Chivalry, formality, neutrality. This is English reticence taken to a conclusion that is as sad as it is logical. Principle is Mr. Stevens, butler to a tradition destined to doom both personal and political, played by Anthony Hopkins with the utmost dexterity. My sole doubt comes from the historical drama that fills out a surprising portion of the runtime, given the meat of the film is its relationship near-tragedy. Yet one will realize even the historical is used to constantly frame Mr. Stevens’ entire being against friends, family, strangers in the pub, house guests, the world more or less. In the face of this onslaught his code attains great dignity — a complex man confronting problematic issues in a manner that exposes the braggadocio of modern discourse. But it also exposes great naivety. And no debate over ideals can obfuscate the raw agony of its immutable dilemma — irresolvable rather than unrequited love — one probed with excruciating precision, particularly in a knife-plunging penultimate scene. A character study in character studies.