Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Remains of the Day (1993)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Remains of the Day (1993, UK)

In producer Ismail Merchant's and director James Ivory's psychological drama (adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro's 1988 novel) about a proper, rigidly-formal English butler - an insightful look at love and loss between an emotionally closed-off 'perfect' servant and his long-time co-worker/housekeeper:

  • in the film's opening set in post-war 1958 Britain: retired American millionaire and former Congressman Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve) acquired a mansion in the English countryside known as Darlington Hall; he had purchased the Oxfordshire estate (from the deceased Earl of Darlington) at auction and saved it from being demolished; he also took over the employment of Mr. James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), Darlington's aging, devoted and noble British butler with carefully-cultivated methods and strict behaviors
  • the opening scene of Stevens' receipt of a letter (heard in voice-over) from former housekeeper Mrs. Sarah "Sally" Benn/Kenton (Emma Thompson), who lived in a boarding house in Clevedon; Stevens and Sally had worked as colleagues over 20 years earlier ("in the good old days") in Darlington Hall ("I remember those years with you as among the happiest of my life"); she wrote that she was in an unhappy marriage and had left her husband Tom Benn (Tim Pigott-Smith) for the second time
  • the scene of Stevens' 1958 drive (in Lewis' 1937 Daimler), on his holiday, to the west country and the town of Clevedon to meet up with "Sally" Benn/Kenton (although divorced) - whom he thought might be persuaded into becoming Darlington Hall's housekeeper once again
  • the film's major flashback to 20 years earlier in the mid-to-late 1930s, when Lord Darlington (James Fox) (aka the Earl of Darlington) presided over the massive bustling estate – the ultra-efficient Stevens was responsible for hiring a new housekeeper and under-butler (two vacated positions after staffers eloped); during an interview with youthful Miss Kenton, Stevens asserted that housekeepers should not be involved in romantic relationships with other staff members ("What I do find a major irritation are those persons who are simply going from post to post looking for romance"); he also hired his own aging father William Stevens (Peter Vaughan) as the under-butler (with 54 years experience)
Miss Kenton's Original Interview to Become Housekeeper
Mr. William Stevens, Sr.
- Hired as Under-Butler
  • the two prime examples of Stevens' pedantry - he reprimanded Miss Kenton for placing a freshly-picked bouquet of flowers in his private office as a "distraction", and for inappropriately addressing his father as "William" rather than as "Mr. Stevens, Sr."
  • the growing revelation, pointed out by Miss Kenton to the stubborn Stevens, that his elderly 75 year-old father William was becoming incompetent and physically unable to handle all of his duties (growing tired, he absent-mindedly left a dustpan and broom on the stairs landing, misplaced a "chinaman" statue, and tripped and fell on an outdoor terrace while delivering a tray of tea) - eventually leading to his demotion and reduction of duties
  • the sequence of misguided, well-meaning and callow Lord Darlington's 1935 hosting of an "international conference" of fascist-sympathisizing British and European politicians and aristocrats (to assist fascist, Nazi-led Germany) - including US delegate Lewis; on the conference's last evening, Lewis rose and sternly spoke to the other attendees - arguing in favor of foreign affairs and policy conducted not by noble "gentlemen amateurs" but by political "professionals"
  • when notified during dinner that Stevens' seriously-ill father had suddenly died after a severe stroke, the dignified Stevens steadfastly maintained his dutiful profession without emotion and refused to immediately visit his father's bedside - instead, he insisted on carrying on with his work: ("I'm very busy at the moment, Miss Kenton, in a little while perhaps")
  • after the death of Mr. Stevens, Lord Darlington, in keeping with Jewish racial laws, suddenly requested that two newly-appointed German-Jewish maids (Elsa (Emma Lewis) and Irma (Joanna Joseph)), both refugees, could not remain hired and regrettably had to be dismissed; Stevens did not resign in protest ("His lordship has made his decision. There is nothing for you and I to discuss...It is out of our hands!") although Miss Kenton expressed her horror and threatened to leave: ("If you dismiss my girls tomorrow, it will be wrong, a sin!...Mr. Stevens, I warn you, if those girls go, I shall leave this house"); however, she remained: "I'm not leaving, I have no family. I'm a coward...I'm frightened of leaving and that's the truth"; however, months later, he mentioned he felt bad about their dismissal (as did the regretful Darlington), to the exasperated Miss Kenton, who remarked: "Why didn't you tell me so at the time? It would have helped me a great deal if I'd known you felt the same way as I did....Why do you always have to hide what you feel?"
Two German-Jewish Maids
"If those girls go, I shall leave this house"
Stevens Acquiescent to Darlington's Wishes
  • the scene of Stevens remaining neutral and apolitical during later meetings with Nazi leaders at Darlington - even when asked by one of the attendees, Tom Benn, to give his opinion about their pro-Nazi conversations (that eventually led to appeasement and war with Germany); Stevens turned a blind eye to the treasonous and gullible Darlington's duping by Nazi rhetoric: ("I hear nothing, Mr. Benn...To listen to the gentlemen's conversations would distract me from my work"); later when grilled by other visitors to Darlington to give his personal political opinion on various issues, Stevens kept insisting he was uninvolved: "I am unable to be of assistance in this matter"
