Who else but Merchant Ivory to give the big-screen treatment to Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning novel about class, fascism and the stiff upper lip? Hopkins plays Mr Stevens the butler, a man so fanatically devoted to selfless service that he carries on pouring the port while his father lies dying, and refuses to question the Nazi sympathies of his titled master (Fox). Yet love steals unawares into even the hardest of hearts, and his stern warnings to female staff cannot protect him from falling slowly for the new housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Thompson). That the film works is down to Hopkins, who plays his face like a lyre - a tic here, an inflected eyebrow there. It's an astonishing performance, but the viewer is still hard-pressed to commit to him emotionally. It's Thompson we really feel for, trying to get some reaction from the man she too comes secretly to love. In these scenes of repartee, where politeness is a weapon and every honorific twists in the gut like a knife, the film finally comes alive.