Set in the early 1900s, this exquisite film traces evolving relations between two families: the wealthy, upper-crust Wilcoxes and the intellectual but decidedly middle-class Schlegels. First a bond is formed between Ruth Wilcox (Redgrave), who is mortally ill, and Margaret Schlegel (Thompson). When Ruth leaves her country estate to Margaret, her husband Henry (Hopkins) chooses not to honor the bequest. Still he is ever more drawn to Margaret, so she may be spending more time at Howards End regardless.
Few filmmakers capture period detail like the team of Merchant-Ivory, and this may be their finest hour. Here, a brilliant Hopkins is the personification of upper-class British reserve, while Thompson is expressive and radiant in an Oscar-winning performance. Vanessa Redgrave portrays Hopkins' dying wife with poignancy, and a youthful Helena Bonham Carter is suitably fiery as Thompson's modern sister. Don't miss this literate human drama of the first order.