Enchanted April
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (13th June 2009).
The Film

Even the phrase ‘Academy Award Nominated British Period Drama’ start to put me to sleep before I even get to the second single quotation mark. It’s not that I’m not interested in various points of English history, but it seems like in order to get a nomination for a period drama, it has to be long, drawn out and meticulously designed to match a specific time. From “The English Patient” (1996) to “Atonement” (2007) and back around to “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), there’s something about the genre itself that is almost inherently boring, though guaranteed to get at least one of the lead roles an acting nomination. At the same time, my disinterest is fairly unfounded since even the trailers kill any excitement I could hope to muster, causing me to stay far away and never give any of the films a chance. When the recent release of “Enchanted April” (1992) landed in my reviewing queue, I decided it was finally time to give the genre a chance (that and I need to do it). With a cast of actors who would go on to do better work, the film manages to perpetuate and fight against my original assumptions, but doesn’t come close to making me consider going back to watch other British period dramas.

Set in the 1920’s, the film centers around the lives of four women living fairly different lives in England, though all looking for a getaway. Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) are neighbors, both married and looking for reprieve from their distracted husbands. Mellersh Wilkins (Alfred Molina), is a solicitor too absorbed in his work and making the right sort of connections with clients to truly pay attention to his wife, while Frederick Arbuthnot (Jim Broadbent) is a novelist leading a double life that never quite seems to be home. Lottie and Rose make a plan for their escape through a month’s vacation at an Italian villa on the Riviera, though in order to afford it they have to bring on two roommates: the widow Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) who’s too concerned with dead authors to make new connections, as well as aristocrat Carline Dester (Polly Walker). Because of their disparate lifestyles, the four aren’t initially friends, but their beautiful surroundings and close quarters bring together the four women in different ways.

My first, and maybe best, surprise about the film was the 93 minute runtime, hitting a near perfect film mark that can get in and out with it’s storytelling without having to drag it’s way into a conclusion. Yet the film still misfires for me on the humor and the drama. The comedy is stereotypically British: drier than the desert and filled with awkward misunderstandings, though almost refreshing considering the current trend towards attempts at wacky comedy in modern romantic comedies. Dramatically the film doesn’t connect with me on the characters, as I can’t connect to the time period though I can see how the misunderstandings would come about and can see the problem aspects of the relationships that serve both the comedy and the characters.

But just because I couldn’t connect with the characters doesn’t mean there aren’t good actors in the film, as Doc Ock and Harold Zidler bring good performances to the film as well as some good performances from all of the main four actresses in the film. Joan Plowright was the actor to get the nomination for the film, and it’s not undeserving in her performance as a woman who needs to reconnect with the present world. Each of the characters has the proper amount of complications and charm to try and make them watchable throughout the length o the film, but don’t really bring me in to the story in any way.

For me the biggest problem was that the film is set up almost like a play, which may be a result of my exposure to period drama only on stage or in play form. Visually the film tries to grab the time, like all period dramas obsessing over set pieces and costumes that will look of the time, and Mike Newell’s directing does a good job of capturing the close up drama and the landscapes present in the film.

However, the film still doesn’t fully get me into the plot or characters enough to really enjoy the experience. Its hour and a half runtime pulls together everything at a good pace, without dragging it’s feet too much in execution, and I can acknowledge how the plot, acting and directing could be engaging for some, but personally I could not get involved in the film. Maybe if I were more British, or more into period films, I would feel differently, but the lack of the different twists or quirks that draw me into movies just leaves me with an hour and a half of time that didn’t quite put me to sleep or make me feel like it was worthwhile.

Video

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film looks almost like it was taken from a film reel left sitting in the studio’s closet, along with the sort of dirt and dust that would accumulate in the 17 years since the film’s original theatrical run. The film grain is still there, but is covered with the sort of artifacts and cigarette burns that I would love to see in a 1970’s exploitation film, rather than a 90’s period drama. It’s a shame since the press release and film box seem to rave about the lush backgrounds, yet when the colors and visuals are muddied by dirt, artifacts and grain, it becomes more disinteresting.

Audio

Presented with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track, the audio fares better than the visual transfer, keeping the dialogue in it’s proper form with the levels between the dialogue, music and ambient noises together. It doesn’t quite move like it’s been remastered for the DVD release, but since the film is almost entirely dialogue, garden noises and score, it doesn’t really need the kind of sweeping sound you would need for an epic or action film either.
Optional subtitles are available in English.

Extras

The disc is almost bare of extras, including only an audio commentary with director Mike Newell and Producer Ann Scott. The two seem to rave constantly about every aspect of the production, I’m guessing partially because Newell admits up front that recording the commentary so many years later his memory of the production needs some spark to get back into his stories. All of the actors, the script by Peter Barnes, and the location all receive fair praise, along with some discussion of the meaning of the work and the way the different scenes are played help out the script and build the film itself. Despite Newell’s admission that he doesn’t remember as much as he likes, he and Scott do a good job of talking through the entire film with no awkward pauses, instead filling any potential gaps with mutterings of ‘marvelous’ or ‘brilliant’ from Newell that are entertaining enough.

Bonus trailers are:

- “The Proposal” runs for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.
- “Confessions of a Shopaholic” runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.
- “Disney Blu-ray Disc” spot runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.
- “Miramax Films” spot runs for 2 minutes and 36 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C- Video: D Audio: B Extras: C Overall: C