By People Staff
Updated April 13, 1992 12:00 PM

Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave

Through such movies as A Room with a View, The Bostonians and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, the producer-director-screenwriter troika of Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has become synonymous with Masterpiece Theatre aesthetics, stateliness, sumptuous interiors and lavish detail. Never have the team’s gifts been put to higher service than in this elegant adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel of missed connections.

Two sisters, Thompson and Bonham Carter, are living the highbrow rather than the high life in early-20th-century London, debating suffrage, attending recitals and reading serious novels. But their serene existence is upended by a rapacious family, the Wilcoxes, whom they had met before the time of the movie, a meeting that led to a brief romance between Bonham Carter and a Wilcox son. Howards End (the name refers to the Wilcoxes’ country home) chronicles the friendship between Thompson and the Wilcox matriarch (a grand, and fragile, Redgrave) and, after Redgrave’s death, Thompson’s marriage to her barely bereaved widower (Hopkins), a man of implacable will.

Thompson, radiating intelligence, shines as a woman who marries in desperation and repents at leisure. The cameo-faced Bonham Carter (Hamlet) is convincing as an impassioned crusader for an ill-used family friend, while Hopkins makes palpable the downward spiral from bully to broken man. Ivory is too fond of scenes that end in wipes and dissolves, and of scenes that feature flowers swaying in the breeze. Excess botanical references aside, though, Howards End is a feast for the eyes as well as the soul.(PG)