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A Merry WarA Merry War on DVD

George Orwell's Flowery Battle of the Sexes

Director Robert Bierman's "A Merry War" is based on a not-too-well-known George Orwell novel called "Keep the Aspidistra Flying." It's billed as a comedy in the vein of the old Ealing Studios works that helped make Sir Alec Guinness' name back forty or more years ago.

While a comedy it may be, it isn't a knee slapper; it's subtle, gentle, and very, very British. And that isn't a bad thing. In an era of being hit over the head with jokes and gags, this film's quiet wit is a nice change of pace.

Starring Richard E. Grant and Helena Bonham Carter, "A Merry War" tells the tale of Gordon Comstock (Grant), a successful copywriter who throws it all away to become a poet. His long suffering girlfriend Rosemary (Bonham Carter) takes this scary metamorphosis in stride - at least for as long as she can.

Along the way, Comstock literally destoys everything he has and could potentially build, even alienating his small circle of family and friends: his sister to whom he owes money, his lovely lady Rosemary, and his one male friend, an upper class commie who (as it turns out) doesn't care for the working class nearly as much as he pretends to.

Fortunately, true love triumphs, because eventually the lovely Rosemary tracks Comstock down again (by this time he's living in squalor as a truly starving artist - except that he's no longer creating anything) and lets him knock her up (the sexual kind of knocking up, not the British expression).

We won't spoil the plot by telling you more than that...

The cast, including the supporting actors, turn in delightful performances, and the musical score (by Mike Batt) complements the film nicely.

As a DVD, there's lots to recommend "A Merry War," though we noticed several times during playback when the movie seemed to freeze for a millisecond, then continue on as if nothing had happened. We don't know why this happened, but since more than one of us observed the phenomenon, we took to to be real. It's an annoyance, but not a major one - though we really do expect better from DVD.

The 1.85:1 widescreen picture is very good, as is the audio - though in the latter's case you should be prepared for simple two channel stereo with no center or surround tracks in evidence.

Extras abound, including a marvelous feature length commentary from director Bierman and screenwriter Alan Plater. They discuss the film's genesis and development in a friendly and entertaining way. There's also an audio interview with composer Batt, and his score is featured on its own audio track as well (We really like it when this is done - unfortunately, it usually isn't). There's also some background info on George Orwell, UK and US theatrical trailers, cast/production bios, and a reasonable set of liner notes.

"A Merry War" is part of the "Prestige Collection" from DVD International, a small independent company that's carving out its niche with "niche" titles.

We wish them luck.

A Merry War, from DVD International's Prestige Collection
Approx. 100 minutes, widescreen (1.85:1)
Starring Richard E. Grant and Helena Bonham Carter
Executive Producers Robert Bierman & John Wolstenholme, Screenplay by Alan Plater, based on the novel "Keep the Apidistra Flying" by George Orwell
Produced by Peter Shaw, Directed by Robert Bierman


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Updated May 13, 2006