The Remains of the Day (film)

The Remains of the Day

Film poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Mike Nichols
John Calley
Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Harold Pinter (uncredited)
Based on The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Edited by Andrew Marcus
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 $63.9 million[1]

The Remains of the Day is a 1993 Anglo-American drama film adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the 1989 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 post-war Britain, Mr Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall, receives a letter from Miss Kenton, a recently divorced former co-worker employed as the housekeeper some twenty years earlier. Lord Darlington has died a broken man, his reputation destroyed after he was exposed as a Nazi sympathizer, and his stately country manor has been sold to a retired United States Congressman, Mr Lewis. Stevens is granted permission to borrow his Daimler, and he sets off to the West Country to meet Kenton.

The film flashes back to Kenton's arrival as housekeeper in the 1930s. The ever efficient Stevens manages the household well, taking great pride in his profession, and his dedication is fully displayed when, while his father lies dying, he steadfastly continues his duties. Kenton also proves to be a valuable servant, and she is equally efficient and strong-willed, but also warmer and less repressed. Relations between the two eventually warm, and it becomes clear that she has feelings for him, yet despite their proximity and shared purpose, Stevens' detachment remains unchanged. Eventually, she forms a relationship with a former co-worker and leaves the house prior to the outbreak of World War II. Before she resigns, Stevens finds her crying in frustration, but the only response he can muster is to call her attention to a neglected domestic task.

Meanwhile, the hall is regularly frequented by politicians of the interwar period, and many of Lord Darlington's guests are like-minded British and European aristocrats, with the exception of Congressman Lewis. Darlington later also meets Prime Minister Chamberlain and the German Ambassador, and uses his influence to try and broker a 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. In the midst of these events, one day Darlington suddenly requests that two newly appointed German-Jewish maids, both refugees, should be dismissed. Stevens carries out the command, and Kenton threatens resignation in protest, but she is too timid to do so.

En route to meeting Kenton, when asked about his former employer, Stevens at first denies having served or even met him, but later admits to having served and respected him. He meets Kenton (now Mrs Benn), and they reminisce, but she declines Stevens's offer to return to Darlington Hall, wishing instead to remain near her pregnant daughter. After the meeting, Kenton is emotional, while Stevens is still unable to demonstrate any feeling. Back in Darlington Hall, Lewis asks Stevens if he remembers much of the old days, to which Stevens replies that he was too busy serving. Symbolically, a pigeon then becomes trapped in the hall, and the two men eventually free it, leaving both Stevens and Darlington Hall far behind.

Departures from the novel

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.

The film is also less condemnatory of both Stevens and Darlington. According to Pinter scholar Steven H. Gale, the Ishiguro novel and Pinter's screenplay are both fairly clear that Stevens is aware of the discussions occurring at Darlington Manor. They also make it clear that Darlington is not a well-intentioned fool but a man wedded to fascism. As an example, Gale points to the scene where Sir Leonard Bax and a man identified as "Spencer" humiliate Stevens by asking his opinion on various world problems. Not included in the film is the scene which follows in both the novel and Pinter draft, in which Darlington apologizes for Spencer's treatment of Stevens but also claims democracy is "finished" and "rubbish". Stevens quotes Spencer almost verbatim, showing that he did pay attention to the speeches and discussions (contrary to his claim in the film).[2]

In the film, Stevens' father, ill and bedridden, makes an embarrassing admission about his marriage. In the novel, he only asks Stevens whether he was a good father—a question which Stevens dodges due to discomfort and a haste to get back to work.

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, 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.



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.[3] 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).[4][5][6]

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, which stood in for Clevedon. The pub, where Mr Stevens stays, is the Hop Pole in Limpley Stoke; the shop featured is also in Limpley Stoke. The pub where Miss Kenton and Mr Benn meet is The George Inn, Norton St Philip.


The character of Sir Geoffrey Wren is based loosely on that of Sir Oswald Mosley, a British fascist active in the 1930s.[7] Wren is depicted as a strict vegetarian, mimicking the diet of his idol, Adolf Hitler.[8]

Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax also appears in the film. Lord Darlington tells Stevens that Halifax approved of the polish on the silver, and Halifax himself later appears when Darlington meets secretly with the German Ambassador and his aides at night. Halifax was a chief architect of the British policy of appeasement from 1937 to 1939.[9]


The Remains of the Day
Film score by Richard Robbins
Released 1993
Length 49:26
Professional ratings
Review scores
Entertainment WeeklyA 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

The film received 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."[10] Roger Ebert particularly praised the film and called it "a subtle, thoughtful movie."[11] 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.[12] 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."[13] The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, but won none:[14]

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 Adapted Screenplay Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List)

The film is also recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. "The Remains of the Day". Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  2. Gale, Steven H. (2001). The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. p. 106. ISBN 9780791449325.
  3. "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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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).
  7. "Four Weddings actor visits Creebridge". Galloway Gazette. 26 November 2012. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
  8. Giblin, James Cross (2002). The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Clarion Books. p. 175. ISBN 9780395903711.
  9. Lee, David (2010). Stanley Melbourne Bruce: Australian Internationalist. London: Continuum. pp. 121–122. ISBN 9780826445667.
  10. "The Remains of the Day". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
  11. Ebert, Roger (1993-11-05). "The Remains Of The Day Movie Review (1993) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2013-09-19.
  12. "'The Remains of the Day'". 1993-11-05. Retrieved 2013-09-19.
  13. 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.
  14. "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  15. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.

Works cited

External links

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