The four-episode series about the drama surrounding the Wilcox and Schlegel families in turn-of-the-century England was adapted by screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and directed by Hettie Macdonald (Doctor Who). Critics have lauded this fresh new version of this beloved classic as bold and audacious, and it clearly succeeds in pleasing both lovers of opulent period dramas, as well as literary and historical purists. Featuring Tracey Ullman and Julia Ormond, it also stars Matthew Macfadyen (Pride & Prejudice) and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter).

A classic reconsidered

While Forster’s novel will always be the main source for comparing any adaptation, the ‘92 Oscar-winning Merchant Ivory film adaption is bound to draw the most comparisons. While the film was a lavish and almost nostalgic celebration of the period architecture, clothing and interiors, the mini-series has a sharper class consciousness that seeps in through the set and costumes, which makes it both a more true adaptation of Forster’s text and also a much more thorough analysis of it. The longer length of the series also allows for much more detail to be included and the overall feeling is much less rushed, the story allowed to unfurl at a pace more in step with the novel itself.

Heightened social scrutiny

In another marked change, the roles of two minor characters (whose race was assumed to be white in Forster’s novel) have been cast as black characters. While this does not in itself make a big impact in the storyline, it does make the novel’s scrutiny surrounding class, racial and colonial issues much more prominent. It makes far more impact when the British plundering of the African continent for silver and rubber is touched on by characters if there are actual Africans included in the cast. We can’t help but think that Forster would no doubt have approved.

Watch Howards End Mondays on M-Net (101) at 22:05

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