Beloved Enemy [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (4th August 2016).
The Film

BFI is releasing the highly ambitious and anticipated Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC. There is a choice of the following:

- Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989) - a 13 disc set of 11 Blu-rays and 2 DVDs.
- Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 1: Dissent (1969-1977) - a 6 DVD set.
- Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 2: Disruption (1978-1989) - a 6 DVD set.

Due to the massive amount of the content, the set will be covered in 13 separate reviews, which later will be combined into a singular review after the completion of all 13 reviews.

This review covers DISC EIGHT of the “Dissent and Disruption” set.

“Danton’s Death” (1978) (94:41)

Georges Jacques Danton, a leading figure of the French Revolution was executed by the guillotine on April 5th, 1794. Equally powerful and controversial, Danton’s life has been the subject of many books, plays, and films through the last few hundred years. German writer Georg Büchner wrote ”Danton’s Death” in 1835, when he was just 21 years old albeit in a censored form with removal of sexual innuendo and some softening of political issues. Though Büchner died at the young age of 23 due to Typhus and was not able to see his works such as “Danton’s Death” performed, the plays resonated years later with the re-publications of his landmarks such as the unfinished masterwork “Woyzeck”. Director Alan Clarke had thoughts of making “Woyzeck” into a production for the BBC but instead he turned to Büchner ‘s “Danton’s Death” for adaptation instead.

Norman Rodway played Danton with a towering presence and empowering voice. It has been said in historical reports that Danton was a very tall man with a strong voice so the casting was a fitting one. Maximilien Robespierre was played by Ian Richardson with conviction as a rival to Danton. For production work it was treated more or less as a stageplay - cameras were mostly fixed positions with very little in room for movement from actors. The multiple stages were very largely built with long lenses capturing the performances for both wide shots and closeups of faces. Ideas seem to be places, but unfortunately the end result of the production was lacking. The performances for the most part were stoic and restrained with the exception of the vocal performances. As a radio play this would have been a winner. But visually it was boring and wasted. The large sets seemed smaller than they actually were with limited set dressings and limited cast of characters. Danton being a leader was overshadowed by Danton the whorehouse loving sexual liberal and which leads to Robespierre’s character seemingly like a eunuch or sexually repressed character instead. Was this the plan? If so it succeeded. There wasn’t much for who to root for and the final caption of the additional deaths seemed like they didn’t know how else to end the production altogether. ”Danton’s Death” aired as part of the BBC series ”Play of the Month” on the 23rd of April, 1978. For a better insight and biographical film, the 1983 film “Danton” directed by Andrzej Wadja starring Gerard Depardieu as Danton is more recommended.

“Beloved Enemy” (1981) (68:53)

The British tire company UKM is in negotiations to expand their business across the iron curtain - to have factories established in the Soviet Union. As the UK heads meet with Soviet businessmen in the London offices, they try to finalize the deals which could lead to positive business growth and business relations. But when UKM offer a deal of 50/50 - with half of the profits for the UK and half to the Soviet side, the Russian businessmen have extreme objections which could terminate the entire deal…

In the late 1970s, the Cold War was seemingly in the lukewarm state, with no particularly serious dangers of nuclear war between the West and Soviet, but always with an underlying point of near eruption like a semi-active volcano. Politically there was a large sense of distrust, but businesses were eager to make a mark even if political ties were still questionable. Pepsi-cola was the first American businesses to make a direct deal with the Soviet Union back in 1972 with sales of their beverage in The USSR in exchange for the western distribution of Soviet vodka. Charles Levinson’s book “Vodka-Cola” (1980) chronicled the event and was the partial basis of Alan Clarke’s production of “Beloved Enemy”, written by David Leland. The production was initially written as a straightforward look at the process in documentary form with no particular characterization or drama between characters. BBC was not particularly crazy about the drama relying on business negotiation rather than characters, so Leland try to add subplots dealing with family, though ultimately they were not filmed. Clarke was not interested in additional subplots but rather about the procedure of the negotiations.

