After watching the Terence Rattigan DVD collection (with most of the adaptations being from the 70s and 80s) when staying with family friends last year, Rattigan very quickly became one of my favourite playwrights and he still is. his dialogue is so intelligent, witty and meaty, his characterisation so dynamic, complex and real and the storytelling so beautifully constructed. 'The Browning Version' is a defining example of Rattigan at his finest. As said in previous reviews for the adaptations part of the Terence Rattigan DVD collection, is also at his best when laying bare deep emotional and psychological strains in his principal characters within a skillful dramatic framework. 'The Browning Version' epitomises that as well as everything that makes me love Rattigan's work so much. This 1994 film is a very worthy adaptation and a lovely film in its own right. For me, the 1951 Anthony Asquith-directed film with Michael Redgrave is the definitive version and one of the best film versions of any of Rattigan's play, and there is also a preference for the 1985 TV version with Ian Holm and Judi Dench. As said though, quality-wise this version is more than worthwhile and satisfies as an adaptation too. Directed by Mike Figgis, an interesting if curious choice in his last film before achieving international recognition, 'The Browning Version' (1994) has a few deficits. The whole school bully stuff was not needed and yanks the viewer too much back to the present day, which is sad when the film mostly does very well with its recreation of the period for something modern in comparison to be this at odds. Matthew Modine is a little bland as Frank, he has the charm but not the callousness and cockiness and the character has been more interesting elsewhere. The film also has the one thing in the 1951 film that struck a false note intact, despite the speech being powerful how the film concludes so optimistically comes over still as contrived and didn't feel right with the rest of the film. However, so much is done right with 'The Browning Version' (1994). It's beautifully made, with handsome period detail, cosy and sumptuous interiors and the cinematography is a lovely looking complement. The music is more understated than intrusive, a good thing for a film with as gentle a tone as here, and is soothingly orchestrated. Figgis's direction is controlled without being starchy or too low-key to lack presence. Rattigan's writing is a very large star here. His superb writing, dynamic between the characters and consummate attention to very complex characterisation shine through wonderfully here and really keeps things afloat. There are changes here but rarely in a way that's distracting. The story is gently and intelligently done, as well as incredibly affecting. It too avoids becoming stage bound as is a potential problem with adaptations of plays. The scene with the gift brought tears to my eyes and a lump to the throat, it was always a moving scene in the source material and the same applies here, Albert Finney's reaction particularly stands out. Of the cast, Albert Finney dominates as a sometimes stern but often incredibly heartfelt Crocker Harris. Despite the character being widely disliked by the students it is very difficult to not feel sorry for him. Greta Scacchi provides a more sympathetic portrayal of his wife (called Laura here and not Millie), usually played cold and without a heart, redeeming qualities or weaknesses as how Rattigan intended. But this more sympathetic approach works because it's not often that Crocker Harris' wife's point of view is understood by the viewer but one does here despite not condoning what she does. Ben Silverstone's Taplow has a twinkling charm, with his chemistry with Finney's Crocker Harris providing a lot of the film's heart, while Michael Gambon is very good as ever and it was interesting seeing Julian Sands relatively early on in his career. In summation, simple and gentle but beautiful though with short-comings. 7/10 Bethany Cox
The Browning Version
The Browning Version
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On the verge of forced resignation, a strict old-fashioned teacher rethinks his life.
November 11, 2021