The Remains of the Day (1993)

Before the 2010 adaptation of Never Let Me Go, there was James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day. Released in 1993, this movie came out four years after Kazuo Ishiguro published the original novel. In the film as in the book, lifelong butler Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) receives a letter from a former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), expressing her desire to return to Darlington Hall. In response, Stevens asks for a weekend holiday from his employer and drives out to the country to meet her, twenty years after her resignation. While traveling, he looks back on his decades of service and comes to several realizations about his relationships in life.

Mostly a faithful rendition of the novel, The Remains of the Day fulfills all expectations. It is well-made, honest, and dramatic. Unlike other book-based movies, it does not fail to encompass the plot’s entirety. No essential scene is not dramatized in this adaptation. But precisely because it is complete, the film offers no surprises. Everything happens exactly in the way I had imagined it would, almost to the point of tedium. But of course that can’t be helped; it’s not like I can blame the movie for following the book. Besides, the actors embodied their characters so well it actually added another layer to my understanding of them. I did not expect to be affected by Stevens and Miss Kenton’s relationship since I had already read about it, but my eyes still blurred over during their parting scene towards the end. Compared to this, the actual ending is less poignant and more figurative. I am not sure how to feel about its symbolic quality. At first I thought it was a bit much, but the offhand way in which it was delivered made for an ending that was unflappably casual—not at all forced—and I liked that.

The Remains of the Day distinguishes itself as a good movie adaptation, a rare benchmark others should aspire towards. But honestly I do not feel much of anything towards it. Intellectually, I know that there is nothing wrong with this film, that it possesses all the necessary qualities, but at the same time I also know that I will never love it the way I love the book. But perhaps it’s only a matter of which you encounter first, and for me, as always, it just so happens to be the novel.

‘I don’t believe a man can consider himself fully content until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer.’

‘All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me.’

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