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Private Road (BFI Flipside) ( DVD + Blu-ray)
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BFI Flipside presents
PRIVATE ROAD (DVD + Blu-ray)
A film by Barney Platts-Mills
THE FLIPSIDE: rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions.
When Peter, a handsome author pausing from finishing his first novel (and played by Bruce Robinson, director and star of Withnail & I), shacks up with sugar-sweet receptionist, Ann (Susan Penhaligon), they spend their days in pursuit of youthful happiness. Soon, however, they are forced to choose between domestic conformity and individual fulfilment.
Barney Platts-Mills' stylish and compelling follow-up to the critically acclaimed Bronco Bullfrog relocates the youthful struggle for freedom to 1970s Boho London, suburban Surrey and rural Scotland. The film is presented here in a stunning new HD transfer
- Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- St Christopher (1967, 48 mins): Barney Platts-Mills' affecting observational documentary about the education of mentally handicapped youngsters
- The Last Chapter (David Tringham, 1974, 29 mins): dark tale in which a successful middle-aged writer (Denholm Elliot) is unbalanced by an assured young fan (Private Road's Susan Penhaligon)
- Fully Illustrated booklet with newly commissioned essays
UK | 1971 | colour | English language, with optional English hard-of-hearing subtitles | 89 minutes | Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Disc 1: BD50 | 1080p | 24fps | PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit)
Disc 2: DVD9 | PAL | PCM mono audio (48k/16-bit) (extras Dolby Digital 320kbps)
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Top customer reviews
At first PRIVATE ROAD seems pleasant but inconsequential when contrasted to so many other more dramatic stories, but it's this very lack of overstatedness that gives it the truth beyond its surface. As always, this truth in films is made up of so much more than what the characters do or say, or what the story does or says. It's as much in the landscapes and rooms and in all the moments inbetween - and to really work must stimulate our own memories and dreams, past, present and future. All of which is precisely what most films, indeed most art, so signally fails to do.
Susan Penhaligon, despite the obvious shortcomings of her character remains largely sympathetic, but it's Bruce Robinson's weak but very appealing, good naturedness, that holds the film together. It is interesting to see the obvious parallels with WITHNAIL & I - a film that despite its deliberate overstatedness also succeeds in carrying a strong, though to my mind ultimately melancholic and self-protectedly cynical, charge.
The extras on this dvd are ST.CHRISTOPHER - a wonderfully vivid documentary and THE LAST CHAPTER, a silly but enjoyable short film with Denholm Elliot and Susan Penhaligon again - you can't have too much of Susan Penhaligon! There's a very nice booklet as well. Highly recommended!
As other reviewers have noted, it's probably best not to add much to the official plot summary, but that still leaves plenty to talk about. First off, and more to get it out of the way than anything else, there seem to be interesting relationships to certain French films. Bruce Robinson's character, Peter, is reminiscent of Jean Pierre Leaud's Antoine Doinel in Truffaut's BAISERS VOLE and DOMICILE CONJUGALE, with both characters harking back to earlier heroes of silent comedy and neither suffering by any of these comparisons. (There are also thematic similarities with the film Leaud made with Jean Eustache two years after Private Road, LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN.)
Visually, the film looks very like Eric Rohmer, the same wide, full figure shots of characters in ordinary, un-set-dressed rooms and streets, static frames, occasional almost imperceptible pans, naturalistic colour and light and, above all, the same pleasure in the every-day that has the power to heighten your perception of and pleasure in your own life.
Having made the French comparison, I'll also make one with the American mainstream: for anyone caught up in the esoteric mysteries of screenwriting, this is a masterclass in breaking the Syd Fieldian rules; essentially, there's no arc. The characters are not awkward propositions saved by love, it is not clear to us or to them what they want, they do not learn much if anything; yet the story does go somewhere and with a naturalness, or a brilliant impression of naturalness, that should make the mechanical, form-filling scriptwriters of so much recent mainstream fare ashamed of themselves. That said, perhaps my ideal double-bill match for this would be an American movie, the equally idiosyncratic and similarly rare BREAKING AWAY.
Finally, given the lead actor, there's also some fun to be had with the WITHNAIL comparison. How much was Robinson influenced by this when he came to make his movie set in the same era just over a decade later? Overlaps abound. At least one of Robinson's lines here -- 'Trust him to be in the bloody herbacious border!' -- could have come straight from the later movie. Platts-Mills' is known to have used improvisation, so maybe Robinson actually authored this.
But so much for the parallels; the film is really sui generis. A lot of its uniqueness seems to reside in its Englishness, a peculiar sort that tends to get lost among the working and upper class depictions that still dominate UK cinema. The young protagonists were still recognisable to me as a teenage Londoner in the 80s and even have equivalents in the much harder London of today, yet this is the only time I've seen these types on film. Their collective character, matter-of-fact, unshow-offy and un-macho, given to laconic wit, not so much opposed to convention as honestly, wryly bewildered by it, is also the character of the film. It seems to meander as the characters do, apparently unconcerned with plot points and jokes, but deftly delivering both to lead you to a conclusion both very funny and quietly touching.
I've never seen anything else like it. Why isn't it better known? Probably because a prophet is without honour in his own country and era, especially one so softly-spoken. Or, to put it another way, real individualism does not shout and thereby runs a genuine risk of going unnoticed. But perhaps eventually, thanks to the BFI's release, this will come to be recognised as the great work it is.
The little film not by Platts-Mills, THE FINAL CHAPTER is, as a previous reviewer said, nothing special, but it's worth noting that one of its authors is the usually more interesting novelist John Fowles and that, for a feminist attack on Ian Fleming, which it seems to be, it's got an awful lot of topless shots.
Platts-Mills' ST. CHRISTOPHER is a beautiful film, the kind of documentary the British used to do uniquely well: simple, carefully observed, humane and quietly radical in its overturning of our assumptions -- here about mentally handicapped children and their care -- with an underlying, deeply serious faith (of the kind neoliberals have spent the last 30 years undermining) in the human capacity to make a better world. I cried a little.
A final note: Now that this is out I'm hoping Flipside will deliver another hippy era film also shown on Channel 4 around '85 or '86, about a slightly deranged character trying to make a film among the the drop-outs and freaks of early 70s London. Anyone know the film I'm talking about?
To be honest the main feature is rather dull and judging from the other reviews they seem to be looking back with rose tinted glasses about their youth, rather than commentating on the film itself.
I have given the 4 stars for the 30 minute short story included in the DVD extras, The Last Chapter Agreed it is daft but Ms Penhaligan is stunningly beautiful in it and fans won't be disappointed.
I can't really say anything without spoiling the film, and I have gotten used to the fact of never hearing anything, good or bad or anything about the contents of BFI DVD/Blu-ray packs that I just order it and watch it with fresh eyes - not having any previous experience with the film, and that's it what you should do to.
Buy it and experience Private Road. It's certainly in my favourite films. Of course, the usual booklet and DVD and Blu-Ray copies are provided which provide some great background into the film. Highly, highly recommended.