“Beloved Enemy” did come right at the cusp of political change - Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, so there was an underlying present-ness to the production. Stylistically it was quite interesting that there were documentary-like aspects of the film camera following the actions, such as the walk-and-talk of characters like in < a href=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0815070/>Aaron Sorkin TV productions in many scenes or the eavesdropping in on the men’s room discussions (or disgust) against the Russians and their ways. But without the additional drama between characters or with basic characterizations, the whole production is colder than…. The Cold War. If “Mad Men” had no “characters” but was only about how the negotiations took place, the show may be instructive but an utter bore to watch. There are some fascinating points to find in “Beloved Enemy” but overall it is a bore.

The eighth disc of the “Dissent and Disruption” set is a combination of two duds - Clarke had an amazing eye but these two productions are not prime examples of his greatness. Though they are both interesting examples of the diverse nature of Clarke’s filmography.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray which can only be played on region B or region free Blu-ray players

Video

BFI presents the productions in 1080i 50hz in the original televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. As these were UK TV productions broadcast in the 25fps PAL format, the films are transferred in the 50hz signal to preserve the PAL runtime.

”Danton’s Death” was shot on PAL video and was transferred from a digibeta copy of the original 2” PAL transmission tape. The original production on the soundstages looked pretty dull and dark in the first place and PAL videotape just didn’t do the reproduction justice. There are no major errors in the transfer but overall it just looks… bland.

”Beloved Enemy” was shot on film and was was transferred in HD from the 16mm transmission print. The colors especially the greens outdoors look very good and the interiors also look fine. It’s not a particular standout film in terms of color as it is shot like a documentary. The image has been remastered with no major errors left in the master while still maintaining film grain.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono tracks are presented in lossless mono sound. The audio sounds very good with no troubling instances of hisses or pops. The video production of “Danton’s Death” and the film production of ”Beloved Enemy” are wordy productions with very little in terms of music or sound effects and the dialogue is reproduced very well. There are a few minor portions in Russian for “Beloved Enemy” which are left untranslated.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the productions.

Extras

“Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light” documentary (Part 8) (19:46)
The newly created 270-minute documentary on Alan Clarke has been divided into 12 parts with each part covering the productions reflected on the first 12 discs of the “Dissent and Disruption” boxset. Part 8 covers the two productions on DISC EIGHT. Stuart Walker who did production work on ”Danton’s Death” recalls the experience and how Clarke was very particular of the large sets and lenses. One of Walker’s ideas of using splitscreen was ultimately rejected, which may have made the production visually a little more interesting. David Leland talks about ”Beloved Enemy” for the second half, detailing the difficulties as well as the reception of the production. The entire 270 minute documentary is comprised of interviews with 50 people who worked with Clarke, knew Clarke, and looked up to Clarke. The interviews come from wildly differing sources. Some are slighty old 1.33:1 standard def video, some are hi-def 1.78:1 video. Some are lit too brightly, some are a bit dark. Some have clear dialogue, some sound echoey. It’s very inconsistent in how it looks and sounds edited together, but presentation wise, it is top notch.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

That’s all. No commentaries, no other extras on this particular disc.

Packaging

The ”Dissent and Disruption” 13 disc set includes a 200 page booklet with essays, photos, credits, and film information. “Danton’s Death” has an essay by film writer and producer Kaleem Aftab and “Beloved Enemy” has an essay by senior curator of the BFI National Archive Mark Duguid. Also listed are full film credits, extras credits, and restoration information.

Note the extras score of C- represents this disc only and not for the entire set and the overall score of A+ is for the entire set.

Overall

BFI’s work on the thirteen disc “Dissent and Disruption” (1969-1989) set is nothing less than an amazing collection of works by one of the most controversial and influential directors who pushed the boundaries of broadcast television. Absolutely recommended.

The Film: C Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: C- Overall: A+

 


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