The Remains of the Day (film)

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The Remains of the Day
Remains of the day.jpg
Film poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Mike Nichols
John Calley
Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Harold Pinter (uncredited)
Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
Starring Anthony Hopkins
Emma Thompson
James Fox
Christopher Reeve
Hugh Grant
Ben Chaplin
Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Editing by Andrew Marcus
Studio Merchant Ivory Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 5 November 1993 (1993-11-05)
Running time 134 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $63,954,968[1]

The Remains of the Day is a 1993 Merchant Ivory film adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It was directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, Mike Nichols and John Calley. It starred Anthony Hopkins as Stevens and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton with James Fox, Christopher Reeve, Hugh Grant and Ben Chaplin. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards.


In 1950s Britain, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), the butler of Darlington Hall, receives a letter from Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), who worked as the housekeeper twenty years earlier. Lord Darlington (James Fox) has died and his stately country manor has been sold to a retired American Congressman, Mr. Lewis (Christopher Reeve). Stevens goes to visit Miss Kenton, ostensibly to persuade her to return to service.

The film flashes back to Miss Kenton's arrival as housekeeper. At the time, Darlington Hall was frequented by many politicians of the interwar period. Stevens, loyal and perfectionistic, calm and efficient, managed the household so that the servants seemed almost invisible, and he took great pride in his skills and his profession. He clashed with Miss Kenton, his equal in the household hierarchy, but displayed only understated irritation with her and others. His compulsive dedication to duty and his emotional repression were most fully displayed when, while his father, also an employee, was dying, Stevens continued his duties without pause.

Miss Kenton was equally efficient and strong-willed, but warmer and less repressed. Relations between the two eventually warmed and Kenton even teased Stevens occasionally. It becomes clear that she had fallen in love with him, and perhaps he with her, though his feelings are left ambiguous. She tried to break through the wall, but Stevens' coldness proved too formidable. Eventually, she struck up a relationship with another man and married him, leaving the house just before the outbreak of World War II. Before her departure, she insulted Stevens, clearly out of distress that he had never expressed any emotional interest in her, but he still refused to be moved. When she cried in frustration, the only response he could muster was to call her attention to a domestic task.

Lord Darlington used his influence to broker the policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, based on his belief that Germany had been unfairly treated by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. Most of his guests at a series of conferences and meetings were like-minded British and European aristocrats. The exception was the American Congressman Lewis, depicted as younger and much more worldly than other dignitaries. He eventually lost patience with Lord Darlington's naive schemes and argued in favor of foreign policy being conducted by "professionals" rather than by "gentleman amateurs" (dramatic irony being supplied by the fact that the audience knows that Lewis is correct but none of the characters do). After reading the work of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Lord Darlington commanded that two German-Jewish maids should be dismissed, considering their employment inappropriate. Stevens carried out the order but Miss Kenton threatened resignation in protest, fearing that the girls would have to return to Germany; her own need for employment caused her not to following through. Darlington later regretted his decision and asked Stevens to locate the maids, offering "to do something for them."

Darlington died a broken man, his reputation destroyed after he had been denounced as a traitor in the Daily Mail. (It is reported that he lost a libel suit against them, leaving him shunned and isolated.) When asked about his former employer, Stevens at first denies having served or even met him, but later admits to having served him. He recognizes his former master's failings and indicates that he has regrets about his own life, as does Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn). However, Kenton declines Stevens's offer to return to Darlington Hall, stating instead that she wants to remain with her husband, since their daughter is soon to present them with a grandchild. After the meeting, Stevens departs for Darlington Hall in a downpour. Kenton cries, while Stevens, still unable to demonstrate any feeling, simply raises his hat.

The film's final scene shows Stevens making the final preparations to Darlington Hall in anticipation of the arrival of Congressman Lewis's family. As the two men enter the banquet hall, where a table tennis table now sits, Congressman Lewis reflects on the banquet that he attended in the room in 1935 and admits embarrassment over his comments (despite his prophecy of a disaster being than borne out by the events of the Second World War). He asks Stevens if he remembers the comments, to which Stevens replies that he was too busy serving. Symbolically, a pigeon then flies into the room through the fireplace and becomes trapped in the hall. The two men eventually coax it to leave through a window and it flies free, leaving Stevens and Darlington Hall behind.

