T.S. Eliot calls April the cruelest month; these guys say it's enchanted. Judge Jim Thomas believes it's bipolar.
Imagine a month in paradise with nothing to do…but everything you ever dreamed of.
In 1991, director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) was putting together a low-budget television film based on a popular 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim—the story of four dissimilar women in 1920s England who leave their damp and rainy environs for a holiday to a secluded coastal castle in Italy. A small U.S. distributor offered to help finance the film in return for U.S. distribution rights. In 1992, Enchanted April opened in just a handful of theaters, but it got such a strong response that the release quickly expanded to 250 screens. It became a surprise hit, garnering three Oscar nominations and making a ton of money for the small distributor, which used the profits to fund an odd little drama by Neil Jordan called The Crying Game. Just like that, Miramax became a major film company. Miramax, at long, long last, brings Enchanted April to DVD.
Facts of the Case
Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson, The Crying Game) and Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence, The Old Curiosity Shop) belong to the same ladies' club but have never spoken. They become acquainted after reading an advertisement for villas for rent, finding common ground in that both are struggling to make the best of unhappy marriages. Having decided to seek other ladies to help share expenses, they reluctantly take on the waspish, elderly Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright, The Spiderwick Chronicles) and the stunning but aloof Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker, Caprica). The four women find rejuvenation in the tranquil beauty of their surroundings, rediscovering hope and love.
Enchanted April is perhaps best described as a pastoral fantasy. When you read the plot, it sounds like purest corn, and in lesser hands the film would have undoubtedly been a saccharine-coated abomination. Four women get away from it all in an attempt to revitalize their lives; the plot is sublime in its simplicity. The opening in London is full of hazy smoke, dingy grays and browns. It's an oppressive environment; little wonder that their lives seems like millstones to Lottie and Rose. The pair arrives in Italy on a rainy, dreary day—making them wonder if they haven't made a huge mistake. However, the next day, the sun is out, and they are dumbstruck by the natural beauty of their surroundings.
The performers are well-matched to their characters. Josie Lawrence, known primarily as a comedienne, handles Lottie's character deftly, keeping the character from veering into caricature. Lottie embraces the surroundings from Day One, and it is her exuberance that slowly wins over the others. Miranda Richardson's Rose is much more reserved; several scenes involve Rose struggling to open herself up. Richardson internalizes the struggle to such an extent that the scenes become still lifes of uncommon beauty.
Joan Plowright's Mrs. Fisher has had a full life, and has known famous philosophers and poets. She has allowed herself to live in the past for so long that she has forgotten how to live in the present. Plowright was such a mortal lock for the supporting actress Oscar that for years after Marisa Tomei won, rumors persisted that a drunken Jack Palance had read the wrong name. Polly Walker brings warmth and pathos to the role of the discontented rich girl; it's impossible to dismiss her has just another "rich bitch." Alfred Molina (Frida) and Jim Broadbent (Iris) provide strong supporting turns as, respectively, Josie's and Rose's husbands.
The commentary track features director Mike Newell and producer Ann Scott. It's a rather hit-or-miss affair; we get little bits and pieces of information, but there are stretches when we don't get anything. The commentary is much more focused on the production problems than the performances—the film was shot in twenty-eight days, during one of the rainiest months in recent Italian history.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Technically, the disc isn't all that great. The commentary track reveals the cause, as well as explaining why Enchanted April hadn't been released to DVD until now. The film—which was shot on a very small budget—was filmed in 16mm. So while the video is subpar in many sections, it's a minor miracle that the picture looks as good as it does. There is certainly a softness in long shots, as well as a fair amount of grain throughout. At the same time, they do manage to get amazingly sharp images in closeups. All the same, particularly with the gorgeous locations, there are many scenes during which you will initially say, "What an exquisitely framed shot!," only to say a moment later "what a pity it isn't sharper." Audio has been remastered in 5.1 surround; it's clear enough, but one wonders why a 5.1 mix is needed for such a quiet film.
The only real misstep in the plot is the resolution—or lack of same—concerning Frederick (Rose's husband) and his infatuation/borderline dalliance with Caroline from before the vacation. Rose never discovers the relationship, and it's summarily swept under the rug. It leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, particularly when contrasted with the charm of the reborn relationship between Lottie and her husband.
If you are interested in discs that show off the marvels of your 137-inch LED display and your 1.21 gigawatt receiver, you'd best look elsewhere. However, if the disc's technical merits aren't a main selling point, and you are looking for a character piece full of warmth, charm, and even, dare I say, magic, Enchanted April is wholeheartedly recommended as a feel-good film without pretense or manipulation.
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