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on 10 November 2009
These television films reveal not only what a versatile writer Alan Bennett is but what a loss he is to the medium, since he has written little for it since 1991. His northern roots are well in evidence in the early A Day Out (1972)(about a Halifax cycling club before and after the First World War) and Sunset Across The Bay (1975)(about a Leeds couple whose retirement to Morecambe proves far from being what they hoped). Both films have a rare, understated poignancy. The later, more sophisticated and worldly Bennett is exemplified by his two plays about the Cambridge spies : An Englishman Abroad (1983) and A Question of Attribution (1991), the latter surely being unique in having the Queen herself as a sympathetically-portrayed character. More uncharacteristic in style is the strange and disturbing Kafka-inspired The Insurance Man (1986). There are one or two weaker pieces but overall this is a splendid collection, distinguished by memorable performances by, among others, Patricia Routledge, James Fox, Alan Bates and (as 'HMQ') Prunella Scales.
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on 16 February 2010
A Visit from Miss Prothero , Sunset Across the Bay, A Day Out, A Woman of No Importance, Our Winnie, An Englishman Abroad, Dinner at Noon, The Insurance Man, 102 Blvd Haussman, A Question of Attribution and Portrait or Bust...

Sorry, not so much a review as a listing, but I'm assuming that if you're reading this it's because you're already a Bennett fan and - like me - you were frustrated because the BBC appears to have been a little coy about listing the contents of the set. If you're a Bennett beginner head straight for A Woman of No Importance and Our Winnie.
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on 26 April 2010
I had a specific reason for investing in this collection: I am shortly to appear on Mastermind answering questions on my specialist subject, the Televesion Plays of Alan Bennett. There are 32 plays in all, and revision has so far consisted in reading the published texts of two earlier series, namely The Writer in Disguise and Objects of Affection, and the two series of famous monologues, Talking Heads. This 4-disc set happily fills in most of the gaps not covered by those volumes. The plays are A Day Out and Sunset Across the Bay from the 1970s, A Visit from Miss Prothero, Our Winnie, A Woman of No Importance (the first of the dramatic monologues he wrote, and an immediate classic), An Englishman Abroad about the spy Guy Burgess, The Insurance Man (about Kafka), 102 Boulevard Haussmann (Proust), and A Question of Attribution featuring a marvellous central dialogue between Royal spy Sir Anthony Blunt (the ever-reliable James Fox) and HMG (Prunella Scales with pitch-perfect accent). Each play is introduced by the author, and the fourth disc also includes the wry and insightful little documentary Portrait or Bust, following Mr Bennett on a visit to Leeds Art Gallery. My only regret is that there was no room to include one of his very best and most characteristic TV plays, Intensive Care - but to bemoan its lack when so many other riches are on offer would be churlish. While Mr Bennett's plays are never quite as cosy as we sometimes think - possibly because they always sound so real, they seem just like life as we know it - for insight, clear-eyed compassion, and an uncanny ear for dialogue, they are unrivalled.
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on 13 November 2009
Alan Bennett is our Living Cultural Treasure: beware of pretenders to the title!

If you're a Bennett fan, you'd be mad not to have this set of his works for television - and if you like good telly, telly that uses the medium as it was meant to be used, you'd be equally mad not to have this.

First things first: in this handsome boxed set of four DVDs is AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD - at long last!!! Devotees have been waiting a very long time, and anyone who knows and loves this glorious play will give a sigh of relief and finally lay to rest that worn and torn VHS. The play's companion-piece A QUESTION OF ATTRIBUTION is also here - with Prunella Scales's delicious and thoroughly human portrayal of the Queen in conversation with the traitor Anthony Blunt - her Master of Pictures, superbly played by James Fox. These two plays alone are well worth the asking price, but there is so much more.

Here in ALAN BENNETT AT THE BBC is a wide selection of the writer and commentator at his very best. There are shining examples of his work spanning his whole association with BBC television, everything from A DAY OUT - a black and white piece of nostalgia about a cycling club pedalling to Fountains Abbey in 1911, beautifully acted and observed, and beautifully shot - to the more recent and charming documentary about the everyday life of a hotel in Harrogate.

The great plus is that Bennett introduces each work in person in that beautifully understated, rather lugubrious way of his (remember him reading THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS on radio ?). These introductions are extremely amusing in places, and - like Bennett's writing - also very touching.

To quote the title of a Bennett stage play:
ENJOY!