Departures from the novel[edit]

The film compresses the time frame of the novel considerably, offering a less subtle treatment of Anglo-German relations between the wars. In the novel, the conference at Darlington Hall takes place in 1923, prompted by concerns that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were unduly vindictive, and therefore has no direct connection with the Nazis or appeasement. Also in the novel, the two Jewish servants who are dismissed are not German and are therefore in no danger of being sent back to Germany, and Lord Darlington's order to dismiss them is prompted by his brief infatuation with an anti-Semitic woman. When the affair ends, he renounces his action and attempts to make reparations to the girls.

Mr Lewis, the American Congressman who calls Lord Darlington an amateur, is seen as the owner of Darlington Hall in the film after the earl's demise. In the novel, however, the Hall is owned by an American called Mr, Farraday who lends Stevens his Ford for the motoring trip.

In addition, in the scene in which Miss Kenton is crying is off-stage in the novel, Mr. Stevens does not interrupt it to talk about domestic matters, but instead walks away, thereby appearing less hard-hearted than in the film.

Moreover, in the novel, Mr. Stevens was alone at the seaside without Miss Kenton, which differs from the film. It was a stranger whom Stevens encountered at the pier who told him that "the evening's the best part of day," rather than Miss Kenton. Stevens's loneliness at the seaside is especially heart-wrenching in this final part of the novel.



A film adaptation of the novel was originally planned to be directed by Mike Nichols from a script by Harold Pinter. Some of Pinter's script was used in the film, but, while Pinter was paid for his work, he asked to have his name removed from the credits, in keeping with his contract.[2] Christopher C. Hudgins observes: "During our 1994 interview, Pinter told [Steven H.] Gale and me that he had learned his lesson after the revisions imposed on his script for The Handmaid's Tale, which he has decided not to publish. When his script for The Remains of the Day was radically revised by the James Ivory-Ismail Merchant partnership, he refused to allow his name to be listed in the credits" (125).[3][4][5]

Though no longer the director, Nichols remained associated with the project as one of the producers of the Merchant Ivory film.


Music Room of Powderham Castle in 1983

A number of English country estates were used as locations for the film, partly owing to the persuasive power of Ismail Merchant, who was able to cajole permission for the production to borrow various houses not normally open to the public. Among them was Dyrham Park for the exterior of the house and the driveway, Powderham Castle (staircase, hall, music room, bedroom), the interior of which was used for the aqua-turquoise stairway scenes, Corsham Court (library and dining room) and Badminton House (servants' quarters, conservatory, entrance hall). Luciana Arrighi, the production designer, scouted most of these locations. Scenes were also shot in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.


The Remains of the Day
Film score by Richard Robbins
Released 1993
Length 49:26
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Entertainment Weekly A link

The original score is composed by Richard Robbins. The score was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, losing to the score of Schindler's List.

Track listing
  1. Opening Titles, Darlington Hall - 7:27
  2. The Keyhole and the Chinaman - 4:14
  3. Tradition and Order - 1:51
  4. The Conference Begins - 1:33
  5. Sei Mir Gegrüsst (Schubert) - 4:13
  6. The Cooks in the Kitchen - 1:34
  7. Sir Geoffrey Wren and Stevens, Sr. - 2:41
  8. You Mean a Great Deal to This House - 2:21
  9. Loss and Separation - 6:19
  10. Blue Moon - 4:57
  11. Sentimental Love Story/Appeasement/In the Rain - 5:22
  12. A Portrait Returns/Darlington Hall/End Credits - 6:54

Critical reception and awards[edit]

