‘Howards End’: The Schlegel Sisters Aren’t Your Typical Edwardian Women

Howard's End - Hayley Atwell

Hear her roar! E.M. Forster’s great protofeminist novel Howards End—a collision of the social classes, published in 1910—will soon be a limited series on Starz. Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) plays Margaret Schlegel, a trust-fund bohemian in Edwardian England who could easily be at home in 2018.

“Margaret and her sister, Helen [Philippa Coulthard], are intelligent, progressive women who use their money to free themselves in a man-centric world,” Atwell says. “They don’t sit at charity luncheons with upper-class women merely talking about social reform. They consider that a big pile of crap!” Instead, the Schlegels walk the walk, which is not without its awkward complications: Margaret finds herself in love with widower Henry Wilcox (Matthew Macfadyen), a money-mad imperialist who is “the complete antithesis of everything the Schlegels stand for,” Atwell says.

After Atwell scored the role, she contacted her friend and mentor Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar for playing Margaret in the 1992 film version. “Emma urged me not to watch her performance so I could freely create my own take,” Atwell says. “But she did have one fantastic piece of advice: ‘Margaret can be irrationally romantic, so pick one moment to cry. That’s all you get!’”

Howards End, Premieres April, Starz