The Remains of the Day (1993)
In the film version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Mr. Stevens, as embodied by Anthony Hopikins, is the perfect butler, and that is his tragedy. He values duty above all, which makes him an excellent overseer of Darlington Hall in the 1930s but which also leads to shame and regret in his twilight years. To be fair, since he knows nothing outside the world of service (his father is a butler, too, working in the same country mansion), he is too ignorant of world affairs to recognize what a disastrous dilettante his boss, Lord Darlington (James Fox) is.
So Stevens knows no better than to trust the aristocrat’s good will and judgment when Lord Darlington stages a diplomatic conference that reaffirms the policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany, or when, out of deference, he dismisses two German-Jewish housemaids, even though the result was almost certainly their deportation and death. Nor does Stevens permit himself to express any emotion when his father dies on the job, or when the equally efficient Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) offers him what will be the only opportunity for romantic love he’ll ever know.
Stevens’ most shameful secret is his off-hours fondness for trivial romance novels, but maybe he should have been more ashamed of his inability to peer beyond the polished silver and manicured gardens to recognize the messy world of human experience beyond the grounds of Darlington Hall.
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