I’m not sure how I missed it, but the esteemed screenwriter and novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala shuffled off this mortal coil last week at the age of 85. She apparently passed away at her home in New York City on April the 3rd. Now, being that critic Roger Ebert had left us the day after that, there is a decent case to be made that Roger took all of her press. Maybe that was it. I mean you all realize who Ebert is, right? But how many people are aware of Ms. Jhabvala, and her contributions to cinema? Well, Ruth was the recipient of two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay—one in 1987 and another in 1993. And being that she garnered the Booker Prize for Fiction for her 1975 novel “Heat and Dust”(later adapted into a 1983 film, with a screenplay by the author), she remains to this day the only writer to have won both a Booker and an Oscar. It’s quite an accomplishment. Ms. Jhabvala’s name, of course, becomes much more recognizable when listed alongside the two other members of her usual film-making team. That triumvirate includes director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth. Now if you’ve never heard of a Merchant Ivory Production, I really don’t know what to say. This is the team that brought so many wonderful E.M. Forster novels to the big screen. And it was a virtual cottage industry for a time in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There was 1986’s(1985 in Great Britain)”A Room with a View” which brought Ruth her first Oscar for the film that also served as a launching pad for its young star Helena Bonham Carter. Then there was “Maurice” in 1987, which was not penned by Ms. Jhabvala. And in 1992, their collaborative masterpiece—and my very favorite film of that particular decade. And that would be the gorgeous and glorious “Howards End” from 1992, which gave Ruth her second screenplay Academy Award, and brought Emma Thompson her first Oscar—for Best Actress. Ms. Jhabvala would also gain considerable attention for her adapted screenplays for films of Evan S. Connell’s “Mrs. Bridge” and “Mr. Bridge”(combined for a script that became 1990’s “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward), and especially for the 1993 film of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson—who also appear together in “Howards End”. But it’s “Howards End” that has always remained nearest and dearest to my heart—a sumptuous Edwardian England period piece that was nominated for nine 1993 Academy Awards(it took home three). I’ll never forget experiencing it on the big screen during the spring of 1992. And I’ve relived it on video multiple times since. So, while other 40-something year-old men probably answer 1990’s “Goodfellas” or 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” when asked what their favorite flick of the 1990’s was—this one will always proudly proclaim “Howards End”. And to honor the memory of the late Ms. Jhabvala—I may just have to watch it again very soon! And if you haven’t seen it yourself—get thee to your Netflix queue! You are really in for a treat.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and my favorite film of the 1990’s