The new Downton Abbey? Everything you need to know about BBC's Howards End

Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen play leading roles in the BBC One drama

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Fans of a good old period drama can look forward to Howards End, which is airing on BBC One this Sunday. The new TV adaptation is based on E. M. Forster's book – often considered the author's masterpiece – and tells the tale of Margaret and Helen Schlegel, two sisters who lead independent and slightly unorthodox lives in Edwardian England. Hayley Atwell plays female protagonist Margaret opposite Pride & Prejudice's Matthew Macfadyen, who stars as Margaret's love interest.

What is Howards End about?

The story follows the Schlegel, Wilcox and Bast families, who are all living in or around London in the early 1900s. Although from completely different social classes and backgrounds, their stories intertwine and ultimately converge at Howards End – the country home of the Wilcox family.


Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfayden star in Howards End

The first episode starts with Margaret and Helen Schlegel. Margaret is in London at their Wickham Place home, while her younger sister Helen is visiting the Wilcox family at Howards End. Helen soon falls for the youngest Wilcox son, Paul, but after a misunderstanding, they break off their romance and she returns to London, putting the awkwardness behind her. In a twist of fate, the Wilcoxes move to London and take a flat around the corner from the Schlegel sisters. Meanwhile, Margaret and Helen have a brief encounter with Leonard Bast, a struggling young bank clerk.

The period drama brings to life the story of these three families and, ultimately, the themes of human connection, unlikely romance and the ties that bind us.

Who's in the cast?

Hayley Atwell, best known for Captain America and Brideshead Revisited, stars as the "curious and inquisitive" Margaret Schlegel. Speaking at the London press launch for the BBC One drama, Hayley spoke about taking on the role. "I'd never read a script where a character had been given time to figure out many facets of her journey. She starts off with self-doubt, she's navigating her way through and making up life as she goes along, the way that we all are. She's contradictory, contrarian, hypocritical, she's curious and inquisitive and all these characteristics that I see present in the women in my life, but I don't necessarily see it as much on screen as I'd like," said Hayley.


The actress sought advice from Emma Thompson

The actress also took advice from her mentor, Emma Thompson, who starred in the 1992 film version. "I spoke to Emma about it," Hayley revealed. "She's been a mentor to me for a number of years so I told her, 'They're doing the impossible!' I spoke to her, wanting to pay my respects to such an amazing woman, who's really influenced my life, and she said, 'Don't watch mine! You should never do that. In your film she is you.'"

Philippa Coulthard plays Hayley's sister, Helen Schlegel, while Alex Lawther plays their hypochondriac brother, Tibby. Matthew Macfadyen plays Henry Wilcox, Julia Ormond plays his wife Mrs Wilcox, and Joseph Quinn stars as Leonard Bast.

When does it air?

The four-part series airs on BBC One on Sunday 12 November at 9pm. Each episode is one hour long.

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