Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day (1993)
In the 1980s and 1990s Anthony Hopkins had no peer as a screen actor playing repressed, insular characters, who rationed their emotions, in tune with straitened times. Think of 84 Charing Cross Road (1986) and Frank Doel, the likeable, quiet bookseller in austerity-bound postwar London befriended by American author Helene Hanff.
Just as Hopkins' Doel flowered, faced with Hanff's exuberance, his other flawlessly conceived characters of that period - the butler Stevens in Remains of the Day and his CS Lewis in Shadowlands (1994) - blossomed, to different degrees, on discovering an unexpected affinity with others.
In weighing up Hopkins' performances in the last two formidable films, the scales tip in favour of his Stevens in Remains of the Day because its wider subject, based on Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning novel, is complicity of an entire social class in the inter-war period faced with British Fascists and German diplomats conspiring to make reparations for ill-treatment of the Germans after Versailles.
The film suggests that Hopkins' blinkered butler in one of the English blueblood retreats is complicit in effectively condoning clandestine meetings as Britain teetered towards the edge of another War. As realisation of murky dealings dawned, painfully slowly, he is small minded enough to ignore the full implications of continuing silence.
Hopkins' body language - his deference to the innate subservience of his position - is beautifully conveyed, as he remains, early on, almost obstinately oblivious to the gatherings of the aristocracy while ruling the roost downstairs and obsessing about scoring petty 'victories' over inferiors.
He's nudged out of his robotic routines when he begins to develop a latent affection when reunited with his former colleague at Lord Darlington's home, the ex-housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). Hopkins conveys beautifully a man who finds communication so difficult, even with this friendly (but now married) woman, that their meetings frequently develop into a kind of prolonged hiatus.
Hopkins imposes great discipline on himself in suggesting with the merest hint of changed expression, the butler's increased fretfulness as he senses an inevitable lost romantic opportunity just as Britain's possibilities for continuing peace expire.
Hopkins also conveys with immense subtlety the fatal hauteur which Stevens has assumed almost by osmosis through daily contacts. It prevents him moving towards change and, crucially, resolution of any moral dilemmas.