Friday, February 8, 2013

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas #5: "The Remains of the Day"

Housekeeper Miss Kenton in 1993's The Remains of the Day, one of only two or three feature film roles for which Meryl Streep was actually turned down(!), is my latest entry in this unintentionally fallowed section.  It's unfortunate writing about a film role which Meryl actually really wanted but did not ultimately get to portray on screen (see my post on Sweet Dreams).  In this instance, it's particularly disappointing, considering the film took place during a period where Meryl had uncharacteristically strayed from her typical dramatic turns in order to try her hand at shitty comedic roles.

Remains begins as a sort of flashing back of Miss Kenton's (Emma Thompson) former position as housekeeper for a wealthy Englishman on a large country estate in the years leading up to World War II.  Twenty years later, having left her husband, she finds herself in need of return to work in service.  She therefore writes the head butler, played by Anthony Hopkins, who eventually  tries to persuade her to return to Darlington Hall, which is now owned by a former U.S. Congressman (Christopher Reeve).   The flashbacks show us an unrealized romantic relationship between Miss Kenton and the private and seemingly unemotional Mr. Stevens (Hopkins).  All this takes place against the backdrop of rising Nazi influence in Western Europe, a party which Darlington Hall's owner becomes closely linked.  Having never appropriately expressed his affections, the film basically ends with Mr. Stevens waving goodbye to a sobbing Miss Kenton, who regrets not having made her own feelings more known prior to leaving Darlington Hall, ultimately marrying a man she never really loved the way she did Stevens.

It would've been fantastic to see how Meryl interpreted that scene.  Miss Kenton is a borderline supporting role in my opinion, but both Hopkins and Thompson were deservedly nominated for Academy Awards in lead. In total the film received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, despite winning none.  It's an absolutely fabulous script and was obviously very well received by critics.  No wonder Meryl had been so interested.

The events which led to Meryl being replaced are only hazily documented.  Evidently Mike Nichols (who had directed her in Silkwood, Heartburn and Postcards from the Edge) was set to direct the film in the early 90's.  He had Meryl and Jeremy Irons read for the leads but deemed the two unsuitable for the roles.  Meryl's agent, who was also Nichols's agent, failed to inform her of this and she therefore sort of lost the part behind her back.  This resulted in Meryl switching agents and living with a bit of a chip on her shoulder about what had taken place.  Apparently all is fine now, but I can easily understand Meryl's anger, considering it was the kind of part that was no doubt becoming few and far between after turning 40.  Thompson was 34 when the film was released.  This isn't to say that Meryl was replaced due to age, but her outrage in my opinion speaks to the leanness of great roles for women at that time.  The film ended up being directed by James Ivory.  1993 instead saw Meryl star alongside Irons in the forgettable The House of the Spirits.   Huge opportunity missed.


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