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DVD: A Month in the Country | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: A Month in the Country

DVD: A Month in the Country

Elegiac adaptation of a much-loved novella, returning after a long absence

Colin Firth and Natasha Richardson

Irish director Pat O’Connor’s 1987 adaptation of J L Carr’s A Month in the Country has been unavailable for many years; this BFI reissue was only possible after a few surviving prints were located. It’s a disquieting watch – a superficially English reflection on faith, loss and recovery, full of dark shadows and sharp edges. Simon Gray’s screenplay wisely avoids using a voiceover, the plot’s subtleties conveyed instead by a well-chosen cast.

Notably a young Colin Firth as Birkin, a world-weary World War One veteran arriving in a remote Yorkshire village to uncover a mural in the Reverend Keach (Patrick Malahide)’s Anglican church. He’s paired with a fresh-faced Kenneth Branagh as former officer James Moon, camping in the church grounds and searching for the grave of a disgraced ancestor. Birkin’s quest literally takes him up, ascending rickety scaffolding to scrape away the peeling whitewash; Moon’s obsession with descent and digging hints at a past disgrace which is rather too literally spelt out near the film’s close. Best of all is a luminous Natasha Richardson as frustrated vicar’s wife Alice; there’s savage black humour and pain in a scene where she invites Birkin into the vicarage while the Reverend stiffly practices his violin. “We have it all to ourselves,” laments Alice, showing the marital home to be little more than a series of empty, echoing rooms.

O’Connor is alert to the eccentricities of English life, contrasting Keach’s dreary service with the fire and brimstone of Methodist preacher and station master Ellerbeck (Jim Carter). A Sunday dinner begins with frenzied knife sharpening before an unappetising banquet, the diners then shown snoring in their seats. Ellerbeck’s trip to town to buy an organ for the Methodist chapel includes a terrific harmonium standoff and a drily funny exchange when the instrument is paid for.

As the mural is revealed, Birkin loosens up, regaining confidence and losing his stammer (which must have been useful preparation for Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech). There’s a painful final scene between him and Alice, before he strides off towards an uncertain future with his estranged wife. Moon, meanwhile, heads for an archaeological dig in Basrah. You’d be wise to turn off there: the final scene where an elderly Birkin returns to the church years later is jarring and unnecessary. Howard Blake’s score remains a pleasure, sounding like Delius without the boring bits, and the disc is nicely annotated. Bonus features include recent interviews with Firth and O’Connor, and the restored image and sound are excellent.

The marital home is little more than a series of empty, echoing rooms

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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