Howards End, the E.M. Forster novel first published in 1910, is considered by many as a masterly treatise on society and class.
The book focuses on three fictional families – the cultured and idealistic Schlegels, the wealthy and business-minded Wilcoxes, and the working-class Basts – and a dispute over the titular home of the Wilcoxes, Howards End.
Though a Academy Award-wininng 1992 film based on the book was considered a worthy screen outing, Colin Callender believes a new BBC-Starz television miniseries will delve deeper into the themes of class warfare, societal change and the role of women.
“It’s the story of an England at the cusp of social change and how existing class and social structures got caught in that,” he says, adding that the television narrative will “really be one of women finding their way in the world”.
Taking the pivotal Margaret Schlegel role is Hayley Atwell, whose star remains in the ascendant through the Marvel Universe movies and films. She is familiar to US audiences through ABC drama’s Marvel’s Agent Carter and Conviction, which Callender says is a lucky accident.
“Hayley had all of the qualities for Margaret,” he says. “It is nice she has profile in America, but that certainly didn’t come into our decision to cast her. You should never cast for the marketplace.”
She is following on Emma Thompson’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of the character, while writer Kenneth Lonergan’s film counterpart, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay gong.
Lonergan’s pedigree in both theatre and television writing stands him in good stead.
Callender, whose Playground Entertainment prodco has focused on bringing TV, film and theatre talent together (Mark Rylance in BBC drama Wolf Hall, for example), says that Lonergan, who was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, has “written a gloriously witty, smart and accessible script, and burrowed down in the core of the central relationship”.
“He is a playwright who has a very fresh take on how to make this of the moment and not a dusty period piece,” adds Callender.
The show: Howards Ends
The broadcasters: BBC (UK), Starz (US)
The producers: Playground Entertainment, City Entertainment, KippStar Entertainment
The distributor: Starz Worldwide Distribution
The concept: Retelling of classic E. M. Forster socially-themed drama