The Starz limited series “Howards End” is ostensibly a romance between headstrong Margaret Schlegel (Hayley Atwell) and the wealthy but emotionally repressed Henry Wilcox (Matthew Macfadyen), but Atwell thinks the bonds between the women are “the most important relationships in the story.” Margaret has deep affection for her sister Helen as well as a “platonic yet strange love affair” with Henry’s first wife Ruth (Julia Ormond), and those emotional connections are “the beating heart of the whole piece.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Atwell above.
“Howards End” is based on the 1910 novel by E.M. Forster, which was previously adapted into a famous 1992 Merchant Ivory film that won Emma Thompson the Best Actress Oscar for playing Margaret. Atwell had seen the film, but she didn’t re-watch it before putting her own spin on the role. “I know Em and spoke to her about it, and she was adamant … not to watch other people’s interpretations of the work you’re about to do,” Atwell explains. “You don’t want to get lost or confused impersonating someone else.”
But regardless of the stature of the film version, Atwell was “just delighted to have a bash at it” because she considers Margaret to be among “the canon of great roles for women” along with Lady Macbeth, Therese Raquin, Hedda Gabler and Cleopatra. And though the story is more than a hundred years old it still resonates in the 21st century because the Schlegel sisters “have to have naturally inquiring minds, read lots of books, engage with the world in front of them, be active in their thinking in order to be able to educate themselves … That’s something women relate to today.”
Women’s rights have come a long way since a century ago, “but there are certain expectations society puts on us that are very difficult to overcome.” So “there is something to be gained from the Schlegels, who throughout the story remain true to themselves and live with integrity as much as they can.”
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