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The Black Panther (BFI Flipside) (DVD + Blu-ray) 
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BFI Flipside presents
THE BLACK PANTHER (DVD + Blu-ray)
A Film by Ian Merrick
THE FLIPSIDE: rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions.
Directed by Ian Merrick, this intelligent crime drama charts the infamous killing spree which Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, perpetrated across England during the mid-1970s, culminating in the kidnapping and death of a 17-year-old girl.
Told with uncommon accuracy and refraining from sensationalism, this fascinating and disturbing film fell foul of a media-driven campaign on its original cinema release which resulted in an effective ban.
- Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- Original 1980s video release trailer (2 mins, DVD only)
- Alternative French language soundtrack, with English subtitles
- Recluse (Bob Bentley, 1979, 28 mins): arresting short film based on real events, starring Maurice Denham and edited by David Gladwell
- Recluse: recce footage (1978, 8 mins): recently discovered 16mm location scouting footage shot by director Bob Bentley
- illustrated booklet with contributions from Ian Merrick, Michael Armstrong, Bob Bentley and James Oliver; original promotional artwork and full credits
UK | 1977 | colour | English language, with optional English hard-of-hearing subtitles | 98 minutes | Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Disc 1: BD50 | 1080p | 24fps | PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit)
Disc 2: DVD9 | PAL | Dolby Digital mono audio (320kbps)
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With director Ian Merrick adopting guerrilla filmmaking techniques with a small crew and no stars (though Ian Holm was originally lined up to play Neilson until Whittle’s family expressed their misgivings about the project), the influence of filmmakers like Peter Watkins and Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place is apparent at times, but if anything it’s even more rigorously naturalistic. It’s a coldly unemotional film that’s quietly compelling precisely because it never seems to be trying to attract your attention but makes you feel that you’re eavesdropping on someone you really don’t want to get close to but can’t look away from. And in Donald Sumpter’s chillingly underplayed Neilson it has a very ordinary and very believable monster who is able to cry at sad endings to schlocky movies and give a small smile of satisfaction at a job well done as he pastes the cutting of his latest botched robbery into his scrapbook – an inadequate man cutting himself off from the people around him while convincing himself that he’s still the good soldier even as everything he touches goes wrong. It’s a performance not of big moments but of small details, like the way he alternates between the fake foreign accent he adopts as a pathetic disguise and his natural voice when dealing with his hostage, or the mounting frustration he tries to keep in as his plans inevitably unravel.
There’s certainly a state of the nation undercurrent to the film, set against then-bankrupt country in what seemed like irreversible decay where casual street violence and racism are simply accepted without comment (even Neilson’s accidental capture elicits no reaction from the passers-by as they blankly watch while eating their chips), but it’s kept in the background. So, more for budgetary reasons, is the botched police investigation, the various local forces incompetence and inability to connect the robberies and the kidnapping downplayed, the press’s catastrophic intervention in the case limited to a horrifying moment when Whittle’s brother is doorstepped by reporters, tipped of by the police, while waiting for instructions to deliver the ransom.
It’s a downbeat feelbad film if ever there was one – apart from Whittle’s family, no-one comes out of it looking good - but it’s an intelligent one that is undeserving of the public pillorying it received.
The BFI’s Blu-ray/DVD combo offers a fine widescreen transfer of the feature, especially considering the limitations of the source material, though the accompanying short film directed by Bob Bentley, Recluse, fares less well: the Blu-ray transfer is riddled with digital noise in the darker scenes, though the transfer on the accompanying DVD has no such problems. Both discs also include footage of the location recce for the short film, which was shot on the actual farm that the family killing it depicts took place, though the trailer for The Black Panther is only included on the DVD. There’s also an excellent booklet with articles by Ian Merrick and Michael Armstrong about the feature.
Ex-army Squaddie 'Donald Neilson' is a trouble man who decides on a career of post office robbery's, which. during an early attempt goes terribly wrong, he kills......
Then he kills again and again.
He decides on a change of direction, kidnapping a 17 year old heiress, keeping her in a drainage tunnel while waiting for the ransom to be paid by the girls brother, however things do not go to plan.
The kidnapping remains one of 'Lesley Whittle' remains one of the most infamous acts of all time.
The role of 'Donald Neilson' is played by 'Donald Sumpter'
The role of 'Lesley Whittle' is played by 'Debbie Farrington'
It is a fact based film, and should be viewed
The Blu-ray transfer is below par......but don't let that put you off.
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