After some packed episodes, Howards End dropped its pace ever so slightly for episode three, turning its focus onto the key themes of inequality and self. Spoilers ahead, but self is exactly what one character is losing, as Margaret Schlegel finds herself drawn ever closer into the wealthy life of family patriarch Henry Wilcox.
His proposal to her is something of a mystery. When it’s accepted, his first steps are to ‘discuss business’, rather than take a romantic stroll around the park. He’s taken aback by Margaret’s happy acceptance that her meagre income will be pooled to support the family, having clearly always been so fastidious about where his own goes, whilst his children seem bemused by his intentions. One thing is for sure, he knows the type of wife he wants, and Margaret has got a bit of adapting to do before she gets there.
Carefully over the episode, we watch as he whittles her down into a symbolic figure like his deceased wife Ruth. Margaret had shown Ruth so much in their brief friendship before their death, and here we see that strong, opinionated woman begin to follow the line of her friend. As with Ruth, Henry allows Margaret to believe that she has some authority over him, but in the end, he’s always the one to make the decisions. It’s a pernicious display of how control is exerted, and a larger reflection on how society pulls back as women pull forward. All this happens just as Margaret gives Helen a speech about how she’s not looking to change Henry, but ‘only to connect’. That’s not Henry’s plan.
This is even not-so-subtly portrayed in the costuming – Margaret changes from bold scarfs and outfits to prim white lace dresses, dulling her colour palette and calling back to Ruth’s simple Victorian garb. Perhaps in a turn of irony too, that white also reminds us of the suffragettes that work in the background of this early 20th century view. Margaret was once in line with their ideals but now, she’s unaware of how far she’s accidentally straying from them, despite being bedecked in their colour.
Meanwhile, Leonard and Jacky Bast threaten to upset Henry’s happy world with their presence. Poorer than ever, Helen Schlegel is trying desperately to help them and it seems as if Leonard might finally be accepting her assistance in the smallest of ways. Jacky has clearly been through a lot, but he’s sweeter to her than we’ve seen so far. The reveal of his character has been really restrained and effectively done – as he gradually has let down his guard with Helen, Leonard has let down his guard with the viewer.
As the last episode of Howards End airs on Sunday, we’ll watch the reverberations now that the worlds of the Basts, Wilcoxes and Schlegels have collided. It’s been a joy to cover this adaptation so far, with fantastic performances from its lead actors, along with some very careful writing from Kenneth Lonergan. Only one hour to go – let’s hope it’s a good one.