Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Remains of the Day

It's a little difficult to describe The Remains of the Day without making it sound veddy British, veddy proper and veddy boring. Granted, it's quiet and reserved. It's also engrossing and surprisingly poignant.

The Remains of the Day works as a subtle critique of emotional repression and the neo-fascist direction taken by upper-class English society prior to World War II. It also clicks as a "non-love story," as it dissects the peculiar mind of a perfect servant. And yes, stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are probably going to be nominated again for Oscars.

Hopkins plays a joyless Jeeves, a head butler who has completely submerged himself into the act of serving. He has an exact eye for detail, and is totally devoted to his master. But he acts like a detached automaton, and his voice registers with the impersonal politeness of a recorded phone message. Even when informed of his father's death, Hopkins keeps working through a dinner party with barely a wrinkle in his demeanor.

His life takes a turn for the romantic, however, when the new housekeeper (Thompson) arrives. He finds himself increasingly attracted to her, but simply incapable of dealing with his feelings. Her youth and livelier manner appeal to him, but he's too repressed to admit to the slightest glimmer of feeling.

Meanwhile, his master (James Fox) is busy selling-out the country. It's 1936, and Fox is desperately trying to make peace between England and Germany. It becomes increasingly obvious to everyone except Hopkins that his master — who's mistaken Hitler for a reasonable man and is advocating appeasement — is a dangerous idiot who's being played for a sap by the Third Reich.

Hopkins, on the other hand, stays busy chasing dust bunnies in the hallway while history unfolds around him.

One of the remarkable feats accomplished by The Remains of the Day is its ability to be emotionally moving while presenting a character who's so thoroughly out of touch with his own feelings.

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