14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
essential viewing for Britten afficionados and those with a real interest in music,
This review is from: Benjamin Britten - A Time There Was  [DVD]  [NTSC] (DVD)
I agree with every word of Klingsor Tristan's review of this important and absorbing film, and I write an additional review only because I think the film deserves it and, perhaps, to provide a slightly different perspective. The film does not attempt to be comprehensive as far as Britten's work (or indeed his life) is concerned. There is little or no mention of 'The Turn of the Screw', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', the 'Cello Symphony or the War Requiem, for example. As Klingsor Tristan makes clear, some aspects of the composer's personal make-up are not present. I think that is natural in view of the time at which the film was made, and I do not think it is a weakness. However, the 'feel' of Britten's music and his priorities as a creative artist, as well as his approach to composition, are well represented. All are both interesting and important. There is wonderful archive film of his family and some friends, evocative home movies from the States and Suffolk, some film of his conducting and his piano playing (with Richter, serious and focused, Britten is an absolutely equal partner who has time and inclination to glance at his prestigious companion and smile at a slightly fudged note in the final chords). Extracts from key performances are there too, and from some recording sessions.
Above all there is the narrative of Peter Pears, who appears many times, speaking or performing, always with a dignity, intelligence and openness which add a very great deal to this film. Dry-eyed when many would find this impossible, and the more eloquent for that, he gives a most moving account of Britten's death (in his arms), and that section of the film is quite wonderful. Palmer knows (as Britten did) when to allow words to speak for themselves, and when a series of silent or near-silent images are the most appropriate. This is the climax of the film and enormously effective in a slightly understated way ; less, here, means more.
Elsewhere,we hear from Britten and Pears's housekeeper in Aldeburgh, whose family up till then had thought 'concert people' not quite a respectable class, but who found Britten and Pears 'very clean - they were always having baths' and Britten fond of 'nursery food' like milk puddings. His nurse through his final illness, with him when he died, is likewise sympathetically direct and professional in what she says, though a liking for the man is clearly evident. There are scenes from Britten's funeral, with a solemn-faced Rostropovitch, and much more that is interesting and revealing.
In sum, this film does the composer justice. It informs, and provides a good introduction for those who want to know more about the man and the music. It captures the atmosphere of Aldeburgh, the Suffolk coast and the sea which were so important to him. Through Pears's presence and testimony it gives us an insight into what was the most important relationship of Britten's life, and because Pears was such a fine musician himself and such an intelligent commentator, does so wonderfully well. It is not a complete or comprehensive account, but it does not set out to be, and what it does, it does very well indeed. As such, it makes for compelling viewing.