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:: Essential World Cinema: UK

An excellent and diverse collection of British films comprise the latest in the Essential World Cinema DVD sets. The three films are Orlando (directed by Sally Potter), The Draughtsman's Contract (directed by Peter Greenaway), and The Shooting Party (directed by Alan Bridges).

Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf's classic novel results In Orlando, and the fact that the central character changes sex midway through the movie, might mean that the big twist has been cruelly exposed. However, Orlando’s ambiguous sexuality (played terrificly by Tilda Swinton) is not the question, even if her transformation in the pursuit of a soulmate may be the answer. The remainder of this film is more direct, if only slightly more conventional, and does not linger in the realm of the supernatural — except that Orlando barely ages a day in 400 years, of course, but that is as far as your suspension of disbelief will be tested.

The film is a dazzling visual and aural experience laid out resplendently before you like a banquet set down for Elizabeth I, in whose court the story commences. This is an appropriate starting point considering this film is an experience, as if walking through a masterwork of the renaissance. The scenes throughout are magnificent. Grand, exotic and a narrative that maintains focus and propels the viewer through 400 years in the life with pathos, charm and wit.

Sally Potter has paid notable attention to detail with a range of fascinating characters. Framed by stunning imagination and a soul-searching musical score, this is one of the really good British films of the 1990s.

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The Draughtsman's Contract was Peter Greenaway's breakthrough feature film. Set in 1694, near the close of England's Restoration era, he builds a tour de force of artistic inheritance disguised by the juxtaposition of extravagance.

Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) is desperate to regain her husband's attention by appealing to him through what he does care about - his house, his property, his gardens. When the controlling Mr. Herbert tells her he will be leaving for a fortnight, she urgently pleads with Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgings), a skilled draughtsman, to stay on in his absence to make drawings of the house as a gift for her husband. Neville arrogantly succumbs and the contract signed.

As the days pass and his drawings progress, it is Mr. Neville who is disabused of his vainglorious pride. When it is decided that Mr. Herbert's gone missing, Mr. Neville is led to the discovery that he has committed the clues to paper, condemning himself, “…more than a witness…an accessory to misadventure.”

Greenaway sets us in a society on the verge of the Baroque, the great leap toward organic abstraction - a softer, more feminine landscape. There is loads of style and substance and is a treat for fans of sophisticated English drama.

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Infidelity, class exploitation, and mindless male competitiveness pepper this adaptation of Isabel Colegate's novel, set just before the First World War, when an assortment of toffs gather for pheasant shooting and charades. The producer obviously spent a small fortune acquiring the excellent cast, and the film evokes the period admirably,

The Shooting Party is an evocative dissertation on the romantic follies and emotional pretensions of the English idle rich during that last peaceful autumn before the start of World War I, and that's more than enough to recommend it. Add to that James Mason's fine, final performance, as well as a host of other brilliant appearances by Gordon Jackson, Edward Fox, Dorothy Tutin, Cheryl Campbell, and John Gielgud, and The Shooting Party becomes must viewing for devotees of English period drama.

DVD Extras

ORLANDO

Orlando Goes To Russia (documentary)
Orlando In Uzbekistan (documentary)
Jimmy Was An Angel (documentary)
Venice Film Festival Press Conference
Theatrical Trailer

THE DRAUGHTSMANS CONTRACT

Filmed Introduction By Peter Greenaway
Feature Commentary By Peter Greenaway
Interview With Composer Michael Nyman
Behind-The-Scenes Footage
On-Set Interviews
Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailers For The Draughtsman's Contract And A Zed & Two Noughts
Featurette On The Film's Digital Restoration
Photo Gallery