BR: Month in the Country, A (1987)

September 26, 2015 | By

 

MonthInTheCountry_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  July 14, 2015

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: A WWI vet travels to a small town to restore a hidden painting, unearthing some secrets and discovering a fellow war vet with similar deep-rooted PSD.

Special Features:  Audio commentary by film historian Julie Kirgo and producer Nick redman / Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Original Theatrical Trailer / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 


 

Review:

After the success of Cal (1984), director pat O’Connor shifted to a film version of J.L. Carr’s quiet bromance A Month in the Country, in which two WWI vets strike up a moving friendship and attempt to move on with life in spite of lingering trauma from life in the trenches.

A ridiculously young (23!) Colin Firth is Birkin, an itinerant restorationist called upon to unearth a painting that may have been covered up in a 14th century small town church. Reverend Keach (Patrick Malahide) wishes Birkin zero success, feeling any art facing the congregation would be a distraction, whereas his lovely wife Alice (Natasha Richardson, fresh from Ken Russell’s Gothic) feels a little different, and seems to enjoy dancing around Birkin’s latent feelings in spite of the latter being wed to a philandering woman back in London.

Birkin quickly meets James Moon (Kenneth Branagh in his first film role), a fellow vet similarly funded by a generous church donation to find the bones of a figure who may have been buried outside of consecrated walls for mysterious reasons. Where Birkin loathes to be near any holes in the ground and prefers to sleep high up in the belfry, Moon actually sleeps in a trench, finding the ground offers solace as he straddles civilian life after intense trench warfare.

As typical of small dramas, it’s not the story that really matters but the relationships, and one could regard the character of Alice as a red herring, with the real focus being one man’s attempt to find coping mechanisms in order to do the job he loved in pre-WWI times, and through art, ease away from war trauma to the point where it’s at least manageable.

Firth has Birkin begin with a stammer – a portent of his performance in The King’s Speech (2010) – which dissolves once he nestles himself into his job, and no longer fears Reverend Keach’s supposed efforts to sabotage the gradual exposure and full restoration of an elaborate, story-filled painting.

Small mysteries like the painting’s creator and the bones sought by Moon are also red herrings designed to draw the characters into each others’ lives, but perhaps in tune with the film’s discrete tone there’s no overt romance, no overt confrontation, no scandalous act, nor a conclusive finale – it’s a tale where disparate people meet, and for a short time affect in other in minor or negligible ways.

That peculiar tone is part charming and maddening – in standard cinema clichés, there should be a one illicit union between the married lovers – but that never happens because it is such an impossibility; the lives within the community are so tight, a terrible scandal would take down more than the starry-eyed, would be lovers.

Simon Gray’s script is very delicate, and O’Connor seemed intent on creating a vivid yet tempered small English town where the vistas are serene, the colours lush, and much of the illumination is soft and diffused.

Kenneth MacMillan’s cinematography is very lovely, often bordering on the ideal, yet O’Connor seemed to opt for a very peculiar visual design in which the bulk of the film is soft, as though the church itself bathes anyone inside and on its grounds in a fuzzy light corona. The image seems to sharpen near the end, but it’s still a film where scenes are lit very gently, and colours are slightly on the pastel scale.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features a sharp HD master, but there’s a sense the house that created the transfer overused the DNR, either to reduce grain and bring out sharpness, and / or bring out the rich colours from the film print. The results have early shots of Firth looking a little waxy – his skin is almost baby smooth – and the scene where Firth meets Richardson is a little odd: when she blocks out the bright sun in the background upon her approach, the graduated descent from light to darkness shows active compression and smoothening. There’s also a peculiar bright hallo around Firth which may have been soft in the print, but looks more like an offset created by too much smoothening of a colour channel.

The audio mix is fine, with clear dialogue and music, and Howard Blake’s lovely, underrated score is isolated in a separate music and effects track. All of the Film 4 productions released by TT feature isolated M&E / music-only mixes, perhaps the only source of enjoying otherwise unreleased rare scores.

Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo’s running commentary covers most of the film’s production history, its stellar cast, and fine production values which fully immerse the viewer into a post-WWI township and the quiet character conflicts that exist amid verdant natural beauty.

Firth’s next feature film role would be the innocent in the cult thriller Apartment Zero (1988), whereas Richardson would star in Paul Schrader’s bio-drama Patty Hearst (1988). Although Branagh would appear in a succession of teleplays and mini-series, he’d achieve international acclaim in 1989 for his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V (1989). Pat O’Connor’s subsequent films include the ill-received Stars and Bars (1988) and The January Man (1989).

TT’s other Film 4 dramas include Neil Jordan’s Angel (1982), Alan Clarke’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987), Paul Greengrass’ Resurrected (1989), and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (1997).

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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