Alex Thompson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is film 1 of a long-ish marathon I'm doing over at the Filmspotting Forum with a few other members. In it we will be considering at least one movie from the careers of some of our best working actresses (Emma Thompson, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Juliette Binoche, and Meryl Streep) See all of my reviews here.
This is a tough beginning movie for this particular marathon. The Remains of the Day (based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I read earlier this year) is a story of concealed emotions. Much of the acting, then, is about not acting in a big or obvious manner, and sometimes it even goes so far as to seem like there's nothing happening. Emma Thompson plays Ms. Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington Hall, the giant house of Lord Darlington. Most of the movie is set in the inter-war period and Lord Darlington is one of the leaders of the appeasement movement in England. While the movie is concerned with the politics of the time - and the results of those politics - it is semi-uniquely focused through the lens of the house staff. Anthony Hopkins plays Stevens, the butler at Darlington Hall, and the movie generally follows him around as he serves those that are above him and pushes any real emotions to the side as he does so.
I said earlier that sometimes the acting went so inward that it seemed non-existant, but that's not entirely true. Emma Thompson never felt like there was nothing happening under her calm surface. When she's angry there's a twitch of the neck muscles, or when she's sad her eyes fill with tears that never fall. Repression is the name of the game, and she plays it wonderfully. As the film progresses she becomes more and more integral to the story and her situation calls for a greater range in the acting department. Ms. Kenton isn't a complicated lady, nor is she somebody of great stature. It is difficult, I think, to play a normal person entirely straight (which is what the confines of the story and the style of direction by James Ivory of Merchant and Ivory demands), but Emma Thompson excels at it. I know she can play larger than life as well, I was a big fan of her in Saving Mr Banks last year, but it was really great to see her play a quiet and nuanced role so well. She has a nice almost-chemistry with Anthony Hopkins that bubbles alongside their roles in the political sphere of the story which she navigates perfectly. She is spectacular.