The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day Information

The Remains of the Day is a 1993 Merchant Ivory film adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the 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 Britain, Mr Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), the butler of Darlington Hall, receives a letter from Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), who worked with him as housekeeper. Twenty years later, Lord Darlington (James Fox) has died and his stately country manor has been sold to a retired American Congressman, Mr. Lewis (Christopher Reeve). Stevens goes to visit Miss Kenton, ostensibly to persuade her to return to service.

The film flashes back to Kenton's arrival as housekeeper. At the time, Darlington Hall was frequented by many politicians of the interwar period. Stevens, loyal and perfectionistic, calm and efficient, had to manage the household so that the servants seemed almost invisible, and he took great pride in his skills and his profession. He clashed with Miss Kenton, his equal in the household hierarchy, but displayed only understated irritation with her and others. Indeed, his utter focus and emotional repression were most fully displayed when his own father, also an employee, was dying; Stevens continued his duties without pause.

Miss Kenton was equally efficient and strong-willed but warmer and less repressed. Relations between the two eventually warmed and Kenton even teased Stevens. It becomes clear that she had fallen in love with him, and perhaps he with her, though his feelings are left ambiguous. She tried to break through the wall, but Stevens' coldness was too formidable. Finally, she struck up a relationship with another man and married him, leaving the house just before the outbreak of World War II. Before her departure, she insulted Stevens, clearly out of distress that he had never expressed any emotional interest in her, but he still refused to be moved. When she cried in frustration, the only response he could muster was to call her attention to a domestic task.

Lord Darlington used his influence to broker the 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. Most of his guests at a series of conferences and meetings were like-minded British and European aristocrats. The exception was the American Congressman Lewis, depicted as younger and much more worldly than other dignitaries. He eventually lost patience with Lord Darlington's naive schemes and argued in favour of the foreign policy being conducted by "professionals" rather than by "gentlemen amateurs" (dramatic irony being supplied by the fact that the audience knows that Lewis is correct but none of the characters do). After reading the work of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Lord Darlington commanded that two German-Jewish maids should be dismissed, considering their employment inappropriate. Stevens carried out the order but Miss Kenton almost resigned in protest, fearing that the girls would have to return to Germany; her own need for employment caused her to avoid following through. Darlington later regretted his decision and asked Stevens to reinstate the maids, but they could not be located.

Darlington died a broken man, his reputation destroyed after he had been denounced a traitor in the Daily Mail (it is reported that he lost a libel suit against them, ruining him financially as well). When asked about his former employer, Stevens at first denies having served or even met him but later admits to having served him. He recognizes his former master's failings and indicates that he has regrets about his own life, as does Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn). However, Kenton declines Stevens' offer to return to Darlington Hall, announcing instead that she wants to remain with her husband, since their daughter is soon to present them with a grandchild. After the meeting, Stevens departs for Darlington Hall in a downpour of rain. Kenton cries, while Stevens, still unable to demonstrate any feeling, simply raises his hat.

The film's final scene shows Stevens making the final preparations to Darlington Hall in preparation for the arrival of Congressman Lewis' family. As the two men enter the banquet hall, where a table tennis table now lies, Congressman Lewis reflects on the banquet that he attended in this room in 1935 and admits embarrassment over his comments (despite his prophecy of a disaster being more than borne out by the Second World War). He asks Stevens if he remembers the comments, to which Stevens replies that he was too busy serving. Symbolically, a pigeon then flies into the room through the fireplace and becomes trapped in the hall. The two men eventually coax it out through a window and it flees to freedom, leaving Stevens and Darlington Hall behind.

Differences from the novel

The film compresses the time frame of the novel considerably, offering a far less subtle treatment of Anglo-German relations between the wars than the novel. In the novel the conference at Darlington Hall takes place in 1923, prompted by concerns that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was unduly vindictive, and therefore has no direct connection with the Nazis or appeasement. 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 this is over he renounces his action and attempts to make reparations to the girls.

Mr Lewis, the American Congressman who calls Lord Darlington an amateur, is seen as the owner of Darlington Hall in the film after the peer'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 where Miss Kenton is crying is off-scene in the novel, and Mr. Stevens does not interrupt it to talk about domestic matters; instead he debates entering but walks off "? in that sense, he is shown as less hard-hearted than in the film.


  • Anthony Hopkins as Head Butler Mr James Stevens
  • Emma Thompson as Housekeeper Miss Sarah 'Sally' Kenton
  • James Fox as Lord Darlington
  • Christopher Reeve as Congressman Trent Lewis
  • Peter Vaughan as William Stevens ("Mr Stevens senior")
  • Hugh Grant as Cardinal (Lord Darlington's godson)
  • John Haycraft as Auctioneer
  • Caroline Hunt as Landlady
  • Michael Lonsdale as Dupont D'Ivry
  • Paula Jacobs as Mrs Mortimer
  • Ben Chaplin as Charlie
  • Steve Dibben as George (footman No. 2)
  • Abigail Harrison as Housemaid
  • Patrick Godfrey as Spencer
  • Peter Halliday as Canon Tufnell
  • Terence Bayler as Trimmer
  • Hugh Sweetman as Scullery Boy
  • Tony Aitken as Postmaster
  • Emma Lewis as Elsa
  • Joanna Joseph as Irma
  • Tim Pigott-Smith as Benn
  • Lena Headey as Lizzie


A film adaptation of the novel was originally 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. 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).

Though no longer the director, Nichols remained associated with the project as one of the producers of the Merchant Ivory film.


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.


The original score is composed by Richard Robbins. The score was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score (lost 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 was universally praised. The film currently has 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, a site that tracks down film reviews posted by both critics and audiences and 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." Roger Ebert particularly praised the film and called it "a subtle, thoughtful movie." In his review for The Washington Post, Desson Howe gave the film a favourable 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. Vincent Canby of The New York Times said, in another favourable 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." The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, but won none:

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 Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List)

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