  • the scene of Miss Kenton's realization that Stevens actually liked to have pretty girls working on the housemaid staff, although he would never admit it - she teased: "You don't like having pretty girls on the staff, I've noticed. Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction? Can it be that our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and cannot trust himself?"; he replied: "You know what I'm doing, Miss Kenton? I'm placing my thoughts elsewhere while you chatter away" - and she continued: "Then why is that guilty smile still on your face?"
  • the touching scene in which rigidly polite and repressed British butler Stevens was reluctant to reveal the book he was reading in the dark in his "private time" to flirtatious housekeeper Miss Kenton; with a look of rapt longing and desire on her face, she asked: ("Is it racy?...Are you reading a racy book?...What is it? Let me see it. Let me see your book....Why won't you show me your book?... What's in that book? Come on, let me see. Or are you protecting me? Is that what you're doing? Would I be shocked? Would it ruin my character? Let me see it"); she realized it wasn't "scandalous" at all but only "a sentimental old love story"; he admitted embarrassingly that he liked romance novels - in order to improve his English skills: ("I read these books, any books, to develop my command and knowledge of the English language. I read to further my education, Miss Kenton")
  • the striking scene in which Miss Kenton informed Stevens about her engagement-marriage to ex-co-worker Tom Benn, meaning she would probably be compelled to move away; Stevens reacted cooly without any emotion and only congratulated her after prompting: ("You have my warmest congratulations") - although he had been keeping his feelings hidden for Miss Kenton for over 20 years; later, he overheard her crying in frustration over his reaction of repressed coldness and his statement that he couldn't listen to her "idle talk"; he interrupted her with an insensitive reminder about an area of the house that needed dusting
  • the (present) sequence of Stevens' reunion over tea with Miss Kenton, when they reminisced about Lord Darlington and their work together - and implicitly and regretfully referenced so many lost opportunities between them; it was a scene of urgent, but unfulfilled and repressed longing and emotional love between Miss Kenton and Stevens; she admitted she had made mistakes in her life; however, she declined his invitation to return with him to work at Darlington Hall - she claimed she had just been notified that her daughter Catherine was pregnant, and that she needed to be reconciled with her estranged husband to assist with their grandchild
  • they walked to a pier as the sun set and sat together on a bench, as she reacted to how people cheered when the lights came on: ("People always cheer when they turn the lights on in the evening, every time...they do say that for a great many people, the evening is the best part of the day - the part to most look forward to"), but all Stevens' could look forward to was getting back to Darlington Hall and hiring new staff
  • in the final few moments of their time together, he drove her to a bus stop in a rainstorm - Stevens wished her well in the future: ("You must take good care of yourself, Mrs. Benn...You must try to do all you can to make these years happy ones for yourself and for your husband. We may never meet again, Mrs. Benn. That is why I am permitting myself to be so personal, if you will forgive me"); when she was about to depart on the bus and leave from him forever (with tears in her eyes), they shared a lingering handshake; Stevens tipped his hat to her under his umbrella as the bus pulled away and she waved back
  • Stevens finally showed an outward emotion of regret when he let himself cry afterwards in his car; the splattering raindrops on the windshield obscured his own tears
Parting Scene
Bus Stop Goodbye
Last Look
Goodbye Handshake
Heartfelt Farewell - As Bus Pulled Away
Stevens Tipped His Hat Under His Umbrella
Stevens' Tears
  • in the conclusion, upon Stevens' return to Darlington Hall, Congressman Lewis asked Stevens if he remembered the old days (specifically a banquet in 1935); Stevens replied that he didn't because he was too busy in his servant role ("I was too busy serving to listen to the speeches"); the two helped to free a trapped pigeon in Darlington Hall who had flown in through the chimney; without much of Stevens' assistance, Lewis caught the bird and allowed it to escape through a window

Congressman Jack Lewis Acquiring Darlington Hall at Auction

In 1958: Butler Mr. James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins)

Darlington Hall - 1936

Lord Darlington (James Fox)

Miss Kenton's Bouquet of Flowers Called a "Distraction" by Stevens

Elderly Mr. Stevens' Absentmindedness

Often Butting Heads Together

1935 Conference Dignitary Lewis' Argument in Favor of "Professionals" Conducting Foreign Affairs

Stevens: "I'm Very Busy at the Moment" - During His Father's Death

Miss Kenton 'Chattering Away' While Stevens Had a Guilty Smile on His Face

Miss Kenton Finding Stevens Reading a "Racy Book"

Miss Kenton Informing Stevens of Her Impending Marriage

Stevens' Cold Reaction: "You have my warmest congratulations"

Miss Kenton Crying While Told About Dusting

Reunited After 20 Years - Having Tea

At the Pier

Released Pigeon


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