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admin | Apr 04, 2018
Hayley Atwell Introduces the World of Howards End

Alongside a set of exclusive portraits, the actress opens up about her role in the new miniseries based on the E. M. Forster classic.

Merchant Ivory immortalized E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End in a glorious, Oscar-winning film in 1992, and now, a new BBC/Starz miniseries is rebooting the timeless drama for a contemporary audience. The four-part adaptation follows three vastly different families—the intellectual Schlegel sisters, the capitalist Wilcoxes and the impoverished Basts—as they intertwine and clash at the dawn of the modern era.

The series, directed by Hettie MacDonald and written by Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea writer Kenneth Lonergan, centers on fiercely independent Margaret Schlegel (Hayley Atwell) and her idealistic sister Helen (Philippa Coulthard). As Margaret finds herself drawn into the inner circle of the wealthy, mysterious Wilcoxes, Helen devotes herself to a young working-class man desperate to improve himself, setting up the three families for a calamitous encounter when long-buried secrets and private prejudices come to light.

Alongside these gorgeous portraits, exclusive to BAZAAR.com, Atwell walks us through this fascinating cast of characters and why the women and relationships of Howards End should be the new normal in film and television.

Howards End premieres Sunday, April 8 on Starz.

1 Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel

“Emma Thompson [who played Margaret in the 1992 film] told me she believes E. M. Forster is one of literature’s first proper feminists, in the sense that he gave [Margaret] her full mind,” says Atwell. “He gave her so many dimensions. She can be contradictory, and hypocritical, and self-aware but also completely naïve. She is passionate yet maternal. She is rational yet, at times, incredibly confused and overwhelmed. All of this is done with such elegance and emotional intelligence and clarity, which is like, ‘Wow, this is written by a guy?'”

2 Matthew Macfadyen as Henry Wilcox

“Matthew is very, very funny. He’s got amazing comedic timing. It’s really fun to hang out with him and the ice had been broken between us because we did Any Human Heart and Pillars of the Earth. It’s always lovely when you’re back working with someone.”

3 Philippa Coulthard as Helen Schlegel

“What Forster played brilliantly is that Helen is full of all the passion and the idealism that we do tend to have, especially when we’re younger and we don’t see how the world works,” says Atwell. “We want to go out and rally and protest, and [we see] how important those are. But at the same time, with Helen, her passions and her emotions get the better of her, and that becomes detrimental to her cause.”

4 Joseph Quinn as Leonard Bast

“This story is a classic example of saying that, frankly, poverty is not a choice. If Bast was born into the same class as the Schlegels, he would thrive. [But] he’s just trying to survive. It’s not just that the person can’t afford luxuries—the person can’t function properly. Their brain can’t function properly when they are living on the breadline and trying to survive.

“As humans, we tend to be very good at turning a blind eye to situations we find very uncomfortable by distancing ourselves from them. By going, ‘I can’t relate to that person, that’s not my world. That’s not my class. It’s not my political views.’ We’re very good at separating ourselves. And I think the danger of that is we become desensitized to the cry of humanity. Of going, ‘We need each other.’ And we actually thrive when we accept our diversity and we help each other rise up. I think that’s why stories like this need to be told.”

5 Julia Ormond as Ruth Wilcox

“Margaret’s love for Mrs. Wilcox is like this girl crush that she has, and I totally relate to that—like the number of women in my profession who I respect and admire. I go, ‘God, I just want to hang out with you. Teach me your ways.'”

6 A Remarkable Woman

“This is absolutely the time where we really feel like, as women, we can shed light on these fantastic stories. I feel like it’s about the proper representation of women, as we see them in their full capacity to be all the things men can be—shining a light so that characters like Margaret Schlegel don’t surprise us anymore. It shouldn’t really be that she’s an exception.”

7 Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox

“Margaret sees Mr. Wilcox… he’s not perfect, he’s enough,” says Atwell. “It’s the longing for companionship and the longing for connecting with another human being who’s so different from you in so many ways, but just enough to know that there is something there worth salvaging. I think it’s much more mature. It’s not like a hysterical, romantic idealist version of, ‘I’m going to find my soulmate and he’s going to be perfect and he’s gonna save me and fulfill me and complete me.’ Even Forster back then was saying, ‘I’m not sure those people exist.’ You’re never going to find another human being who’s going to know you better than you know yourself.”

8 The Sisters Schlegel

“It’s so lovely to see two women, sisters, not pitted against each other, and I think that’s far more accurate,” says Atwell. “In storytelling, you have relationships sometimes where you have jealousy or betrayal or anything to spice it up with a bit of drama. I think there’s a place for that. But then isn’t there also a place where people go, ‘Oh my goodness! It’s really captured the affections that I [have] for other women who I respect and admire!’?”

9 At Howards End

“The message is ‘only connect.’ We have Margaret wanting to connect with people, so she’s beyond the social class system of her time and beyond the limited circumstances that the Basts find themselves in and how emotionally constipated the Wilcoxes are. She sees beyond each person’s archetype and beyond their limitations, and tries to connect with them in a very human way.”

10 On-Set Antics

“We did this funny thing where we were joking about how Margaret Schlegel infantilizes Mr. Wilcox by the end. Like, ‘Did I do wrong?’ He’s just kind of a stoic, staunch countenance and by the end he doesn’t quite know who he is anymore. Margaret’s opened up his world to realizing how blinded he is by life. And so I kept planting things like a pacifier in his jacket pocket. And I put a diaper in his pants. Every time he asked for a cup of tea, I got the runners to put it in a sippy cup and give him a bib.”

11 Tracey Ullman as Aunt Juley

“We were lucky enough to have a collaboration with an art department that would come to us and say, ‘What parts of the book do you love, that you want seen in your bedroom, your drawing room, your living room?’ I was like, ‘Margaret is very much about letters and writing.’ She writes to Aunt Juley and she writes to Helen and she writes a lot to Mrs. Wilcox. You’d open up the drawer on set and it’d be full of letters that Margaret had written Aunt Juley. And really funny ones, letters from Aunt Juley to Tibby like, ‘Tibby, you really need to sort out your flatulence problem.'” [Source]

TAGS: Howards EndInterviews

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