137 of 138 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Bennett
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...
Published on 10 Nov. 2009 by M. J. Nelson
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good compilations but missing some gems
I was over the moon when seeing this release but it does not contain my favourite Bennett telivision Play, Intensive care, with Thora Hird, in fact, thora is absent from this whole collection of Alan bennetts work. I am pleased to get a release of a Woman of no importance, a real gem which I wish had been released with talking heads as although a forerunner and not...
Published on 15 Dec. 2009 by Lee Peachair
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137 of 138 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Bennett,
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.
100 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, but what exactly is in this box set?,
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.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than I remembered,
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.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb value,
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!
88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ENJOY! (And yes, 'An Englishman Abroad' is out at last!),
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:
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Retrospective of Alan Bennett's early work,
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last...,
"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.).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great, worthwhile collection,
Not every piece here was a five star film for me, but the stunning breadth of Bennett's work, often ranging from outrageous humor to dark tragedy in a single piece makes this a must own for anyone interested in top notch writing (and acting and directing)for TV.
Some notes on the individual pieces from my film diary;
An Englishman Abroad (1983)**** (Dr. John Schlesinger) Very dry wit joins with a rueful sadness in the 1 hour based on truth drama of English traitor in exile Guy Burgess (the wonderful Alan Bates) striking up a brief friendship with actress Coral Browne (playing herself) when he goes to see a cultural exchange production of Hamlet, in 1958, wanders backstage, and throws up in her dressing room sink. Full of trenchant observations on both Soviet and British life,, what it means to miss one’s homeland, Though a few comic moments when Browne speaks with two dolts at the British Embassy are a bit overstated, this is full of beautifully observed moments.
A Woman of No Importance (1982)***** Deeply moving 45 minute precursor to Bennett’s “Talking Heads” monologues, this monologue tells the story of a somewhat fussy, but somehow also endearing middle-aged spinster, and her being beset by an illness. At first the piece feels rather light weight. But as we watch Patricia Routledge in an amazing performance we are taken deeper and deeper into the darkness by a woman who refuses to acknowledge it. Funny, simple, wise and terribly sad, this was also daring for TV in it’s very theatrical simplicity. Between Bennett, Routledge and director Giles Foster, they create a piece far more impactful and memorable that most films double or more the running length.
A Day Out (1972)*** (Dr. Stephen Frears) Quite minor, if sometimes charming early piece for both director Frears and Alan Bennett (this was his first TV play). A 48 minute film about a group of male cyclists making a day trip one Sunday in 1911. While the group is made up of an interesting array of types leading to all sorts of minor conflicts, it’s a bit hard to believe this group would hang out with each other, or even know each other given the wide diversity of age, class, personalities, etc. And the coda, after WW I has stripped away the innocence of the earlier days, feels a bit forced. Not bad, just a bit dull, although it is very nicely photographed (in black and white) for a BBC show of the time.
Sunset Across the Bay (1975)**** Dr. Steven Frears/ This represents a nice step forward from “A Day Out”. This 70 minute film for the BBC follows the quiet story of an older couple as they move from Leeds to the Seaside town of Morecombe after the husband retires. Both quietly funny, and quite melancholy, the portraits of the couple is full of the kind of lovely, intimate moments and details that give us the feeling we’re watching a real couple, abetted by terrific performances by the two leads; Harry Markham and Gabrielle Daye. Both are wonderfully understated, never falling into the trap of playing ‘cute old folks’. Then young director Stephen Frears also does a terrific job at quietly modulating the piece, and creating visuals that feel cinematic, in spite of the intentionally claustrophobic nature of the tale. This marriage is complex – they two are inextricably intertwined, they need each other, but there is also a distance that has come with time and habit. That tension between love and habitual need is dealt with great subtlety. In his introduction to the piece on the BBC Box Set, Bennett makes it clear that the couple drew much from his real parents, who lived in Leeds. He also reveals that Harry Markham, who is so good, wasn’t a professional actor until very late in life, although he did a lot of amateur theater. A simple, quiet, humorous and touching portrait of growing old in a society where being old can leave you an outsider, and a prisoner of the way you’ve always done things.
A Visit From Miss Protheroe (1978) **** Dr. Steven Frears. Amusing, but slightly one-joke premise starts to wear out even in this brief 36 minute BBC film. Mrs. Profroe a self satisfied social climber goes to visit her newly retired boss. On the surface her visit is to keep him informed of what’s going on at their old place of business, but in truth she’s more interested in undermining his happiness and self-confidence. Both Hugh Lloyd and Patricia Routledge give very good performances in this very stagy, one0set piece directed by Stephen Frears. But as good a writer as Bennett is, and as well observed his dialogue and turns of phrase are, in the end, we don’t know much more at the end of the piece than we do about 5 minutes in. So most of this consists of just running variations of Miss Prothroe slowly driving poor Mr. Dodsworth crazy. With this much talent, that still leaves much to enjoy, in spite of the frustration as it slowly dawns that the piece is almost more a long comic sketch then a true play showing the best of all involved.
