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Lives during wartime

Profile image for By Boo Allen / Film Critic
By Boo Allen / Film Critic

BBC pieces tell dramatic tales set in turbulent times

This week, we begin across the pond, with BBC Home Entertainment releasing three fine dramas, old and new, from its vast, impressive library.

Spies of Warsaw -- This recently broadcast two-part drama based on Alan Furst’s novel takes place during the lead-up to World War II.

A French military attache, Col. Jean-Francois Mercier (Charlie Sheen lookalike David Tennant), lives in Warsaw, working in the shadows behind the scenes, gathering information on German armaments and military positions for the perceived future invasion.

Mercier feuds with his skeptical superior (Burn Gorman), but also finds time to fall in love with Anna Skarbek (Janet Montgomery), a lawyer for the League of Nations. Mercier’s varied contacts as well as his adventures seem reminiscent of Casablanca, and that’s a good thing.

Not rated, 180 minutes. The single disc also holds a 10-minute featurette with Tennant discussing the feature.

Women in Love () This 2011 production combined D.H. Lawrence’s novels The Rainbow and its sequel Women in Love, set before, during and after World War I.

Rosamund Pike, as Gudrun, and Rachel Stirling, as Ursula, play two sisters struggling to break free of society’s conventions. Both free-spirited women indulge in sexual abandonment with two dissimilar friends (Rory Kinnear and Joseph Mawle).

Director Miranda Bowen takes a modern approach — when not delivering a succession of sex scenes, she sensationalizes excessively, bathing her actors in syrupy close-ups.

Not rated, 181 minutes. The single disc holds both parts of the drama.

Parade’s End () Around the start of World War I, a conservative English aristocrat, Christopher (Ronald Hines), is deserted by his unstable wife, Sylvia (Jeanne Moody). Amid budding scandal, he befriends a free-spirited suffragette, Val (Judi Dench). When the relationship escalates, it becomes a great concern for his friends and relatives.

In this somber trilogy based on the works of Ford Madox Ford, director Alan Cooke ably conveys the era’s stifling conventions. The transfer from the 1964 original production unfolds like a filmed stage play, with stage lighting and narrow sets.

Not rated, 270 minutes. Three episodes come on two discs.


Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino outdoes even himself with his latest epic, which won him an Oscar for original screenplay and one for Christoph Waltz for best supporting actor.

In the pre-Civil War South, a bounty hunter (Waltz) frees a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), to help him find his prey. But once found, the two travel on together as the freed slave searches for his wife (Kerry Washington). They end up at the plantation of an eccentric Southerner (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his seemingly subservient slave (an unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson).

Tarantino takes the viewer through a frightening yet often hilarious journey, surely the director’s most polished effort yet.

Rated R, 166 minutes. The DVD, available in all formats, includes two promos along with three 12- and 13-minute featurettes: on production designer Michael Riva, costumer designer Sharen Davis and the influence of the spaghetti Western.

Down the Shore -- This involving drama stars James Gandolfini as Bailey, a beleaguered small-time New Jersey amusement park operator stuck in the middle of an ongoing domestic conflict. His own world becomes increasingly fragile with the arrival of a Frenchman, Jacques (Edoardo Costa), who says he is the widower of Bailey’s beloved sister.

But Bailey’s greater problems come from his relationship with childhood friend Mary (Famke Janssen), her abusive husband, Wiley (Joe Pope), and their autistic son. Bailey, Mary and Wiley share a childhood secret that still colors their relationship, making small acts unintentionally combustible.

Interesting if sometimes overwrought character study from director Harold Guskin. Rated R, 93 minutes.

Rising of the Moon --  Tyrone Power introduces and then narrates this three-part feature based on separate Irish literary works.

In 1956, director John Ford took a respite from Hollywood and traveled to Ireland to film on location, showcasing the Irish countryside along with its colorful characters and their surplus of blarney. All three tales contain ample Irish humor, with some drop-dead funny moments, even in the final sequence, “1921,” about the execution of a rebel during the 1921 Troubles.

The George O’Connor short story “The Majesty of the Law” serves as the source for the story of a local policeman (Cyril Cusack) who must reluctantly serve a warrant to an old friend (Noel Purcell). “A Minute’s Wait” is a quasi-slapstick piece centered around a train’s supposed brief station stop.

Ford collaborator Frank S. Nugent supplied the screenplays from the various sources. Taken together, they make a delightful souffle.

Dragon --  This martial arts action-thriller takes place in southern China in 1917.

Two menacing thugs come to a small village to shake down the merchants. But the seemingly meek and shy Liu (Donnie Yen) displays previously undisclosed fighting skills, dispensing of the two creeps. His act, however, compels a local detective, Xu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to determine if Liu was once a member of a criminal gang (he was).

The investigation sets off a flurry of battles and stand-offs, directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan.

Rated R, 98 minutes. The DVD includes an eight-part, 22-minute “making of” featurette, three separate featurettes with Donnie Yen, and a music video.

Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts Luke Perry returns as traveling judge John Goodnight in his third appearance as the Hallmark Movie Channel’s favorite Western-era lawman.

This time, the good judge finds little reward when he rescues a beautiful woman, Lucy (Katharine Isabelle), during a stage coach robbery. Just when it looks like he might fall for her, an uppity Easterner (Ricky Schroder) appears with news that Lucy might not be the innocent she seems.

Not rated, 87 minutes. The DVD holds seven minutes of deleted scenes, and 15 minutes of interviews with Perry, Isabelle and Schroder.

Craig Shoemaker: Daditude In this comedy performance recently seen on Showtime, raconteur Craig Shoemaker riffs on becoming a father, taking good-natured shots at his wife and three boys.

Not rated, 70 minutes. The disc includes a pair of outtakes and brief segments on the film’s photo shoot and the runway shot.

And, finally, for kids this week:

Thomas and Friends: Railway Mischief Thomas and buddies return for five adventures on the Island of Sobor in this latest collection. Gordon and Cranky ignore Paxton and Kevin, and pay for their neglect.

Not rated, 56 minutes. The DVD contains a game, music video and a puzzle, along with a “Calling All Engines” poster.

Charlie: A Toy Story For 10-year-old Caden (Raymond Ochoa), it is the best of times because his father owns a toy store, but the worst of times because some school bullies plan on breaking into it. Caden enlists his golden retriever, Charlie, to thwart the plan and save the shop, and Dad. Not rated, 99 minutes.

Also available Tuesday on DVD: Ethel, Sugartown, Summer Wars, Wings of Life.