Last night saw the fourth and last episode of the Edwardian drama Howard’s End on BBC One. Firstly I had never heard of this before, upon realising it is adapted from a novel by E. M. Forster and was first published in 1910, the height of the reign of Edward 7th son of Queen Victoria.
For something I had never heard about or seen before I rather liked it and would be giving it four out of five stars.
Personally I found it rather poignant and moving. This is my review.
It centres around three siblings of Margaret, Helen and Tibby Schlegel; all three are marvellous in appreciating the arts and culture in their own ways. They are intelligent and the two sisters Margaret and Helen have their own inheritances to live off, whilst Tibby is a man with an expectation to work, do well and raise a family in the expectations of Edwardian society.
For me the whole drama highlights the social and economic differences between people in that era. The glamourous associations and wealth accumulated by business with the Wilcox family, who are brought into the story from the start as they grow an association with a trip in Germany. I would like to point out the Schlegel siblings are half German. Helen stays with the family in the countryside at Howard’s End. It seems a charming place but Tibby hay fever stops him and Margaret joining. At Howard’s End Helen began a liaison with the younger son, but it is broken up because of convention.
Moving further into the story there is the comparisons of Margaret a young, vibrant, opinionated and intelligent woman who could have easily led a suffragette movement, to Mrs Ruth Wilcox who was demure, quiet and longed for a freedom that Margaret enjoyed. I think the highlight was shown in a scene with Helen at the Wilcox’s when a debate had begun and Ruth Wilcox mentioned she was glad she didn’t need to vote. Something which confused Helen who like her sister is vibrant, yet she is more naive in another sense.
From this moment I found Helen insufferable, she was childlike and insensitive to others feelings. One thing to compare her to her sister was Margaret sacrifice for her siblings really comes through passionately and vehemently throughout the story which is why as a character I love he, as she shows how dependable she is on family and the unit of closeness they have in comparison to the Wilcox machine. None of the siblings listened to conventions unlike the Wilcox’s whose reputation meant everything, which in the end is ironic, which I will come to later. The only I didn’t find Helen insufferable was the last episode when reality had hit home to the situation she was in. In calling her sister a hero was a thank you without saying the words, which was nice to see a reconciliation between sisters, but credit to Margaret where it was due, in my opinion!
One character I could not take to was Leonard Bast. His domineer and association to his wife Jacky I could not fathom. They were not married yet kept to that preface again because of reputation. His life was not benefited somewhat with his association to the Schlegel sisters, especially Helen who interferes with his life, warning him from a source of Henry Wilcox that the company he worked for as a clerk will soon be closing. He quits his job finds another and is laid off because they reduced staff and he is last in and first to leave. This leaves him in poverty to the guilt of Helen. See this is what I couldn’t understand. Did the feelings develop after she wanted to help him or was he a mere pet project of hers to make the Wilcox’s of the world suffer? Or were there ever feelings? Just a passion to suffice the loneliness she portrayed to have, which in the end she became pregnant by with Leonard Bast child.
Margaret is a woman I admire as she sacrifices so much that in the end she wants something for herself. In falling for Henry Wilcox a man her sister dislikes a lot to the point of vexation. She convenes to the typical Edwardian woman standards with a twist. Margaret is a modern woman in standing up for what she believes in and speaking her mind freely, regardless of her husband Henry Wilcox. She stays true to herself and family even though she is in love with Henry. Helen even points out her heroism to secure a home in a permanent place, as that is why they had to move from Wickham place.
Howard’s end is full of ironies. The Wilcox family especially the children who learnt from their father that reputation and status is everything, yet when Charles the eldest son is found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Leonard Bast the family is in ruin. In comparison to the Schlegel who enjoyed some of the finer things did not purely go on reputations and status which was proven in Helen’s pregnancy prevail and get a happy ending and a house, which is what they wanted from episode one.
That Henry Wilcox only changed not after his second wife Margaret told him the truth of what he was like, but the imprisonment of his son, shows that deep down Margaret and Henry came to a unity. That change is possible.
Furthermore it was a drama that symbolised change, not through the men but with the women. Each character had something to bring and symbolised society itself. For me Ruth Wilcox represented the Victorian woman, the demure, silent woman with no opinion but just to rear children. She dies and in a way that figure of a woman and of a stereotype goes as well. Whereas Margaret represents the new woman, the intelligent opinionated truthful woman who is where the time period would be heading. Helen naïve nature today represents which it didn’t back then the naïve and innocence of youth that was brought to a quick reality with life changing events. Today that would symbolise a war, back then maybe it was a symbol of how Helen never truly conformed the way her sister did, because she didn’t have to. Henry represents the old style of work and relevance of importance in a name and fortune. He is shallow and relies on those only of his class station, before becoming embroiled in a Bast saga and the truth from his wife and the tragedy of his son changes. This represents society’s views of having to change whether it was ready or not. Charles purely represented colonial greed, which was ironic as his younger brother was working out in the colonies of colonial Great Britain.
In conclusion I would watch it again!