Our Winnie (1982)**** Lovely, simple piece, combing humor and gentle pathos as Bennett does so well. A retarded woman in her late 20s is take to see her father’s grave by her mother and aunt. There, they encounter a young woman who’s a photography student, dealing with her project to take photos at the cemetery. There are some very funny side scenes as the photographer tries to get natural looking, shots of the staff, but directing them into total stiffness. (A young Jim Broadbent gives a wonderful comic turn as one of the attendants). At the same time, the film very gently raises some real questions about the intrusion of art into people’s private lives. In just 40 minutes Bennett does his thing of letting feel like we’re eavesdropping on real life, and getting to know all these people very well in a very short time.
The Insurance Man (1986)**** Dr. Richard Eyre. Beautifully shot and very well acted by a large cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis and Jim Broadbent. This is an attempt to make Franz Kafka the man a character in a story full of the feel of his writings; the nightmarish surreal confusion and darkness – in this case of the world of insurance covering industrial accidents, a world in which Kafka did in fact earn his living. There are trenchant and often funny observations on the abuses of the industrial world to those that labor in it, and the absurdity built into the system of insurance, mostly working to insure that the majority of people will simply give up. In 1945, with Prague under Nazi control a man dying from asbestos poisoning tells his doctor of how many years earlier he sought help for a skin condition brought on by his work in a dye factory, ending up being helped by Kafka. While there is a lot to admire here, I did find the tone a bit wobbly, and some of the ideas more heavy-handedly overstated than would have been needed. At least on first viewing it worked slightly better as an idea than as a finished piece. I enjoyed seeing Alan Bennett stretch himself as a writer and director Richard Eyre’s eye for noir-like nightmare images, but in the end, I didn’t find the whole all that emotional or impactful. Always interesting but not always involving.
Dinner at Noon (1988)***** A wonderful short documentary as Alan Bennett explores the Crown Hotel in Harrogate UK. It’s an interesting mix; some stolen moments of hotel guests interacting, often filled with real dialogue that could be right out of one of Bennett’s witty, and affectionately satirical pieces about people from all of Britain’s various walks of life. But the piece is dominated by Bennett himself, musing to camera on the boyhood memories that are brought back by the various sights, sounds and characters at the hotel. A little like Bennet’s “Telling Tales” in that sense, but I found this often even more touching, less theatrical, given it’s real life setting giving it context. Bennett also seems more relaxed here, his presence shorn of any pretense. This would make a fascinating double bill with Chantal Akerman’s short documentary “Hotel Monterey”. That brilliant piece is wordless, giving us the flavor of a run down hotel in New York City just through long, wordless lingering images – an almost experimental film. Here, it’s just the opposite, the images are important, but it’s words that carry the day; mostly Bennett’s wonderful prose, but also the captured words of the various guests, young, old, rich and working class.
102 Boulevard Haussman (1990)**** A terrific, performance by Alan Bates and strong supporting ones by Janet McTeer and Paul Rhys anchor the quiet, understated study of a few months in the life of writer Marcel Proust. This Proust is fragile and eccentric, ironically seemingly blithely disconnected from the sufferings of those around him, while at the same time writing his works of insight into the human mind and heart. Yet, as the film goes on, we become more aware that Proust’s seeming lack of empathy is as much a defense mechanism against his own sadness and loneliness as they are an unintentional cruel streak. The piece is by nature a bit chilly, and the emotions to be found are of the quiet, subtle variety. Yet there is also something haunting about it in the end. It’s one of those pieces that has lingered in my mind more strongly and positively than I would have expected based on my more mixed reaction while watching it.
A Question of Attribution (1991)***** Dr. John Schlesinger. A sort of follow up to “An Englishman Abroad”, which was about the spy Guy Burgess living in Moscow in 1951, I enjoyed this piece even more. This piece of speculative fiction based in fact is also about an upper-class Englishman turned spy, Sir Anthony Blunt. James Fox is wonderful as Blunt, now returned to England, living with the promise of immunity, in exchange for being constantly, if not humorlessly badgered for information by the Secret Service. Blunt is an art expert and historian. At the same time he is being investigated, by the government, who are trying to figure out who he really is underneath, Blunt is doing the same to a painting, finding new faces that have been covered up in a renaissance work. This might seem a very heavy handed symbol, but because Alan Bennet’s writing is so witty and deft, and because both the piece and the character acknowledge the obvious irony irony, it’s actually quite effective. The best section is when Blunt finds himself suddenly and surprisingly alone with the Queen herself (a terrific turn in a tough role by Prunella Scales), and the two have a chat about art, facts and other things that could indeed be an innocent chat, but could also be a very subtle game of cat and mouse between two very clever people. A very strong study of a fascinatingly ambiguous, often haughty, but somehow still likable man.
Portrait or Bust (1994)*** One of the more minor efforts on the terrific 4 disc BBC set. Filmed at a public art gallery in Bennett’s home town of leads, it’s a mix of his philosophizing about art, which is less interesting than his more personal memory pieces, and footage of local people reacting to the art works. This is the far more interesting part of this 50 minute film, as we see stereotypes broken, with old people reacting to avant-garde art with interest, and working class folk showing sophisticated taste and understanding. (Although there is one very funny bit where an older know-it-all type keeps misidentifying the works and artists, only to look at the wall label and cheerfully correct himself.)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great DVD - Quality enhancement lacking,
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".
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alan Bennett is amazing,
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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Alan Bennett At The BBC by Richard Eyre