Enchanted April US Release Date: May 5, 2009
Review Date: May 24, 2009
The Film - out of <font face="Arial[/img]
“In my day husbands and beds were very seldom mentioned in the same breath. Husbands were taken seriously, as the only true obstacle to sin.”
Elizabeth Von Arnim’s pleasant jaunt of a novel is adapted here in Mike Newell’s Award Winning Film by the late Peter Barnes, and it delights from start to finish. Perhaps it is Mike Newell’s incredible insight into the unending British condition of toiling in silence life’s inconsiderate tempers and obstacles that gives the film a free-flowing, soft comedic tint, or the joy of wonderful performances from all involved – but Enchanted April is comfortable and easy to enjoy.
The film begins in 1920’s England, not long after the end of World War I, with Lottie, sitting on a city tram as the drab drum of the English rain pelts the streets and houses. The grey of her world, inside and out, bears down on her until she sees in a newspaper an advertisement for a getaway in the lushness of the Italian hills. When she arrives at her Ladies club, she sees a sad face reading the same advertisement and her giddy excitement at the possibility of getting away from it all overwhelms her and she approaches the stranger, another proper Englishwoman, Rose Arbuthnot, who, though at first is put off by Lottie’s exuberance, and flustered lack of confidence – a charming combination –soon warms to the idea of slipping away to the warm embrace of Italy.
Lottie’s overbearing husband and Rose’s philandering spouse, along with the weight of England’s drab weather seal the deal. To reduce expenses for the month of April on the continent, Lottie and Rose advertise for two additional people to holiday with them and answering the call are the stiff and proper Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) and the beautiful and carefree Caroline Dester (Polly Walker).
Once in Italy, after a rather uncomfortable start for the four ladies, the setting, with its beauty and peaceful airs soon soften their relationships. Lottie, who rather abruptly dropped the news of her holiday plans on her protesting husband, soon lets her wishful thoughts of ‘improving’ her husband set in and invites him to join them. Other guests arrive and the pleasantries run without boundaries and we find ourselves holidaying along with them and their hope and their secrets.
The ladies, who cover the range of repression for the era, are inhabited perfectly by a top-notch cast. Lottie, who begins emotionally frayed and on the edges of stress, is cast wonderfully with Josie Lawrence. As her new friend, the emotionally downtrodden Rose Arbuthnot, is the very talented Miranda Richardson in her Golden Globe winning performance (Best Actress – Comedy). Her award is deserved though she provides more of a dramatic presence in the film than comedy. Joan Plowright is superb as the prim and proper house mother, a performance that also earned her recognition from the Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress.
The supporting cast of husbands and other male figures is rich with some of England’s finest. Jim Broadbent as the philandering Mr. Arbuthnot is perfectly red faced and untrustworthy. Alfred Molina is very good as the selfish, but soon bettered Mr. Mellersh Wilkins and finally, Michael Kitchin as George Biggs is well suited for the man he plays.
There is both charm and whimsy to experience in this short and sweet film. Its simple premise is balanced by the depth of the four women’s lives – their loves, haunts and adventurous spirits that open up their hearts in unexpected ways. This film is sweet and charismatic and, all in all, quite a lovely hour and a half.
Miramax Home Entertainment presents Enchanted April in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions. Considering this film was originally intended for television, some of the tighter framed shots may be the result of a reframing at 1.85:1 from 1.33:1, though I cannot find information to confirm this and it is not mentioned on the commentary track. Either way, to put it succinctly, the image is bloody awful. Forgiving its small budget and television production - Enchanted April is riddled with dust and debris and is murky and shadowy – even when the story lands our characters in the warmth of Italy. The image lacks any fine details; has no moment to shine and disappoints without fail all the way through.
Suitable to the story at hand and certainly the production, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound provided with this Miramax rerelease is ok. Little, if anything, can be found in the surrounds as almost everything comes from the dialogue in the center channel and modest activity in the front left and right – though it isn’t the most precise, clean audio. Besides some hollow, echoing oddness during the first few moments of the film, the audio serves the story well enough, though a little more liveliness, particularly in how the score is heard, would have helped.
Feature Commentary by Director Mike Newell and Producer Ann Scott – Newell affectionately discusses what he refers to as a ‘delicate, naturalistic comedy’ along with producer Ann Scott. Both share details of how the production came about; the freedom of casting when the money is small and the financers are local and warmly regard the performances and accomplishment of filming their film in just 26 days. Some periods of silence, shortly after the commentary begins and then again later, clearly as the commentators were taking in their film, are brief.
Enchanted April is a lovely film; a warm and quite delightful excursion with excellent performances from all – but particularly Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright, who were rewarded with Golden Globes, and from Josie Lawrence – who is terrific. While Miramax may not have presented Enchanted April for the first time ever on DVD in the US with any real regard –fans of the film will happily snap this up to replace any worn VHS tapes they may have. Others would do well to check this really sweet film out even if the quality is disappointing – perhaps a rental with extremely low expectation for how the film will look and sound.