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Enchanted April DVD Review

Enchanted April (1992) movie poster Enchanted April

Theatrical Release: July 31, 1992 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Mike Newell / Writers: Peter Barnes (screenplay), Elizabeth von Arnim (novel)

Cast: Miranda Richardson (Rose Arbuthnot), Josie Lawrence (Lotty Wilkins), Polly Walker (Caroline Dester), Joan Plowright (Mrs. Fisher), Alfred Molina (Mellersh Wilkins), Michael Kitchen (George Briggs), Jim Broadbent (Frederick Arbuthnot), Vittorio Duse (Domenico), Adriana Facchetti (Francesca), Anna Longhi (Costanza)

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One rainy day in 1920s England, Lotty Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) sees an ad inviting readers to spend a month in a furnished medieval Italian castle. So inspired by the classified is Lotty that she uncharacteristically opens up to her neighbor, Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson), and proposes the idea that they together pursue it. Leaving their husbands and their worries behind but meeting up with two fellow London women --
stuffy, proper, know-it-all widow Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) and privileged, pretty debutante Caroline Dester (Polly Walker) -- the two housewives make the journey to San Salvatore.

This is the tale of Enchanted April, Mike Newell's early '90s filming of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel. The movie was made for the British Broadcasting Corporation, that beacon of lady-friendly period dramas. The BBC aired it on April 5, 1992 and it was so well-received that a theatrical release was secured for that summer in the United States and over the next year in many other parts of the world.

Through interactions and interior monologues, we come to see how the four women view the scenic vacation in terms of themselves and their place in life. Before long, Lotty's guilt drives her to invite her husband, penny-pinching businessman Mellersh (Alfred Molina). Likewise, less optimistic Rose writes to her husband, secretly adulterous author Frederick (Jim Broadbent). A third male also turns up; the estate's nerdy owner George Briggs (Michael Kitchen) drops by his property while on his way to Rome.

Lotty's (Josie Lawrence, right) first words to Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) are ones persuading her that an Italian vacation together is just what they need. Mrs. Fisher (Oscar nominee Joan Plowright) pays a visit and offers advice to shaded headache victim Caroline Dester (Polly Walker).

Nothing else appropriate to reveal here occurs. Slow and understated, the movie offers less through plot point and incident than through the sights and sounds of the leisurely experience. The approach yields an unusual reaction from the viewer, who may have to actively fight the urge to doze off in the middle yet still finds the proceedings and characters utterly investable. There may be little going on, but there is even less to find fault with.
Watch a clip from Enchanted April:
What is provided affects in a strange, potent way. While I doubt the specifics of this story will stay in my memory long, the participatory experience must have left some tangible mark on my emotional core.

To consider such thoughts any further would appear to pose a risk to my masculinity and I'm not sure I have enough printable reactions to continue.

Enchanted April earned over $13 million in North American theaters. It took its time to earn that gross, a highly respectable sum considering the subject matter and that the release never expanded beyond 324 theaters. Helping to draw audiences were, at first, positive reviews and, later, award recognition. As far as honors go, the film won Golden Globes for Miranda Richardson (Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical) and Joan Plowright (Supporting Actress). Enchanted April was also up for Best Picture (Comedy/Musical), but lost to The Player. In addition, it was nominated for Academy Awards in adapted screenplay, costume design, and supporting actress (Plowright). It didn't win any of those, faring slightly worse than the year's other Miramax/Miranda Richardson drama (original screenplay winner The Crying Game).

It may seem like all of the major studios' 1990s theatrical output has been put on DVD with the exception of North starring Elijah Wood and Bruce Willis. In fact, it looks like there are a few other films yet to surface on the popular format. Enchanted April will leave that class on Tuesday, finally making its debut in a surprisingly pricy and promoted package from Miramax under a previously-unused Award-Winning Collection banner. Distribution rights would appear to have been an obstacle; the film's VHS debut in April of 1994 was issued by Paramount.

Buy Enchanted April on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled
Release Date: May 5, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps in Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Picture quality is none too praiseworthy. The long wait for Enchanted April to come to DVD should have yielded a disc showcasing today's high standards. Perhaps the modest source material is to blame, then, because the picture is generally dark, soft, grainy, and marked by the regular appearance of artifacts.
Make no mistake, the film is watchable and surely a few steps above VHS, but it never invites admiration even as characters enjoy the picturesque blooming Italian plant life.

The film appears in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. That seems suspicious based on the made-for-TV origins and because the framing does appear to be tight in a few places, as if the frame has been vertically cropped against its wishes. Is the studio simply playing to the belief that most of today's customers (particularly of arthouse fare) would be surprised and disappointed to see a 1990s movie in fullscreen? It seems that way, especially since the film is short enough for both viewing formats to have been included with no major compression difficulties. If only one aspect ratio was to be included, it sounds like 1.33:1 may have been the way to go.

The audio is encoded as Dolby Digital 5.1, but I heard nothing that suggests that all 5.1 channels have truly been employed. All audible sound remains in the front three speakers. It too has its share of troubles, almost always sounding softer and more muffled than one would like. Dynamic inconsistencies are revealed near the end when the dialogue and effects take a sudden rise in volume.

Alfred Molina has never been one to shy from showing off his chiseled chest, even when soot draws the eyes in instead of robotic tentacles calling them away. Stuffy widow Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) takes instant offense to the idea that she is old enough to have known John Keats.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The bonus features on Enchanted April run as long as the film itself. This is to say that the only extra is an audio commentary, by director Mike Newell and producer Ann Scott. Theirs is a pretty active and occasionally engaging discussion, an adequate mix of revelation and reaction. Among the topics covered are budget filmmaking, the themes,
and shooting locations. The remarks grow fairly sparse as the film winds down. As is often the case, I think this track could have been condensed into a solid 15-minute featurette for those not wanting to invest in the whole screen-specific experience.

For taking twelve years to come to DVD, you would think that we could at least get the movie's trailer, something that would have been included without question back in the format's early days. The disc opens with trailers for The Proposal and Confessions of a Shopaholic plus a Blu-ray promo. The Sneak Peeks menu adds a Miramax Films company promo.

The simple, static menus are distinguished only by a looped score excerpt and some floral designs.

Enchanted April gets a fancy cardboard slipcover that repeats the keepcase artwork below, but with the gold sections in reflective foil. Two inserts inside the case promote Blu-ray and the Miramax Film Insider program.

Rose (Miranda Richardson) is surprised to hear that Lottie (Josie Lawrence) has invited her overbearing husband to the holiday away from him. When outside of Rome, do as the outsider-of-Romans do... Rose and Lotty take things easy on San Salvatore's coastal cliffs.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I can't imagine that Enchanted April's rabid fans will have their socks knocked off by this long-awaited Region 1 DVD debut. Picture and sound quality are both noticeably lacking, the featured widescreen aspect ratio appears to be a compromise, and the only extra is an average audio commentary. Even ignoring the economy, this release would hardly seem to deserve twenty-plus of your hard-earned dollars. But brushing off this DVD would mean overlooking a near universally-praised film that has evoked stronger feelings than most works created for theaters.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / The Book: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

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Reviewed May 4, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1992 Miramax Films, BBC Films, Greenpoint Films, and 2009 Miramax Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.