Why? Because there’s not a bad scene in it.
“Remains of the Day” takes place during the late thirties right before World War II. England was trying to appease Germany and avoid another all-out conflict. At the forefront of this movement were wealthy, if naïve, landowners like Lord Darlington (played by James Fox) who believed the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I unfairly punished the Germans and led to the upheavals that paved the way for Hitler.
The film moves back and forth between the late fifties, when Stephens is travelling to visit the unhappily married Sally in hopes of luring her back to Darlington—long after Lord Darlington has died in disgrace and the house has fallen into the hands of a sympathetic, retired American senator (Christopher Reeve)—, and those years at the dawn of the war.
The most amazing aspect of this movie, for me, is the portrait of an absolutely still character at its center. As a writer, I can tell you this is almost impossible to accomplish without putting readers or viewers to sleep.
The scene I love the most sharply illustrates Stephens’ stillness. Miss Kenton regularly brings flowers into his room, even though he has told her that he wishes to leave “things as they are.”
One day, she happens upon him reading a book. When the scene begins, he’s sitting in a chair. Naturally, Miss Kenton wants to know the title, but he doesn’t want to show her what it is, because, as we discover, it’s simply a romance of the type he prefers in order to “perfect my use of the language.” He gets up, clutching the book to his chest. But she persists, finally backing him into a corner.
What a lovely gesture that is. Each time I see the movie, I marvel at how the quiet flick of fingers can tell the story of a life, something all good writers aim to do.