Howards End is like an annoying 1,000-piece puzzle. There's potential in every individual piece, but it's difficult to fit them all together.
The four-part BBC miniseries, released to U.S. audiences in April, is based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same name. Well-constructed and fast-paced, it stands out from other period dramas. However, rushed storylines create gaps in the story that detract from character development.
Like the novel, the miniseries examines social class and divisions in England during the turn of the 19th century through three families: the Schlegels, Basts and Wilcoxes. The Schlegels represent the provocative intellectuals; the Wilcoxes, the arrogant, capitalist upper-class; the Basts, the struggling working class.
Howards End's filming technique resembles the likes of Downton Abbey. Overdramatic music is used in the opening scene, and underscores deaths and other major plot twists. The characters are deeply connected to nature and are often pictured strolling through gardens. Howards End excels in using nature as a serene and picturesque backdrop that balances the chaotic lives of its characters.
The editing in Howards End is clean — cameras shift smoothly between scenes and plotlines. Characters and backdrops are balanced proportionally, and camera views enhance both nature and the actors' natural features. Narrations and voiceovers are also used effectively, especially during letter-reading scenes.
British-American actress Hayley Atwell lends sensitivity to the harsh, idealistic Margaret, the eldest Schlegel sibling. Matthew Macfadyen, best known for his role as Darcy in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, lends a likable harshness to father Henry Wilcox. When paired, Macfadyen and Atwell create awkward and enjoyable sequences that are balanced with dramatic altercations.
The show also highlights struggles viewers can relate to in 2018 — for example, troubles with money, or being laid off. Women's rights issues, including property rights and intellectualism, also play an important role as they underscore the strong, outspoken nature of the Schlegel women.
The series is enjoyable and fast-paced. The show is relatively dialogue-heavy, but the conversational scenes are kept to a minimum to keep the story moving and to hold audience attention.
The briskly moving storyline minimizes audience boredom, but at the price of understanding. The series rushes through extended periods of time without updating the audience, and as a result, viewers may lose key plot developments. Strained relationships and character arcs are condensed, particularly in the case of the Schlegel sisters.
At only 240 minutes, Howards End is picky about the details it discloses to viewers, but this technique only creates confusion and leaves viewers to mend the gaps for themselves.