Director James Ivory's wonderful 1993 effort stars Anthony Hopkins as James Stevens, a man who devotes his life to providing for his employer. Working as a butler in a large English country home before and after WWII, Stevens devotes every moment to make sure that he's doing all that he possibly can do for Lord Darlington (James Fox).
Most of the film presents the story in flashback, as Stevens is recalling his years of service, thinking mostly about his relationship with Sally Kenton (Emma Thompson). The two respected and may have even loved one another, but in the midst of having to worry about pleasing their employer, the two (especially Stevens) remain more devoted to their jobs than to their own lives and their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, important political figures, including an American congressman played by Christopher Reeve, have gathered around the house to discuss the politcal unrest that rages around them and the situation in Germany.
The film succeeeds because of two remarkable lead performances by Thompson and especially Hopkins, who is outstanding as Stevens. Not only does Hopkins deliver his lines perfectly, he has such fantastic command of subtle touches to express the character's emotions. A small smile, a pause, a nod. These little things are fairly insignificant when dropped by most actors, but Hopkins conducts his performances in such a manner that every little element adds up into a moment that's far grander than the dialogue on the page would have likely suggested. Thompson is particularly good as well, a subdued but emotional performance that is quite moving.
The film is also technically solid, as it offers beautiful cinematography and a detailed and accurate looking representation of the time period through the production design (Luciana Arrighi - "Anna and the King"), costumes (Jenny Beavan - "Anna and the King" & John Bright - "Golden Bowl") and set decoration (Ian Whittaker - "Anna and the King").
VIDEO: "Remains of the Day" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen from Columbia/Tristar. While I didn't find this transfer free of concerns, I will say that much of it looked strong and the positives did outweigh the video's few negatives. Sharpness and detail were solid throughout, as the picture remained well-defined and crisp throughout, with a smooth, clean look that was pleasing to watch.
Yet, there's got to be discussion of problems, and I did feel that this presentation did have a few that were worth noting. Minor print flaws did occur and included a handful of light specks and the occasional mark, but not scratches or anything else too objectionable. Some mild edge enhancement was unfortunately visible a couple of times, but didn't prove to be majorly distracting, only a minor irritation. No pixelation or other problems were noticed.
Colors remained superb throughout the presentation, as colors came through looking rich and vibrant, with no smearing or other problems. Black level appeared solid and flesh tones looked accurate and natural. While not outstanding, this was a pleasant and occasionally very good looking transfer. Subtitles are included in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
SOUND: "Remains of the Day" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and, as one might expect, the film's audio remains largely rooted in the front speakers. When the surrounds do come into use, they reinforce the film's score, but suprisingly offer very little in the way of ambient sounds in the outdoor scenes. Audio quality remained very good, as the score often richly filled the listening space and dialogue came through clearly and naturally.
MENUS:: Attractive and elegantly animated main menu, with static, but nicely designed sub-menus.
Commentary: This is a commentary from actress Emma Thompson and Merchant & Ivory. While I wouldn't consider it one of the best commentaries that I've ever heard, I thought it was a suprisingly good track that's actually somewhat funny at times, thanks to Thompson's light sense of humor and quick wit. The track provides a good amount of coverage about several topics, including working with the actors involved, some stories about obstacles that the production had to face and even some jokes about what happened during filming. If any complaint can be made, the track does have a few minor pauses of silence and the occasional moments where the particpants get a little too involved in talking about how wonderful it was to work with one another. Otherwise, a fine track that's worthy of a listen.
Also: A nearly 30 minute exclusive documentary with retrospective interviews with many members of the cast and crew, as well as the film's "HBO: Making Of" documentary and an additional, 15 minute new featurette. Additional features include three deleted scenes with director's commentary and filmographies. The inside insert offers production notes.
Final Thoughts: "Remains of the Day" is a moving and well-crafted picture that is carried superbly through two masterful lead performances. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers good audio/video along with some strong supplements, the best of which is a great audio commentary lead by Emma Thompson. Recommended.