Samuel West did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Bafta, for portraying Leonard Bast in Howard's End.
Each of the families in Howard's End represents a different class of Edwardian England. The Wilcox family being the very wealthy upper class, the Schlegel sisters being the bourgeoisie, and Bast being the lower class. Of course it is a relative lower class for Bast as he is a white collar lower class still as he does not look poor when you look right at him, but unlike those above him money seems to be an actual concern for him. West plays Bast very much in the appropriate style that most of the actors employ. The style being firmly in that Edwardian bent where emotions are to be very specifically expressed, and even when one's emotions become more volatile it's still to be done in a fairly repressed way that still must keep one's proper manner intact at all times.
The Edwardian confines are an interesting challenge for any actor because it is up to them to not simply be dull in his portraying this particular style of person, and as well attempt to see what they can do below the surface with the work. West technically gets a little more wiggle room with Bast as he is one of the more emotional characters, although still not that emotional. West definitely is good in coming up with that Edwardian reserve as he always seems at least slightly constrained in some way, as a good Edwardian should even though he is technically an emotional fellow. West is effective in always keeping that a mostly proper stance, and when there is something for him to be a little more emotional about West is effective in stressing a stronger intensity in these moments to basically show a strong repression.
Bast comes in and out of the film usually being roped along by the whims of the the Schlegel sisters who think they are helping Bast, but he continually finds himself off in slowly worse circumstances. There are few moments where Bast takes exception with them but they are played as very Edwardian by West which certainly is the way they should be played. For the most part though West plays Bast as a man who just is slowly getting more and more depressed over his situation. He plays it as a particularly inward bound depression as he just seems to sunken from the inside. This does not change even when he has an affair with one of the sisters as the film seems to play it that she does this in part because of his rather miserable state both financially and emotionally.
West handles his dissolution of the man well enough to even the point that his sudden exit at the end of the film can even be believed rather easily. West's work here is a good performance which firmly stands within the realm of the Edwardian culture. I don't see this as a particularly great performance though as he never quite stands out really all that much with his performance. It's a good enough performance in that I have no real complaints and he definitely gets across exactly what should be gotten across in regards to Bast as a character. It's fine work but just fine. There is perhaps there could have been ground gained with the character it is hard to say, but either way I find that his performance is more than adequate but also pretty easy to forget.