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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Dresser (1983)

"I can't give anymore! I have nothing more to give! I want a tranquil senility! I'm a grown man! I don't want to go on painting my face night after night, wearing clothes that are not my own. This is my work, my life's work! I'm an actor! Who cares if I go out there tonight or any other night and shorten my life?"
- Sir (Albert Finney)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 04, 2004

Stars: Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay
Other Stars: Edward Fox, Zena Walker, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gough, Cathryn Harrison
Director: Peter Yates

MPAA Rating: PG for (adult themes, brief sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:58m:23s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 043396037465
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B- D

DVD Review

Actors not only make physical sacrifices for their craft, but psychological ones as well. Sean Connery suffered an identity crisis from playing James Bond one too many times. Veteran, yet rarely seen actor Daniel Day-Lewis seems to be on another five year hiatus, following his Oscar-worthy performance as Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. This is understandable. When an actor immerses him- or herself deeply in another persona, a period of reprieve is sometimes needed. Peter Yates' The Dresser explores these effects on an famous, aging stage performer, called Sir, and the loyal friendship of his dresser, who restores him when necessary.

Sir (Albert Finney) is a legend. He has performed King Lear over 200 times, and is about to embark on yet another performance. WWII is heating up, and Britain is being bombarded, by not only bombs but propaganda, and feelings of desperation. Still, an appreciation for entertainment endures. Citizens frequent the theater, massing to view the illustrious Sir along with his ragtag theatrical company, the best actors of which are off fighting Hitler's forces. Sir's sanity is leaving him; the strain of playing Shakespeare for most of his life is catching up. He barely acknowledges his legion of loyal fans. He is rabidly insensitive, self-centered and prone to fits of immaturity. At the same time, his powerful presence is enough to stop anyone or anything in their tracks.

Someone must keep Sir in check. This is the job of his flamboyantly expressive dresser, Norman (Tom Courtenay), whose unfaltering loyalty is amazing to behold. He covers for his beloved Sir, lying and giving his fellow company members confidence in Sir's competence, even when he has none himself. He must coax his downtrodden master into donning his Lear makeup and robes, as though he is a parent talking a child into eating his vegetables. He even helps Sir remember his lines, nursing the accomplished actor's failing memory. Their relationship cannot be classified as parental, though. Norman certainly does not see it that way. To him, Sir is his dearest friend. In the end, Norman must face the truth of his role, which is revealed with heartbreaking consequence.

This is an undeniably powerful film, recognized by five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Rightfully so. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay create an amazingly dynamic and unique duo, each with their own tendencies and strong wills. Their tug of war creates great drama and a palpable sense of history. Finney's Sir is a simply outstanding performance, misrepresented by a grinning image on the DVD's front cover. Courtenay's effeminate Norman is the picture of undying loyalty. Clearly, his life has proceeded with a void that has been filled by Sir, who offers little in return. At times, I felt there was almost too much emoting taking place. Rarely was there a scene without intense shouting and emotional release. Considering the context of the picture, which details the twilight of their relationship, passions that run high would not be out of place. Still, this constant barrage can become straining.

Peter Yates, known for guiding Steve McQueen's bold tire screeching in Bullitt, brings a simplicity to this tale that allows the staggering performances to breathe. His style thankfully avoids the more common, stage-like compositions that one would expect from a film that takes place mostly within a theater. Instead, Yates takes us backstage, placing us among the actors and technical personnel, showing us the inner workings of the theater. This gives us a flavor of what Sir's life has been like these many years. The intensity of this experience is wearing, yet rewarding, mirroring the cumulative effects of passionate acting.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia's transfer does the film justice. Previously available on washed out pan-and-scan VHS, we are finally treated to a new anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, "mastered in high definition." The image captures the film's subdued, earthy toned color scheme. Colors and blacks are solid, but there is grain throughout, along with an occasional speck. Detail is good, and the transfer does not look overly enhanced. A fine, film-like presentation that could be cleaner.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby surround audio is very front heavy. Channel separation is minimal and very little ambient fill was present in the surrounds. Clarity and dynamic range are decent, but the most important element, dialogue, is clear and discernable. James Horner's almost nonexistant score comes through nicely, as well. Still, a disappointing Dolby surround track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Annie, Big Fish, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from the three trailers listed above (love that Monty Python trailer), Columbia has included no additional materials. For shame.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Peter Yates' exploration of a decaying actor and his loyal dresser is an engaging, intense look at the effects of a lifetime of passionate acting, and the lasting bonds that are created. Performances are front and center, bringing not only bits of Shakespeare to life, but the engaging, meaningful plot. At times, things feel over the top, but admittedly, that is the nature of Sir. "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again." (Hamlet, Act I, Sc. 2).


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