The term ‘lost film’ is often aimed towards the early days of cinema. As movie lovers, the best we can do is just imagine what these silent classics would look like in our minds. However, film neglect isn’t the sole preserve of early cinema, it is rare but more recent films with lesser known followings and attention run the risk of not only disappearing from the public conscious, but also physically disappearing. Released in 1987, A Month in the Country, adapted from the novel of the same name, almost fell off the face of the Earth. This relatively obscure gem falls into the early careers of two British acting heavyweights, Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh. The film has been neglected for many years since its original cinema release, so much so that a fan tried to screen the film at the National Media Museum in Bradford in 2003, but the museum could not find any of the original 35mm prints. Since that incident, an original print has been rediscovered and been faithfully restored by BFI for this new Blu Ray release.
Set in post-World War I Yorkshire, Tom Birkin (Firth) has been ordered to carry out a request to restore a Medieval mural in a small church, close by the fictional town of Oxgodby. Travelling up from London, this experience is purifying for Birkin as he emerged from the First World War traumatised. As a result, he staggers through his speech and twitches his muscles through conditions that he can’t control. He soon adjusts to the closed off Yorkshire lifestyle and befriends an archaeologist named James Moon (Branagh). Moon has been tasked to find an unmarked grave in the church’s cemetery and he too is suffering from the horrors of the War. As both men begin their journey into self-cleansing, Birkin clashes with the vicar constantly over religion and soon starts a friendship with his much kinder wife, Alice Keach (Natasha Richardson).
A Month in the Country is obviously a small scale film. The original novel by J. L. Carr is just over 100 pages. However it was the perfect match pairing the source material with the film’s director, Pat O’Connor, a filmmaker known for his slow-burn dramas. His second feature, Cal, which also won critical acclaim was also adapted from a work of fiction, so the man knows how to direct faithful novel adaptation.
This pairing leads to a film that will encourages different meanings from different people, A Month in the Country is multi-textural and displays a subtlety to its character development. Many will see the hints of how a man can be purified from the horrors of war. As Birkin restores the mural little by little, his stammer begins to fade, whereas others may pick up the religious subtext. It was mentioned beforehand that Birkin and the Vicar clash constantly, while Birkin isn’t religious there is many a moment where he condemns religion a product of witnessing seeing the worst of humanity through war. Thanks to his fervour Birkin is forced to sleep in the rafters of the Church, woken by the bells for regular Sunday service. The outsider spies on the parishioners singing hymns and lambastes them for their beliefs. Is this a sign that atheism can damage the human spirit if projected wrongly? There are many similar questions asked by the screenplay.
Birkin does warm up to some traditions as the mural gets restored, he is invited by two children for Sunday roast and does make an attempt at preaching. Firth’s performance improves as he starts to tolerate the village way, growing from a man torn apart by an atrocity to a man with a little more hope. Branagh is also a lost soul, but is more secretive in disguising his internal anguish. Often happy, adoring his job as an architect, but also being a bit more understanding of people’s faith. The best performance, however, is from Natasha Richardson -oh Natasha, you left us far too soon. The daughter of acting titan Vanessa Redgrave , she has the exact distinct acting trademarks that made her mother famous. Natasha had these piercing eyes that commanded a scene through the mere blink of an eyelid. The film suggests that romance is on the cards for Birkin and Keach. She is kinder than her older, more sullen husband and he is infatuated; however, they both know that their love is forbidden and this culminates in a scene that rallies against the conventions of film romance.
A Month in the Country is a water-coloured painting come to life. Every shot has a blurry effect encapsulating the world and even the scenario with vibrance. Just because it looks light on the outside, it doesn’t mean O’Connor’s film does not flirt with darker themes. A Month in the Country says a lot more than just “war is bad”, everyone knows that – this is a film about how the human spirit can healed by work over a passage of time. Beautifully restored, elegantly acted and completed overlooked and forgotten, there is no better time to rediscover a month in the country.
- Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- An Interview with Colin Firth (2016, 40 mins)
- An Interview with Pat O’Connor (2016, 21 mins)
- Audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
- Original theatrical trailer
- Isolated music and effects track
- Illustrated booklet with new writing by Jo Botting and Andy Miller, and full film credits