Based on the classic E.M. Forster novel with Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea scribe Kenneth Lonergan writing the TV adaptation, the four-part drama explores the story of two independent and unconventional sisters and the men in their lives seeking love and meaning as they navigate an ever-changing world.
During the panel discussion, EP Colin Callender said the concept of “these two sisters trying to find their way in a man’s world” felt “as pertinent and as relevant today as ever.” He said he first read the book as a high schooler, and when he revisited the story 40 years later as a father of two teenage daughters, his perspective shifted.
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“Suddenly saw in my daughters going through some of the things Margaret and Helen were going through.”
Forster’s novel first was adapted into an Oscar-winning 1992 Merchant Ivory movie starring Vanessa Redgrave and Helena Bonham Carter. Asked about the decision to make this rendition a four-part series, Callender said: “The great thing about books like Howards End, or any great art, is that the reverberations of the art change according to the context of time in which you read or see it. In this instance, with re-reading Howards End, what became very clear was that there was an extraordinary story that could be explored more fully in four hours than in a film.”
Haley Atwell, who plays Margaret Schlegel, lauded Lonergan’s adaption as “very fresh” with “a lot of energy” and said the series would sway from the traditionally rigid structure of a period piece. “The script had a light touch to it and this wit,” she said, which meant that despite the constriction of the costumes and the period, we did feel like we wanted to make it as accessible to a modern audience as possible, by not making it feel mannered or held.”
Co-strars Matthew Macfadyen and Tracey Ullman also were on the panel today. Julia Ormond, Philippa Courthard and Alex Lawther also star.
Starz teamed with BBC to co-produce the limited series, which originally was greenlighted by BBC One in December 2015. Callender’s Playground executive produces with City Entertainment’s Joshua D. Maurer and Alixandre Witlin and KippSter Entertainment’s David A. Stern as well as with Playground’s Sophie Gardiner and Scott Huff and Lucy Richer for the BBC. Laura Hastings-Smith is producing.
Hettie Macdonald is directing all four hourlong episodes, which will air in 2018.
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