I saw the 1993 movie Remains of the Day, adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s prize-winning novel, and was appalled by the shallowness of the script (though it was better than most movies for a mass audience), and by the unpreparedness of the novelist to deal with such a momentous period in the history of the British class system. The following internet sources summarize the plot lines and major interpretations of both the acclaimed movie and novel.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economic_Consequences_of_the_Peace (authored by John Maynard Keynes, made a Lord in 1942).
Sparknotes (no relation) synopsis of Lord Darlington’s character in the novel:
“Lord Darlington is the former owner of Darlington Hall. He dies three years before the present day of Stevens’s narrative. Darlington is an old- fashioned English gentleman who feels regret and guilt about the harshness of England’s treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. This guilt is compounded by the fact that a close friend of Darlington’s, Herr Bremann, commits suicide after World War I. This event, in conjunction with the dire economic situation Lord Darlington witnesses on his visits to Germany, inspires him to take action. In the early 1920s, he organizes conferences at Darlington Hall to allow prominent Europeans to meet and discuss ways to revise the Treaty of Versailles; later, he invites British and German heads of state to Darlington Hall in an attempt to peacefully prevent the Second World War. All the while, however, Darlington never understands the true agenda of the Nazis, who use him to further Nazi aims in Britain. After World War II, Darlington is labeled a Nazi sympathizer and a traitor, which ruins his reputation and leaves him a broken and disillusioned old man at his death. Stevens always speaks highly of Darlington throughout the novel; he says it is a shame that people came to have such a terribly mistaken view of such a noble man.”
There is no excuse for such carelessness with a crucial period in the history of the West. Hence it should not shock us that one of its stars, Emma Thompson, has supported the movement to boycott Israel. She is not the only confused leftist associated with the movie. Perhaps in spite of its invincible ignorance and even cynicism, the film does demonstrate some of the themes in this website that most interest me:
First, movies rarely capture even small truths about the past; they are directed at a mass audience or at the half-educated moviegoer who has absorbed a touch of class. Thus, viewers are expected to focus on the undeniable spectacle of the stately homes of England, with all their gew-gaws and medieval trappings, set in the undeniably calming rolling countryside, far from the madding crowd. Ignored are the working class elements in Oswald’Mosley’s British fascism, along with long-standing ties between British aristocrats and Germans of the same class.
Second, the movie demonstrates, through the failure of the relationship between “Stevens” and “Miss Kenton” (beautifully enacted by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson), the dumb loyalty of the servant class to its masters. Hence the touches of sadism and masochism in the interactions between the two protagonists, and Stevens’s humiliation while being dressed down as an ignoramus by an antidemocratic guest of his boss, who has seen the future and it doesn’t work for his outnumbered class.
Why does “Sally” even regret her departure from Stevens? Did she have a repressed, distant, and priggish father, or was the real object of her affections Lord Darlington, an apparently asexual character who functions as a symbol for dozens of other British aristocrats (and their obedient public servants) who appeased the Nazis, and who blamed the rise of Hitler on excessive reparations after the Great War—but not on diplomatic errors and the monarchical coalition that appointed Hitler Chancellor in order to defeat the Soviets and the growing red labor movement at home?
Third, no one should be shocked that Emma Thompson supports BDS. “Sally” calls herself a coward in the movie script (for not leaving her job when her employer dismisses two German-refugee maids—an incident not in the novel). The film makes much of Nazi antisemitism, distancing itself from the British Labour Party and Ernest Bevin, whose postwar conduct was profoundly “anti-Zionist” and heartless. Where did “Sally” get her advanced views on the Jewish question, in contrast to her boss’s impulsive gesture after reading Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s famous rant against Jewry? Was there no strain of literary and political antisemitism in Britain that infested all classes of society?
Moreover, the “anti-Zionists” of today take great care to profess their anti-antisemitism, the more to justify their purity in denouncing Israelis for their allegedly nasty “imperialist” treatment of Arabs—exactly the position of the postwar Foreign and Colonial Offices. In real life, Greenpeace member Emma Thompson describes herself both as a “libertarian anarchist” but admits to being a supporter of the Labour Party nonetheless. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Thompson.) From the Wikipedia description of the movie and novel, it appears that the protests against Nazi treatment of Jews in 1936 were inventions of the screenwriters.
I could go on and on (for instance about the implausibly significant American Congressman Mr. Lewis, played by Christopher Reeve, who forgets that he stood up against Darlington’s guests in 1936), but shorter blogs are more likely to be read. By focusing on the fine acting of the cast, viewers, critics, and explicators are missing the deep structures that determined the fate of the British aristocracy in the twentieth century. That should be the focus of our “regret”—not a relationship that was doomed to fail.