BORGEN SEASON TWO Various Directors/Arrow
By the time the second season of Borgen reached English shores, audiences were already in thrall to the personal and professional travails of beleaguered PM Birgitte Nyborg not to mention the equally ambitious reporter Katrine Fonsmark, and the ambiguous spin doctor Kasper (Pilou Asbaek). In the first season, we watched the initially too-perfect marriage of the Prime Minister buckle under the strain until she finally seems to be at war on every front. The tension is screwed tighter in the second season, thoroughly involving us through the life of the central character, which could not be more different from that which most of us live. As ever, the backstabbing politics here (not to mention unethical journalism which could give the British tabloids a run for their money) is as riveting as ever. If Birgitte is able — with surprising regularity — to pull her political irons out of the fire, we are allowed to vicariously enjoy those little triumphs, particularly as she always pays a price in her private life (notably a neglected teenage daughter undergoing a breakdown). An unmissable series, which will have viewers hungry for the third and final season.
HYSTERIA Tanya Wexler, director/Sony When one thinks of the ludicrously restrictive censorship regimes that reigned for so long in Britain and America, it is amazing that any adult material was made at all. Certainly, a film such as Hysteria – about the invention of the vibrator — could hardly have existed in such an era. For this well-cast comedy drama makes the most of its unlikely material (with a few missteps), and is directed with energy by Tanya Wexler. Maggie Gyllenhall is a proto-feminist in a Victorian era of restriction for women, and finds herself clashing with a young doctor played by Hugh Dancy. His speciality – one that is giving him cramps and pains in his hand — is giving manual/genital relief to Victorian women suffering from what is described as ‘hysteria’– and, needless to say, his services are much in demand among the frustrated women of the time. The young doctor has a friend, a blue-blooded eccentric (delightfully played by Rupert Everett) who has come up with an invention that – with a little modification – is about to make the young doctor’s life much easier. As well as making some serious points along the way, this is great fun, acted with panache by a talented cast.
LAST DAYS OF DOLWYN Emlyn Williams, director/StudioCanal Once a celebrated name as writer and actor, the reputation of Emlyn William has (regrettably) faded, but his very varied work still has much to offer, and StudioCanal has released one of his key films, Last Days of Dolwyn, showcasing an early performance by Richard Burton. The film – a fascinating curio — also stars the matchless Edith Evans in a tale of a doomed Welsh town. It’s intriguing viewing even in the 21st century.
BLACK SUNDAY Mario Bava, director/Arrow Blu-ray In this impeccably restored Blu-ray edition, Mario Bava’s hypnotic black and white cult classic easily transcends its occasional crudities to come across, even today, as one of the most poetic and lyrical of vampire movies. The performance of Barbara Steele as the vengeful witch who possesses the body of the young daughter of a 19th century nobleman is a triumph of charisma and presence over really rather dated acting. (Her fainting spells are one of several elements in the film one has to bear with to appreciate the virtues abounding). Bava’s fluid camera and brilliant use of atmospheric sets creates a haunting sense of unease in the viewer, and his years of experience as a lighting cameraman result in what has justly been called the finest monochrome photography in the horror genre. Of course, Bava’s film is equally famous for its censorship troubles – details such as the spiked demon mask driven into Steele’s face resulted in an outright ban by the British censor which lasted seven years. The heavily cut version held sway for many years, until the film was made available in uncensored prints. Allowing viewers to fully enjoy off the rich visual sensations with which Bava crams his film. Certainly, the cuts reduced Black Sunday’s visceral impact – already modified by what films have shown in the intervening years – to a level that would hardly disturb a Friday the 13th enthusiast. But provided you can make the requisite mental adjustments (there are other things one has to take a deep breath about – such as the fist fight that slows down an otherwise invincible henchman of the witch). Black Sunday — in its now-definitive form (with optional Italian soundtrack and impressive extras) will prove its reputation is justified.
CAMILLE 2000, THE LICKERISH QUARTET, SCORE Radley Metzger, director/Arrow Radley Metzger’s famous soft-core erotic films Camille 2000, The Lickerish Quartet and Score are now available (appropriately, in this EL James/50 Shades of Grey era) as deluxe Blu-ray & DVD dual format editions. Metzger, still a lively presence is one of the t pioneers of adult cinema who made his name in 1960s New York City, as a film editor and distributor of European erotica. When he began directing films in 1965, his influence quickly spread. The films are discreet by today’s standards, but are noted for striking compositions and upscale locations.
PIRANHA Joe Dante, director/Second Sight Films Killer fish are feasting on bikini-clad victims in Joe Dante’s original cult classic Piranha, appearing on Blu-ray for the first time from Second Sight Films. The director of The Howling and Gremlins had another early calling cards with Piranha, which makes its Blu-ray debut sporting some outstanding bonus features.
DOUBLE CONFESSION Ken Annakin, director/Renown Quirky casting marks out his the first-ever release of a little-seen British crime film on DVD (digitally re-mastered and restored.) Director Ken Annakin is less interested in the juvenile leads Derek Farr and Joan Hopkins than in value-for-money heavies William Hartnell and the great German import Peter Lorre, who earn their fees with relish.
21 DAYS: THE HEINEKEN KIDNAPPING Martin Trauerniet, director/Arrow Films are a crucial part of the Scandi crime wave – particularly as so many impressive new entries keep joining the fray — such films, in fact, as 21 Days: The Heineken Kidnapping. The wealthy brewer Alfred Heineken, one of the most famous men in the Netherlands, offered considerable attraction for kidnappers. When a group of barely-organised, youthful criminals take him prisoner, he is held for the 21 days of the title in a grim cell. Now a powerless victim, Heineken is taunted by the youngest member of the gang who relishes humiliating the businessman. A ransom is paid, and a newly-freed Heineken has revenge in mind. Rutger Hauer reminds viewers what a persuasive actor he is in this tense and edgy piece, very capably directed by Martin Trauerniet.