Imagine a summer in paradise with nothing to do except everything your heart desires.
This film is a little snapshot of life, from the eyes of a child in a world we will not see the like of again. My Life So Far is set in the late 1920s on an estate near Argyle, Scotland, and is based on the memoirs of a real person; Denis Forman, former director of the Royal Opera House. This period of time, during the "long weekend" between the world wars, is perhaps one of the most carefree times for Scotland, particularly for those who lived in the large country houses.
Ten year old Fraser Pettigrew (Robbie Norman) lives in one of those castle-like houses, called Kiloran House, owned by a kindly, benign, yet sometimes stern Gamma (Rosemary Harris, Hamlet, The Boys from Brazil). She is mother to Moira, played by a weary looking Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who is also mightily struggling with a Scottish accent), who will ultimately be better known for The Abyss. There is a story, though not much of one; it is mainly just lives being lived. Call it an art film, a period piece, a long episode of Masterpiece Theater. Still it is charming and sweet in it's own unassuming way. Miramax (Disney) gets this disc one third right: It does have an anamorphic transfer, but is still extra free and for some reason I cannot fathom, has abandoned Disney's usual Amaray Keep Case for the worst type of case on the planet, the Alpha Keep Case. You'll have to decide from the rest of the review if the anamorphic transfer and the film itself warrants purchase.
The story is narrated by young Fraser, who we see initially practically worshipping his father. By far the film's most complex character, the father Edward is played by Colin Firth (Deep Blue Sea, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love),and is a passionate, wild-eyed nonconformist who worships Beethoven (whose music he tells his son is the sound of God talking in his sleep). He runs an unprofitable moss factory (the only one in Europe) and is keen on attempting to invent things that either do not work or are just plain silly. Looking down his nose at Edward is Moira's brother Morris, a hard-nosed wealthy businessman played by Malcolm McDowell (Caligula, A Clockwork Orange, Fantasy Island). While he too is likable in relation to Fraser, he is a bitter rival of Edwards with regards to whom will the estate be left to when Gamma dies.
The real thrust of the story is when Morris brings a new bride to the estate, a young and pretty French cellist named Heloise (Iréne Jacob, US Marshals, The Big Brass Ring). She is perhaps half her husband's age and Fraser falls deep into puppy love with her. Unfortunately Edward falls heavily into lust with her as well. This is the weakest part of the story. To buy all of this, you have to believe that Edward, a kindly soul utterly devoted to his family for the first third of the movie, is so overwhelmingly changed by a young woman that he goes nearly mad. Supposedly he is so smitten he is almost ready to abandon that family and the estate over her. Yet she doesn't even come off as a femme fatale, but rather just a sweet young woman only moderately pretty.
I've actually given you most of the story, such as it is. This film isn't plot driven, and depends much more on the look and feel of it all. There are some humorous scenes, as Fraser discovers his grandfather's books and his first pictures (engravings actually) of naked women. He learns about sexuality and other subjects from the books but has no frame of reference for them, and without any embarrassment suggests that his mother and Heloise become prostitutes to bolster the family finances, all at a crowded dinner table with guests. There are a few gems such as this in the mix.
Certainly the film looks great. The cinematography is very nice, and the Scottish countryside and the large estate home are gorgeous. The costuming looks in keeping with the characters, and adds to the very period feel of the film, which doesn't waver from it's authenticity.
As I mentioned above, this is an anamorphic transfer, so maybe Disney is keeping to their word. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks pretty good. I saw few artifacts, though there were edge enhancement problems throughout, but no film grain, nicks, or other defect. The greens of the lawns and the grays of the stone walls were vivid and lifelike. Flesh tones were perhaps a bit washed out, or I could be mistaking a pasty Scottish complexion for a color error. Still, high marks for the picture. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very nice, with dialogue always intelligible. The surrounds aren't given a great deal to do, but the subwoofer does get used during the musical score. There is little else for the sub to do in such a film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I suppose the biggest disappointment is there are no extras at all. None. Not even a lousy trailer. Maybe I should at least commend their honesty; they don't try to pass off a trailer as extra content. They're honest in their devotion to providing no extras at least.
While I can call the film charming, and pretty, and sweet, there really isn't much to it. While there were times I laughed, or thought about how pretty the countryside was, I always expected more. I'm not upset that I spent 90 odd minutes watching it, but it's not something I'd watch again. I think the film won't be exciting enough or story driven enough for a lot of people.
My Life So Far is a gentle daydream of a movie. If that sounds nice to you, then give it a rental. I'm pretty ambivalent about the film. But if it helps, I can say that I won't watch it again. And that to me is the defining reason to purchase a DVD.
Director Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) is released on his own recognizance. His film does what he set out for it to do. Colin Firth's performance was solid, and he gets a nod. Case dismissed.
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