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The White Countess [DVD]

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Product details

  • Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave, Alan Corduner
  • Directors: James Ivory
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Icelandic, Dutch, Romanian, Czech, Hungarian, Bulgarian, English, Arabic, Hindi, Polish, Turkish
  • Dubbed: Polish, Hungarian, Czech
  • Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: 21 Aug. 2006
  • Run Time: 138 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000FS9PAI
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,492 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Product Description

James Ivory directs this period drama, starring Ralph Fiennes. In 1930s Shaghai, Sofia (Natasha Richardson) a peniless Russian countess displaced by the revolution and civil war, is forced to take work as a taxi-dancer and bar girl in order to support herself. There she meets blind diplomat Todd Jackson (Fiennes), who opens a sophisticated bar called 'The White Countess' and asks her to work for him. As their strange and hesitant relationship progresses, they find themselves torn apart by the Japanese invasion of the city.


A stellar cast and an intricate script enhance this last film from the elegant producing/directing team of Merchant/Ivory (creators of A Room with a View, Howards End, and more). Set in 1930s Shanghai, "The White Countess" is both Sofia (Natasha Richardson, Patty Hearst), a fallen member of the Russian aristocracy, and a nightclub created by a blind American diplomat named Jackson (Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient), who asks Sofia to be the centrepiece of the world he wants to create. Sofia accepts to escape a life of prostitution, but Jackson's world proves both fragile and volatile--as does Shanghai itself, on the verge of an invasion from Japan. The script, by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day), is fundamentally about culture--what it is, how it's formed, how it shapes and is shaped by human desires--but to describe it thus makes the movie sound academic. Instead, it's lush and subtle, fluid in how it weaves together two people deeply wounded by past losses, who gradually come to embrace what the immediate moment has to offer. Fiennes and Richardson are the movie's core, but surrounding them is a stunning supporting cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave (Mrs. Dalloway, Julia), Lynn Redgrave (Shine), Allan Corduner (Topsy-Turvy), and Hiroyuki Sanada (Ringu).--Bret Fetzer

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Andrew N. Vargo on 24 Mar. 2009
Format: DVD
Natasha Richardson held this film together, a difficult task as the viewer is presented with a wide range of historical events and a complex plot. With a great sense of timing Natasha takes us through the film and helps explain the relationships with her family, who to only add to the complexity include her real mother [Vanessa Redgrave} and her sister Lynn Redgrave who both gave stunning performances. Ralph Fiennes is at hand as a totally believable blind entrepreneur who attempts to create a night club which is a refuge from the ensuing madness of the Sino-Japanese War and precursor to the Second World War. His relationship with his clients acts as an insight into the wider issues taking place outside of the night club. The role of Hiroyuki Sanada and the friendship which develops between him and Ralph Fiennes is a fascinating study of how personal relationships can become totally messed up by world events.
The convincing portrayal of how a very wealthy family try to cope in extreme poverty is played out by the real Redgrave family and the intimate knowledge they have of one another is captured on screen. It is worth watching just for these vignettes , the three actors offer a performance of family life rarely captured on film.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Cameron on 26 May 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
There is not much I can say to add to Andrew N. Vargo's fine and accurate review, except to say what wonderful direction by James Ivory. He encouraged the best performances from this talented group of actors in what must have been very unusual circumstances as he had three members of the same family working together, without one trying to out-do the others!

Also without the amazing cinematography by Christopher Doyle, the film would not have so much impact.

I hope you treat yourself to watching this romantic drama.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Stephen Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 30 Dec. 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This film will probably always be remembered for being Merchant Ivory's last film, rather than for any artistic merit. It has all the correct ingredients for another of their classics - It is lavishly shot, full of terrific actors, written by well respected screenwriter and is a period piece with great production values. Alas, the ingredients have failed to rise to the occasion here.

The story revolves around a blind American diplomat in 30's Shanghai, who aspires to build his own bar amidst the chaotic, bohemian and corrupt atmosphere of the times. He has a singular vision in his head how the bar should be and it needs it's centrepiece - the White Countess, played by Natasha Richardson. She is a Countess from Russia, in exile since the revolution, and with her family living in poverty. When he meets her, she is working as a dancing girl in a bar - he employs her and names his bar after her. However, he remains aloof, as if knowing her more deeply will bring the illusion of stability and grandeur to an end. Events start to (or should I say eventually) overtake them though as the Japanese invasion looms ever closer.

However grand the production values and immaculate the design of the movie, somehow there is little heart. The story has real potential for aching tragedy and romance, and yet despite a fine performance from Natasha Richardson in particular, it is difficult to find an emotional core which resonates on any personal level. Fiennes is normally a dead cert in a movie like this, and yet perhaps because playing an American, never quite finds the tone of his character. In short, the canvas is large, but the romance written on it feels small scale.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos on 30 Mar. 2007
Format: DVD
This film appeals on many levels - there is the exotic historical location of Shanghai in the mid-1930s. The scenery, the setting, the costumes, all of it is authentic. The technical expertise of the producers makes the era come alive on screen. It is a boomtown, a get-rich-quick speculative atmosphere. There is the volatile political tension in Asia between China and Japan. Another factor is the recent Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which caused the aristocrats and Russian royalty to flee ... barely saving their lives by escaping into desperate, degrading poverty. They were lucky to be alive. Shanghai is a fascinating mix of multinationals from many countries. They intermingle under a dark cloud which is expected to burst. Everyone realizes it is only a matter of time before war erupts. A Japanese invasion is deemed eminent ... It is within this complex milieu that Todd Jackson emerges (portrayed to perfection by Ralph Fiennes). He is a former employee of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps who had worked with Woodrow Wilson to create the League of Nations. He survived a bomb explosion but is left blind. He had lived with his young daughter, whom he loved deeply, but who had died in the same tragic event.

Currently, Jackson is the Director of a thriving Shanghai company but he longs to create a nightclub and cabaret where the different internationals in Shanghai can mix without consideration of their national and political differences. The other Directors of the company are contemplating elminating him from the company by buying out his shares but they hesitate due to his recent tragic accident. He spends his free time visiting bars and dance clubs, experiencing the seedier side of the Shanghai lifestyle ... At one such bar, he meets a Japanese businessman Mr.
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