Release Date(s)1987 (July 24, 2015)
Studio(s)Euston Films/Channel 4/Warner Bros. (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
A Month in the Country (1987) is a kind of miracle film, an impeccably written, directed, acted, photographed, and edited gem of both delicacy and powerful. It’s minimalist in the best sense, a film in which the smallest gestures and slightest actions express the largest emotional and philosophical ideas – it’s as modest as it is affecting. The story, based on J.L. Carr’s novel, could hardly be simpler: two young men haunted by their recent service in World War I (played by Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh) become friends while spending a summer in a village where they’ve both taken assignments. Firth is to restore an old mural in a church, while Branagh is an archaeologist excavating old bones. While working in the rural town, they befriend some locals, most significantly the beautiful wife (Natasha Richardson) of the cranky vicar who has been forced by a generous church donor’s will to hire them both.
That’s really about it as far as plot goes, and over the course of the movie there are none of the big moments one might expect – no sudden, melodramatic psychological breakthrough that allows Firth to put his wartime trauma behind him, no sweeping romantic scene in which he takes Richardson into his arms and whisks her away from her gloomy husband. Yet it is precisely because A Month in the Country never overreaches that it has such a magical effect on the viewer. Through a series of subtle gestures and line readings, perfectly executed, screenwriter Simon Gray and director Pat O’Connor slowly but steadily reveal to both the characters and the audience the healing power of work and friendship in ways far less trite than a mere description can convey. Indeed, writing about A Month in the Country is difficult because its strengths are so purely cinematic; its qualities are ineffable, embedded in the DNA of the celluloid.
Yet the individual components can, and must, be praised. It will probably surprise no one to hear that the acting here is top-notch, particularly from the two leads – Colin Firth in his first major role, Kenneth Branagh in his first screen role period (though he was already an accomplished theater actor). Both men barely seem to be acting at all most of the time, yet repeat viewings reveal a remarkable precision in their work. They’re well served by cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan’s lush, gorgeous photography – and Branagh knew it, since he hired MacMillan a couple years later when he made his directorial debut on Henry V. And that cinematography is not only well served but spectacularly showcased on Twilight Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray. All one has to do is watch the first five minutes to get a sense of the care and skill that has gone into this release: there’s remarkable detail and depth in both the chilly, ashy gray prologue depicting Firth’s character at war and the scene that follows, in which MacMillan and O’Connor use a sophisticated interplay of light, shadow, and color to convey Firth’s present-day anguish.
The perfection continues throughout the flawless disc, which also contains one of the clearest and most powerful monaural tracks I’ve ever heard on a Blu-ray. In keeping with Twilight Time’s policy, composer Howard Blake’s top-notch score is available on an isolated music and effects track, and Twilight Time film scholars Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman provide an indispensable commentary. That the Blu-ray of this miracle movie exists at all is its own kind of minor miracle; after A Month in the Country was released to critical accolades but meager commercial prospects, it more or less dropped off the face of the earth – it was so obscure that when poet Glyn Watkins wanted to screen it at an event he was nearly unable to find a print. Luckily, a superb print was eventually unearthed at the Academy archive in Los Angeles, and that source material has been used for this gorgeous Blu-ray release.
- Jim Hemphill