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A Magnificent Realization of a Magnificent Six-Part Novel!,
This review is from: Fortunes Of War (Three Discs) [DVD]  (DVD)
I am so pleased that "Fortunes of War" has been released on Region 2. Based upon Olivia Manning's "Balkan Trilogy" and "Levant Trilogy," this production is an exception to the rule that the film cannot live up to the novel. "Fortunes of Wars" both complements and enhances one's enjoyment of Olivia Manning's original work, just as the original complements and enhances one's enjoyment of this outstanding cinematic rendition, which recreates Bucharest at the brink of World War II. One step of the advancing Nazi armies, its central characters, Guy and Harriet Pringle, are constantly uprooted and forced to move onto the next tenuous outpost of the free-but-threatened world: from Bucharest to Athens; Cairo and Alexandria; Damascus and Jerusalem.
Acted with affable understatement by Kenneth Brannagh, Guy Pringle epitomizes a type of academic who constantly puts the wants of his students first. Friend to all the world, Guy remains oblivious to the needs of his newly-married wife. Played with dry and subtle irony by Emma Thompson, Harriet must cope with setting up house, first, in a city that is about to fall to the juggernaut of the Third Reich; next, in a series of hotel rooms, each more seedy than the last; and finally, in Cairo, sharing digs with an odd assortment of British expatriates (and their even odder friends and acquaintances who continually drift in and out of the premises). Guy simply cannot understand that Harriet might be miffed at his heedlessness, such as offering her the female title role in Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," and then without telling her, giving the part away to Sophie, a Rumanian professional student and troublemaker who resents Harriet's presence, both in Bucharest and in Guy's life. It is not that Guy Pringle does not love his "little monkey's paws," Harriet; he simply takes her for granted.
Among the outstanding ensemble cast, two performances are memorable: those of Ronald Pickup and Alan Bennett.
Pickup plays the incorrigible Prince Yakimov, a displaced Anglo-Russian aristocrat, long-since fallen on hard times. Pickup's performance is so poignantly nuanced that the viewer is moved from loathing, to laughing--first at him and then with him--and finally to loving him. "Poor Yaki" resembles a spoiled but irrepressibly sweet and helpless child. Not even the much-imposed-upon Harriet can remain angry at a man who appears before her wearing one brown and one black shoe and then explains that he has another pair just like them at home.
Alan Bennett plays the insufferably fussy Cambridge don, Professor Lord Pinkrose, who is always on the verge of giving his renowned lecture on Byron but who, for one reason or another, is always prevented from doing so. Bennett's performance does not make one love Pinkrose (nor should it). Pinkrose, who continually darts baneful glances in Harriet's direction, causes Guy so much trouble that the viewer is tempted to cheer when the Lord Professor finally gets his just desserts. Every film ought to have a character that one loves to hate, and Alan Bennett plays this one to perfection.
The viewer seeking the wartime thrills of dogfighting Messerschmidts, exploding bombs, and action-packed battle sequences should look elsewhere. Even though the conflict in "Fortunes of War" is omnipresent, it is always just over the horizon. It nevertheless exerts a profound impact on the characters, both major and minor. It exerts an equally profound impact on the audience. For the discerning viewer, who appreciates exceptional acting and remarkable characterization, "Fortunes of War" represents the epitome of cinematic storytelling.