The story opens in Edwardian England, where we meet Margaret and Helen Schlegel (Emma Thompson, Helena Bodham Carter), genteel sisters who are concerned with the plight of the poor. When they meet a lowly clerk who is struggling to get by, they try to mentor him but their advice only makes his situation worse. Meanwhile, Margaret develops a friendship with the Wilcoxes (Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave), a wealthy family whose country home, Howards End, will become an important part of all their lives.
Based on E. M. Forster's 1911 novel, this film is an insightful study of the social classes, their interaction (and lack thereof), and the highly structured and restrained manners that ruled society. Thompson won the Best Actress Oscar for her role, but it really is an ensemble piece and the entire cast is outstanding. The period is carefully recreated using wonderful costumes, sets, and cars and the photography is beautiful. The script (also Oscar-nominated) weaves together many seemingly unrelated characters and subplots, all building to an emotional conclusion at Howards End, which is the source of much desire, jealousy, and sorrow.
This is a thought-provoking and moving drama/tragedy. Highly recommended.