Bellman & True [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (28th May 2019).
The Film

Adapted by Desmond Lowden from his novel of the same name, Bellman & True is a tense heist thriller starring Bernard Hill (Boys from the Blackstuff, The Lord of the Rings) as a computer programmer blackmailed by gangsters into hacking a bank security system.

Directed by Richard Loncraine (Full Circle, The Missionary) Bellman & True deftly balances dramatic realism with stark black comedy and nail-biting suspense. Produced by HandMade Films, Bellman & True is a fine companion piece to their successful thrillers The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa.

Video

Hiller (Bernard Hill) is a computer whiz who along with his former partner's son (Kevin O'Brien) are on the run from from gangsters Salto (Richard Hope) and Gort (Ken Bones) who want him to crack a computer code to allow them to rob a bank. They're caught and Hiller is forced to do the job with Guv'nor (Derek Newark) in charge.

Superb caper film is also a fairly detailed character study focussing on Hiller and the young boy, but the villains are also well drawn and Francis Tomelty is very good as a sexy but misandrist woman press ganged into looking after the lad and Ken Bones impresses as a hit tempered flunky.

Bellman & True is generally deadly serious but when Newark's harried crime boss shows up a welcome vein of black humour emerges as he has a conniption fit seemingly every few minutes at the incompetence of his employees; especially during the getaway which is hilarious as well as thrilling. All of the action scenes are pretty sweet and expertly handled. A very good film, highly recommended and one that I remember coming out but seems to have fallen by the wayside since which is a crying shame

Initially I felt Bellman & True to be too long and could've done with about twenty minutes removing, but on reflection I'm finding that the characters resonating more in my mind. At first I was much more interested in the caper but I feel that short changes the piece and I want to experience it again focusing more on the people. Approximately nine minutes were cut for the theatrical release version which contains more characterisation and are presented as standard definition inserts.

It's a gritty film with a subdued, warm, matter-of-fact look emphasising the grim London settings. Colours are generally muted with an emphasis on browns, greys and blacks. Flesh tones are natural within this visual context which is obviously a deliberate design choice; rich Technicolor hues would be out of place in this film. Consequently, black levels are very important to this dark tale and have been expertly handled with great shadow detail and no signs of unintended crush. This being a dark gangster caper with a man and his adopted son under threat the look of the film is key to the tone and visually I found this an arresting experience in it's subdued way. The cinematography evokes a wonderful sense of melancholy.

Contrast is pleasing allowing plenty of detail to come though in brighter moments and highlights; no blown out whites etc. The film has a very grainy film like appearance with the grain field being fine and well rendered by the superb encode of David MacKenzie and Fidelity in Motion. We need to find a way to create endless clones of MacKenzie and his team so they can be spread across the world and allowed to supervise every Blu-ray transfer!

Through seamless branching two versions of this sleeper are presented here: The standard theatrical cut (113 minutes) which is in full HD throughout and the longer premiere version (122 minutes) which adds some valuable if not essential bits and pieces to the mix. Sadly, the extra stuff only exists in standard definition and is noticeably softer and noisier than the balance of the film. But, so caught up in the film's story that were I not technically appraising this disc I would probably not have noticed much. This is a deliberately dark, gritty, grainy film with a warm but natural colour palette and the lesser quality bits didn't stand out as much as in other such assemblies I've seen.

I saw no signs of print damage or digital artefacts in this presentation. Overall I feel that the video presentation warrants an 'A' with a slight demerit for the standard material, but that's more a sop to the technically obsessive out there. To all intents and purposes this is as good a presentation as we're ever going to get shy of a 4K UHD Blu-ray release and the missing bits found so they could be included from a 35mm source, so to the more sensible viewers out there this is an 'A+'.

An extremely valuable release which presents a forgotten film in it's finest home video form looking better than ever and probably better than it did on theatrical release.

(Interestingly, Bellman & True was initially intended as a 3-part TV serial and indeed was premiered on TV in 1989 as such. A shame that version wasn't - or couldn't be - included.)


1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 113:14, 121:45

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

Audio is solid mono typical of lower budget, less spectacle driven films of the period and budget. Colin Town's superb score is a low key affair and never gets in the way of the actors nor is it marginalised in any way in the mix. Dialogue is always clear. A solid soundtrack presented as good as is possible without a complete rebuild from the sound stems which may not exist anyway. I'm sure a technical wizard like the great Mark Ayres could create a stunning 5.1 track out of the elements but that would be expensive and and frankly not essential. This is largely a quiet character piece of dialogue and mind games after all.

Subtitles are excellent and essential.

Extras

"Running in Traffic: Richard Loncraine on Bellman & True" featurette (23:44)

A relaxed chat with the director who discusses his career and how he came to make this fine film covering the usual bases of casting and production. I found the material on the stunting and effects - danger of explosives etc - amusing and interesting. I was surprised to find that Loncraine is more a fan of film than theatre.

""Just an Adventure: Kieran O’Brien on Bellman & True" featurette (19:41)

Fascinating piece from O'Brien (Nine Songs) who relates how he found making the film an enjoyable adventure with plenty of amusing anecdotes from the production. Incidentally, he gave a remarkable performance in the film which he seems justly proud of. Most interesting are his observations on the sexual politics that date the production; specifically the scene where Francis Tomelty's character attempts to titillate O'Brien after he overhears some unsavoury truths by pressing his hand on her bare breast. Very much a sign of the times, but today that wouldn't happen.

""Cracking the System: Author Desmond Lowden on Bellman & True" featurette (16:59)

The author of the original 1975 novel on which the film is based discusses his career in film and how he came to write.

""Trust Me: Colin Towns on the Music of Bellman & True" featurette (9:26)

Another fine piece in which the film's composer discusses the score and how he came to create it. It remains one of his favourites in his long career; 132 credits according to IMDB.

"Theatrical trailer (3:13)

Typical trailer of the era emphasising the thriller aspects.

"Bellman & True Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (46 images)

Reasonably substantial HD still gallery.

32-page booklet with a new essay by Kevin Lyons, a look at the inspiration behind the film’s title, an archival interview with Bernard Hill, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits.

Another essential booklet with a fabulous new essay by old pro Lyons and other fascinating bits and bobs that add hugely to the contextual appreciation of this cult classic. Worth the price of the release on it's own.

Packaging

Standard clear Blu-ray Keepcase.

Overall

A long forgotten British thriller gets the deluxe Powerhouse Films treatment in very probably one of the less publicised, but still essential discs of the year. It's snuck out quietly without the fanfare of the likes of The Last Movie (1971) or the forthcoming Scum (1979) which is a shame because it deserves a bigger stage. Extras are top notch and very choice and the transfer is as good as can be with great image and audio.

Essential!

Stop reading this and get it bought!

(A note to Powerhouse Films: with this and the delayed Missionary out can we possibly have Loncraine's Full Circle, pretty please?)

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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