The Schlegel sisters, living in turn of the century England, are independent and compassionate, and capable of befriending anyone. This includes the wealthy Wilcoxes and the decidedly less wealthy Basts, whose lives intertwine (in a way too complex to summarize here) and leave everyone changed. This is one of those films where I read the book first, so I’m afraid I can’t help reviewing it without making comparisons to the source material. Fortunately for HOWARDS END, that works in its favor. Producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory collaborated on a number of E. M. Forster adaptations, a handful of which I’ve seen, and they consistently have a talent for getting at the heart of Forster’s stories. Sure, there are plenty of beautiful period costumes and lush locations. But that’s just window dressing for the characters, their relationships and their lives, that make the narrative powerful and surprisingly contemporary. Of course, a cast that includes Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, and Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t hurt.