three social strata of the principals in an intricate and sharp game of love, property and pride.
Thompson, in particular, is wonderful (and picked up and Oscar for her trouble), and if all the young men look alike they are their types to a T. Events move with an astonishing and graceful rapidity in this perfectly delightful film.
Warm and - thankfully - pacey, this tale of tea and tribulations stands as one of the most memorable of Merchant Ivory's many period pieces.