My first thought following my consumption of the first episode of 4-part miniseries HOWARDS END was that it would be far more suitable to submit this review via a letter.
The most prominent means of correspondence in the episode is via prose - even when the correspondents live only down the street. My second thought was that I have now to sell a miniseries (for I wouldn't wish to put anyone off who is interested in watching) that I felt was rather bland.
I wasn't expecting an action-thriller, of course - and Howards End has the very typical, gentle and warm feel of every British show that centres on a rural environment. Even when set against some of lead actress Hayley Atwell's more purposeful movements - but it's almost too slow-moving.
It strikes the right tone for a miniseries designed to retell a novel about social conventions and relationships in early 1900s England. A novel that "in 1998, the Modern Library ranked [...] 38th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century", but it just lacks the flavour that modern television needs to hold an audience.
That lack of flavour is evident from the very first scene of the episode, in which Hayley Atwell's Margaret Schlegel reads countless letters delivered to her in London from her sister, Helen, with Helen's voiceover describing all the characters of the Wilcox family with whom she resides at Howards End. It introduces all of the characters, yes, and very adequately establishes the two main settings. Though it's a patently unstimulating and soullessly unorganic way to open a show, even a miniseries, that needs to win viewers.
Opening scene and overall lack of dynamism aside - Howards End more than competently tells the first chapter of this highly-regarded story. It does a far better job of introducing and discussing the social commentaries it wants to focus on without needing to be heavy-handed early on.
The ideals and conventions the novel explored, which the show lifts from those pages (I will presume, having never read the novel), are peppered into the dialogue around the initial drama, present, almost dormant, waiting for the next few episodes to fully expand on them. And that's a great way to enter this miniseries.
The score is equally well-designed, and provides some soul to scenes that require a little help to land - and I could listen to it all day.
I tuned in for the excellent cast and a setting not too far removed from the mid-1800s (a particular passion of mine), and came away feeling satisfied Howards End had achieved both. What I didn't come away with was a desire to tune in to the next episode. But perhaps you will enjoy it far more than I. I'll sit squarely on the fence with Howards End.
- Aired on BBC1, November 12 2017 at 21:00.