You will.
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on 2 March 2010
Having grown up in the 1960's, the first TV play that I can still remember even before this re-issue of Bennett's earliest TV work was "A Day Out". Even as a teenager at the time it was first broadcast, I knew this piece was something very special. Of course I did not know it was Alan Bennet's work at the time and did not know who Bennett was since I was too young to be part of the "Beyond the Fringe" generation, and I only became aware of this piece being by Bennett much, much later, when I was familiar and had enjoyed most of Bennett's writing and later TV and film work.

In addition to the excellent "A Day Out" piece, overall this compilation of Bennett's early TV pieces, most of which I had never seen, was excellent and typical of his sensitivity to time, place and family relationships, particularly parents and their adult children, and for the most part these works have aged well, even when viwed through 2010 eyes. BBC is to be commended for releasing this excellent compilation.
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on 7 December 2009
Being in the "Alan Bennett can do no wrong" camp I would give it five stars, but if you are new to his work this collection is a superb introduction, excellent value for money and more than deserves the star rating. You will find a wide range of his work on these DVDs and can track his development as a storyyeller and observer of human foibles and failings. The newly filmed introductions for each piece are also worth the purchase price alone. Enjoy!
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on 21 December 2009
"A question of Attribution" & "An Englishman Abroad" were very difficult to find on dvd.
John Schlesinger did a wonderful work and those two films could stand up to "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy".
James FOX and Alan Bates are great. Perfect spies...
Bravo to the BBC !
Thanks to Amazon too !
( I baught two box sets, just in case of a another Cold War, you never know.).
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on 17 August 2011
As a great admirer of Alan Bennett, I was delighted when this DVD came out. However, my delight was tinged with disappointment that the BBC had not use this opportunity to enhance the recording quality. However, it is money well spent for two of the best programs ever to appear on television - namely "An Englishman Abroad" and "A Question of Attribution".
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on 5 May 2010
'I don't think one wants to be captured, does one?'

A consultant radiologist carefully examines Sir Anthony Blunt for traces of disease, the first of three investigations that lie at the heart of 'A Question of Attribution'. We then cut to Whitehall where a home affairs department is establishing a new government enquiry into his wartime past so that he is literally being examined from the inside out. Finally, we're at a restorer's where Blunt and his team are studying a painting whose origins are unclear. Was it by Titian or someone else? The suggestion is to give it a clean to see what lies beneath.

This final investigation is only part of Blunt's strange world of appearances where both pictures and people aren't quite what they seem. ('I think the only person who doesn't have a secret self must be God', he says at one point). Blunt's own past, of course, is hidden beneath a veneer of respectability. But he's not alone since Donleavy, the man from the ministry, carries his own secrets. HMQ reveals a different side to herself as a more probing inquisitor than the authorities. And even Colin, the working-class footman, turns out to know more about attribution than Phillips, the Courthold's brightest student. It eventually becomes possible to think of the entire film as a kind of metaphor for Blunt's life for what is acting ultimately but an elaborate deception carried out on the public?

The casting is superb. James Fox, as Miranda Carter suggests in Anthony Blunt: His Lives, is more Brian Sewell than Anthony Blunt, but he nonetheless works as a man whose evasiveness is so ingrained in him it's all he knows. John Calder plays Chubb like the father of Sergeant Lewis, making up for a lack of polish with doggedness ('Baffled. Still, I'm determined to crack it.') and perhaps getting the closest to the enigma of Blunt. And Geoffrey Palmer has never been more effortlessly sinister, a rebuke to those who only ever cast him as a bemused sitcom chump. In the richly ambiguous set-piece, Prunella Scales gives HMQ a profound sense of insight into people which might strike you as odd seeing that most of her life has been spent meeting them for just a few moments at a time. 'Be careful how one goes up the ladder, one could have a nasty fall', are the last words she says to the man most recently elected to the British Academy.

The dialogue throughout is elegant yet lethal. Only once or twice does Bennett slip up, spelling out subtexts rather than trusting us to work them out. And by the end you might feel less sympathetic than he does towards Blunt. His stoicism towards his fate, Bennett suggests, is affecting since the establishment concealed his treachery for its own ends and then colluded in his immunity until it no longer suited them. He who betrayed was then himself betrayed. His last walk down the stairs of the Institute, his own ivory tower, recalls a line from his earlier lecture: 'These martyrs seldom lose a drop of their sang-froid'. It is the scholar's detachment from the dark, violent worlds of art and espionage.

As the press gang's flashbulbs explode in the final seconds of the film, we freeze on Blunt's face, his eyes so washed out they are hardly blue and his aristocratic features whitened as if caught by a searchlight. The final exposure, you could call it.
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on 10 August 2011
I first saw Alan Bennett in the 60's in Beyond the Fringe when they performed in New York. He was a delight then and is a marvel now. After purchasing the wonderful Talking Heads collection I had to get this one. I advise you to do the same.
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