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The Bofors Gun [DVD] 
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Nichol Williamson and David Warner star in this savage and uncompromising 1968 British film classic, set on a British Army base in Cold War Germany. Lance Bombardier Terry Evans (David Warner) is about to be sent home for officer selection and training. All he has to do is make it through one more night, in charge of a small guard detachment.... Young and ineffectual, Evans is not respected by the national servicemen he commands. Flynn (Ian Holm) doubts his decisions while cockney Featherstone (John Thaw) is filled with contempt for him. Gunner O Rourke (Nicol Williamson) is openly insubordinate at first. Very quickly, it becomes obvious that O Rourke is going mad and that army discipline shatters when confronted by someone very dangerous and with nothing left to lose... Adapted from his own play by John McGrath, The Bofors Gun won the 1969 Best Supporting Actor BAFTA (Ian Holm) while Nichol Williamson was BAFTA nominated for Best Actor. This truly unforgettable film has now been digitally remastered and restored especially for tits first ever release on DVD.
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For those of us who've endured decades of frightful bootleg versions (even these being a rarity), Odeon Entertainment now brings us a fully restored version in the correct aspect ratio. However, restored technical delights only serve as a long awaited bonus, as no matter how one sees this film, director Jack Gold's 'Bofors' is British film making at its absolute sharp end. The quality of the acting comes from a faultless ensemble and is a mesmerising masterclass of stagecraft and storytelling.
'Bofors' is a dark tale about a group of feckless squaddies guarding what is known as a `Bofors Gun' in a remote 1950's army camp. The plot is fully outlined in Amazon's product description above. However, no description can possibly capture the sheer power of this seminal piece of business that gave leading players Nicol Williamson and David Warner the finest roles of their careers.
Williamson plays the proceedings with such perfection, that one feels a sense of foreboding at ever having to encounter such a dangerous character as his psychotic Private O'Rourke. Coupled with Warner's decent middle class Corporal, desperately striving to outlive the long night, these fine actors skillfully draw their audience into a claustrophobic hell on earth. The bitter winter's night in which the events unfold is so palpable it almost becomes a character in itself, unsettling and vicious in its constant presence.
The supporting company includes an early John Thaw and the brilliant Richard O'Callaghan, all delivering pitch perfect performances, but none better than the wonderful Peter Vaughan whose quiet all knowing turn as Sgt Walker comes close to stealing the show. For more of Vaughan's captivating work, see him in another unsung masterpiece, "1900".
'Bofors' aficionados will instantly recognize the above, but for the uninitiated this is a movie that must be seen before you die. Its two BAFTA's were never more deserved, and if Oscar ever introduces posthumous gongs, 'The Bofors Gun' should be at the top of the Best Picture list. Five stars at least.
Having now seen Odeon Entertainment's long awaited release of the above, here are some additional comments. Initially, I was disappointed that the film is in standard 4 x 3 ratio, but quickly realised that the loose top & tail framing clearly indicates that the film was shot for widescreen presentation in cinemas (the projected 4 x 3 picture was masked by mattes at the top and bottom of the frame to create a projected aspect ratio of 16 x 9). This obviously contributed to a saving in the original production budget, and explains why the rare TV showings have always been in standard ratio. Odeon claims to have restored the film, but have sadly not invested in striking a new 16 x 9 version. In the event, viewing the film as originally intended requires blowing it up to fill 16 x 9 screens (not stretched!). Having discussed the film with producer Otto Plaschkes (long before video and DVD came along), I distinctly remember him telling me that 'Bofors' was shot for widescreen presentation.
Although the film is a treat to watch in this newly restored version, the quality of the print is somewhat soft, though far better that any print I've seen to date. I'm tempted to think that the film might have been originally shot on 16mm rather then 35mm for reasons of economy. The sound could do with further restoration too, as here it seems lesser in quality than that of the bootleg versions.
Techie bits aside, this fabulous release is everything I expected and more, and a sheer delight to experience those superb performances once again. Seen anew, one realises the absolute greatness of David Warner's perfect performance as Bombardier Terry Evans, and his stunning ability to deliver an utterly believable character. Playing to Nicol Williamson's best ever role must have been no mean feat, and for the first time I now recognise Warner as being one of Britain's finest actors.
Thank you Odeon for such a quality package which includes a brilliant booklet from Michael Lepine, and a wonderful director's commentary plus interview with director and national treasure Jack Gold.
The well-spoken Lance Bombardier Evans (Warner) is due to return to England for officer training the next day, but first he has to get through a night of guard duty. Therein lies his problem - he is an inexperienced National Serviceman (the film is set in Germany, 1954), weak-willed & vacillating, and the bad characters in his squad of six know it. Gunner O'Rourke (Williamson, in one of his occasional tour de force outings) is a hostile, sullen, angry Irishman, who has been in the army some years. It quickly becomes apparent that his temperament & mental state are fraying dangerously.
His "friend", insofar as a character such as O'Rourke can have friends, is the cockney Gunner Featherstone (John Thaw, better known for The Sweeney & Inspector Morse), an obvious bully who delights in making a misery of the lives of those who won't stand up to him. His air of experience suggests he also is a long-service soldier. Gunner Shone is little better. Though not in cahoots with the other two, he seems to have little respect for Evans, and seems also to be one of those who looks after number one first and, perhaps, only. He is of the type who will enjoy watching someone else drop themselves in it, never lifting a finger to help, even though he could.
That leaves the young & rather innocent country lad, Gunner Rowe; one would guess that both he & Shone are also conscripts; who quickly becomes a target for Featherstone & O'Rourke, Crowley, a Northerner, and Flynn (Holm), an Ulsterman, judging by the accent. Crowley is a bit of a moaner ("Why am I always on guard duty on pay night?"), but will, just about, do as he's told. Flynn is probably the only one of the six for whom you can feel any real sympathy. Again, his air of experience suggests he is not on National Service, but whilst he & Evans are friendly enough, and Flynn will stand up to O'Rourke & Featherstone, he steadily becomes more exasperated with Evans inability to exert any authority.
As you can imagine, the tension in the guardroom, on a very cold night, quickly ratchets up, which leads to... Ah! But that would be telling! Suffice it to say that the plot is only too plausible, the acting & direction uniformly (pun intended!) excellent. It's no light-hearted easy watching; it is, though, an excellent film that deserves to be better known.
First watched it many years ago on TV (I think) and waited for years to see it again.
One scene that stuck in my mind was when Danny (played by the late and outstandingly great Nicole Williamson) puts his hand in the guardroom stove and grasped a red-hot coal and just gripped it in silence, placing it on the corporal's desk.
No doubt about who was the most memorable actor: Nicole Williamson, closely followed by David Warner. The growing tension in the guardroom and elsewhere was so real, almost unbearable at times.
What made this so watchable for me was that it depicted guard duty in Germany in 1954, exactly when I was there during the 'cold war' with Russia. Fortunately for me I was in the RAF and not the Army and also I never had to experience the death wish mania of Gunner Daniel O'Rourke.
Please see this film. It truly is remarkable.
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