The film was universally praised. It has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a site that tracks film reviews posted by both critics and audiences; its consensus states: "Smart, elegant, and blessed with impeccable performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day is a Merchant-Ivory classic."[6] Roger Ebert particularly praised the film and called it "a subtle, thoughtful movie."[7] In his review for The Washington Post, Desson Howe gave the film a favorable review, and said of it "Put Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and James Fox together and you can expect sterling performances," praising their work in the film.[8] Vincent Canby of The New York Times said, in another favorable review, "Here's a film for adults. It's also about time to recognize that Mr. Ivory is one of our finest directors, something that critics tend to overlook because most of his films have been literary adaptations."[9] The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, but won none:[10]

Award Nomination Lost to
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins) Tom Hanks (Philadelphia)
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Thompson) Holly Hunter (The Piano)
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Allan Starski and Ewa Braun (Schindler's List)
Best Costume Design Gabriella Pescucci (The Age of Innocence)
Best Director Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List)
Best Music, Original Score John Williams (Schindler's List)
Best Picture Schindler's List
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List)


  1. ^ "The Remains of the Day". Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  2. ^ "In November 1994, Pinter wrote, "I've just heard that they are bringing another writer into the "Lolita" film. It doesn't surprise me.' ... Pinter's contract contained a clause to the effect that the film company could bring in another writer, but that in such a case he could withdraw his name (which is exactly the case with [the film] The Remains of the Day-he had insisted on this clause since the bad experience with revisions made to his Handmaid's Tale script); he has never been given any reason as to why another writer was brought in" (Gale 352).
  3. ^ Hudgins adds: "We did not see Pinter's name up in lights when Lyne's Lolita finally made its appearance in 1998. Pinter goes on in the March 13 [1995] letter [to Hudgins] to state that 'I have never been given any reason at all as to why the film company brought in another writer,' again quite similar to the equally ungracious treatment that he received in the Remains of the Day situation" (125).
  4. ^ Cf. the essay on the film The Remains of the Day published in Gale's collection by Edward T. Jones: "Pinter gave me a copy of his typescript for his screenplay, which he revised January 24, 1991, during an interview that I conducted with him in London about his screenplay in May 1992, part of which appeared in 'Harold Pinter: A Conversation' in Literature/Film Quarterly, XXI (1993): 2-9. In that interview, Pinter mentioned that Ishiguro liked the screenplay that he had scripted for a proposed film version of the novel. All references to Pinter's screenplay in the text [of Jones's essay] are to this unpublished manuscript" (107n1).
  5. ^ In his 2008 essay published in The Pinter Review, Hudgins discusses further details about why "Pinter elected not to publish three of his completed film scripts, The Handmaid's Tale, The Remains of the Day, and Lolita," all of which Hudgins considers "masterful film scripts" of "demonstrable superiority to the shooting scripts that were eventually used to make the films"; fortunately ("We can thank our various lucky stars"), he says, "these Pinter film scripts are now available not only in private collections but also in the Pinter Archive at the British Library"; in this essay, which he first presented as a paper at the 10th Europe Theatre Prize symposium, Pinter: Passion, Poetry, Politics, held in Turin, Italy, in March 2006, Hudgins "examin[es] all three unpublished film scripts in conjunction with one another" and "provides several interesting insights about Pinter's adaptation process" (132).
  6. ^ "The Remains of the Day". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (1993-11-05). "The Remains Of The Day Movie Review (1993) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  8. ^ "‘The Remains of the Day’". 1993-11-05. Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (1993-11-05). "Movie Review - The Remains of the Day - Review/Film: Remains of the Day; Blind Dignity: A Butler's Story". Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  10. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-04. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Gale, Steven H. Sharp Cut: Harold Pinter's Screenplays and the Artistic Process. Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
  • Gale, Steven H., ed. The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany: SUNY Press, 2001.
  • Hudgins, Christopher C. "Harold Pinter's Lolita: 'My Sin, My Soul'." In The Films of Harold Pinter. Steven H. Gale, ed. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2001.
  • Hudgins, Christopher C. "Three Unpublished Harold Pinter Filmscripts: The Handmaid's Tale, The Remains of the Day, Lolita." The Pinter Review: Nobel Prize / Europe Theatre Prize Volume: 2005 - 2008. Francis Gillen with Steven H. Gale, eds. Tampa, Fla.: University of Tampa Press, 2008.

External links[edit]