Posted: 09/09/2007


A Dance to the Music of Time


by Del Harvey

Available from Acorn Media.

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This amazing British television series finally is released on DVD in the US. The story is about a group of friends in the British aristocracy from their early days at Eton school in the 1920s and progressing later into their lives as seen through the eyes of lead character Nicholas Jenkins. The story begins during the “bohemian days” of the late ’20s and ’30s where, when they weren’t flirting with each other (that’s men and women and men and men), they were flirting with socialism, communism, artistic expression, and spiritualism. When the war arrives the friends encounter the first horrible days of the attacks on their homelands, including their first encounters with death, as some of these friends are lost to the horrors of war. Some of them do go on to thrive and do very well for themselves, not least of all the one person despised by all, Kenneth Widmerpool. He is one of those people who, in spite of being universally hated, manages to become a high-ranking officer and perfectly positioned to take his place among the powerful executives after the war.

It is Widmerpool who proves a loathsome character as he enacts petty revenge for offences both real and imagined; the sad thing is none of the other characters seem to take him seriously enough, instead passing him off as a ridiculous little man whose plots and schemes they are able to read right through. Eventually, is it femme fatale Pamela Filton (Miranda Richardson) who proves Widmerpool’s downfall. Employed by British Intelligence during the war, she presents a thoroughly delightful character who keeps you guessing at every turn.

The television series was adapted from Anthony Powell’s twelve volume set of novels and condensed into only six hours of television, but remains a wonderful translation of this very popular set of stories. The cast is a veritable who’s who of British television and cinema, including a minor walk-on by Sir John Gielgud, and a number of outstanding roles filled by the quite capable likes of James Purefoy, Edward Fox, Zoe Wanamaker, and Eileen Atkins. This four-DVD set is an outstanding addition to anyone who loves good drama, but most especially for those who love the British miniseries. There aren’t a great many special features aside from filmographies for the cast and a photo gallery, but the actual production is retained in this presentation.

The cast includes:

James Purefoy
Nicholas Jenkins
James D’Arcy
Nicholas Jenkins as a student
John Standing
Nicholas Jenkins (in later life)
Simon Russell Beale
Kenneth Widmerpool
Paul Rhys
Charles Stringham
Luke de Lacey
Charles Stringham as a student
Jonathan Cake
Peter Templar
Bobby Webster
Peter Templar as a student
Claire Skinner
Jean Duport
Lucy Fleming
Jean Duport (in later life)
Emma Fielding
Isobel Tolland
Joanna David
Isobel Tolland (in later life)
Geraldine Alexander
Susan Tolland
Caroline Harker
Priscilla Tolland
Jamie Glover
Robert Tolland
Osmund Bullock
Robin Bailey
Uncle Alfred Tolland
Alan Bennett
Professor Sillery
Oliver Ford Davies
Le Bas
Adrian Scarborough
JC Quiggin
John Gielgud
St. John Clarke
Running time: 415 minutes on 4 discs
Language: English

Del Harvey is a writer and founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago, where he teaches and makes film.

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