The rapscallion Harry Flashman is quite a British mainstay, made popular in a series of historical fictions by author George MacDonald Fraser. Having had tremendous successes with The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, director Richard Lester brought the same kind of manic energy and drive to the filming of the second Flashman book Royal Flash. Alas, it’s a movie that only works in fits and starts. With a stunning cast of British stars and lots of comic tomfoolery that was Lester’s bread and butter, the movie should be a riot from beginning to end, but things curiously don’t jell as often as they should even if the hard working cast is doing everything they can to make it fast and funny.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/10/2013
Having been hugely decorated for war achievements which he only inadvertently stumbled into, Harry Flashman (Malcolm McDowell) is the toast of Victorian England. Truth to tell, though a rogue and a bounder, Harry’s very ineptness is part of his charm though his boastful personality can make enemies of people like Otto von Bismarck (Oliver Reed) without even trying hard. Four years later, Harry is kidnapped and persuaded by Bismarck and his lieutenant Rudi Von Sternberg (Alan Bates) to impersonate Prussian nobleman Carl Magnus (also Malcolm McDowell) whom he strongly resembles by marrying a Ruritanian duchess (Britt Ekland ) while the noble is indisposed with syphilis. But it’s actually a trap set for Harry by Bismarck to settle his four-year old grudge against him. Harry will have to do some quick thinking and have more than his usual share of luck to escape this one with his life.Author George MacDonald Fraser adapted his own novel for the script for this swashbuckling semi-farce, and it’s filled with sequences where director Richard Lester can apply his justifiable knack for rough and tumble comedy. There’s the boxing match between Bismarck and the now-retired champion (played very well by actual Commonwealth champion Henry Cooper) which sets the vendetta storyline in play, an extended kitchen slapstick scene where, as usual, Harry’s trying to escape from those pursuing him, a boar hunting scene that seems like it was probably part of something longer and more fulfilling, and the climactic duel between Harry and Rudi which goes on long past the point of fun despite inarguably inventive gags. And not only are there wonderful stars in meaty roles, but many of the best of British stage and screen have been wedged into the movie even in small bits: Bob Hoskins as a wisecracking bobby, Alastair Sim as a confidante, Joss Ackland and Christopher Cazenove as villagers fighting for their rights (a subplot that gets kind of lost in the muddle), and Lionel Jeffries and Tom Bell as Bismarck hit men lying in wait for their chance to attack Harry. The production is truly stunning with superb location work in Bavaria that features awe-inspiring castles, churches, and countryside and costumes that give the comedy a really epic feel. But Harry's many adventures just have a way of starting and stopping with bumpy irregularity, not making for a smooth comic experience for the viewer.Malcolm McDowell isn’t the first person one would think of to play the roguishly handsome and rascally clever Harry, but he makes the part his own and certainly gets in the swing of things with the comedy demonstrating superb timing of pratfalls and being more than competent with the sword on several occasions. Alan Bates was born to play the suave snake waiting in the wings to take one by surprise, and he does his usual wonderful job. The two primary women’s parts – actress/courtesan Lola Montez and Duchess Irma – are played respectively by Florinda Bolkan and Britt Ekland. Lola is as devious as Irma is innocent, and both women find those aspects and play them with precision. But as he often does, Oliver Reed steals the film as Otto von Bismarck even though his character is so quietly commanding that he’s missed when he exits the film for long periods. But one truly believes that here is the man who will bring the German states together to form one of Europe’s most powerful entities.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
The film is presented in 1.66:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Photographed by the masterful Geoffrey Unsworth, the high definition transfer picks up all of his subtle adjustments in lighting, diffusion, and contrast offering loads of detail when the picture is meant to be sharp and interesting effects when the camerawork is soft-focused. Color is quite wonderful throughout with rich and appealing skin tones, and black levels are excellent as well. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix seems sometimes to be a bit undercharged (I adjusted the volume up a few clicks). There is some sound in the right and left front channels, but it seems to simply be the spread of the track from the front channel. Dialogue is certainly clear and concise, and Ken Thorne’s rambunctious music and the sound effects don’t clash with the spoken words on any occasion. Any age-relate problems like hiss or crackle are non-existent.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Nick Redman and star Malcolm McDowell have an outstanding conversation about the movie as McDowell answers the intelligent, leading questions from Redman that get him to reminisce generously about the making of the film and his relationships with his fellow actors. There are no silent gaps in the commentary making for a very rewarding listen.Meet Harry Flashman (14:26, SD): author George MacDonald Fraser and others discuss the noteworthy Victorian scalawag and how effectively he was captured in this film.Inside Royal Flash (7:44, SD): author George MacDonald Fraser and producer David B. Picker heap praise on director Richard Lester and the star-laden cast and discuss the original plans for a series of Flashman films which didn’t materialize when this film didn’t take off at the box-office.Theatrical Trailer (1:02, SD)Isolated Score Track: Ken Thorne’s engaging score is beautifully produced in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix that is lush and beautifully presented.Six-Page Booklet: contains numerous color stills from the film, the movie’s poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s always entertaining (note: Henry Cooper was not the only boxer ever to knock down Muhammad Ali: Joe Frazier did it in their first fight) essay on the film.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Perhaps if Richard Lester hadn’t released The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers before the premiere of Royal Flash, his whip smart approach to visual comedy wouldn’t have seemed so familiar to audiences watching Royal Flash. This historical romp plays erratically now, often hilarious and exhilarating and then followed by scenes which seem a bit plodding and obvious. But the transfer is a stunner and fans of the film won’t be disappointed.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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