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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Glorious 39

February 12th, 2011

Glorious 39 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Glorious 39 is a British film that was shot in 2008 and came out in its native market in 2009. It was written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, who for the past decade has done mostly TV movies. He has excelled in that field, earning several nominations and a couple awards. But with Glorious 39, he has his first theatrical release since Food of Love. Is it a triumphant return? Or is his talent better suited to the small screen?

The Movie

The films begins with us meeting Michael Walton in modern day England. He's going to see Walter and Oliver, two cousins of his, to ask them about his great aunt, Anne, the sister to his grandmother, Celia. After being warned that the past should stay in the past, they start the story in the summer of 1939.

Anne is the eldest of three kids, having been adopted by Alexander and Maud, when they thought they would be unable to have kids of their own. That was before Ralph and Celia came along. The family is very well to do financially, and politically very connected with Alexander being a Member of Parliament. On his birthday in 1939, several important guests are there, including a fellow MP, Hector Haldane, and Anne's lover, Lawrence Newbolt. At the dinner party, Hector complains loudly about Britain's continued policy of appeasement toward Adolf Hitler and that far from preventing World War II, it will allow Germany to become too strong to stop. One of the other politicos at the dinner, Joseph Balcombe, is dismissive of his ideas.

The next day, Anne tracks down the family's missing cat, which had wandered into shed her father used to store research for his books, and that the kids were forbidden to enter. While there, she finds some gramophone records of fox trots, but they turn out to be recordings of government meetings and such. Alexander says Joseph Balcombe must have stored them there. Shortly afterward, Lawrence calls Anne to tell her Hector Haldane is dead of an apparent suicide. However, Lawrence seems a little unconvinced of that and thinks there might be more to it. When Anne brings up that possibility to her father, he dismisses it, but the more Anne looks into it, the more she's convinced there is a conspiracy. And when the people helping her start to turn up dead, she's convinced. But by then, will it be too late to save herself?

It's too late to save the film, that's for sure. It's an oddly paced film that spends a great deal of time looking at the beautiful English countryside, but not enough time developing characters or drama. (And I certainly wouldn't call it a thriller.) Plot details are dumped onto the audience in exposition heavy scenes (the scene with Anne and her fellow actor riding in the car come to mind) which should have been easy enough for the audience to understand if it were given in a much subtler way. And as we we do get further and further into the mystery, instead of drawing us in, it just wears us down.

There are some laudable areas of the film, including some of the cinematography and the performance of Romola Garai in the lead and David Tennant in an all too short role. (I would have liked Matt Smith to show up at the end of the movie as the new Hector Haldrane. It wouldn't have made any sense in the movie, but at least it would have been memorable.) But overall it moves far too slowly and the script is simply not polished enough to work.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray include nearly an hour of interviews with the cast, the director, and the producer. While there are a lot of them in total, they are broken down into segments that are very short at times. There is also seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage that lacks context. Meanwhile, the audio is uncomplicated, which is to say the dialogue is clear but the surround sound speakers are mostly underused. On the other hand, the video has to deal with a shocking amount of grain at times. This has to be an aesthetic choice, because there are other times, especially the country scenery, where the video is crisp and full of details.

The Blu-ray's list price is only 20% more than the DVD's list price, but on, it is actually significantly cheaper to buy the film in High Definition.

The Verdict

Stephen Poliakoff has won awards for his TV movies, and I couldn't help think that Glorious 39 could have worked a lot better as a TV movie. It certainly could have used 30 minutes or so trimmed from its running time. The talented cast is wasted on a script that moves too slowly, has dialogue that is unconvincing at times, and while the core setup is interesting, the end result is not. That said, some critics do disagree with me. If you are a fan of the cast members or of Stephen Poliakoff, it could be worth checking out, while if you are intent on buying, the Blu-ray is the better deal over the DVD.

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Filed under: Video Review, Glorious 39