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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Wetherby (1985)

"It doesn't matter how well you're locked up. At times, you're going to have to let people in."
- Jean Travers (Vanessa Redgrave)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: December 09, 2005

Stars: Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Judi Dench
Other Stars: Stuart Wilson, Tim McInnerny, Suzanna Hamilton, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson
Director: David Hare

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (scenes of graphic violence, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:42m:53s
Release Date: November 16, 2004
UPC: 037429200926
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+BB- C-

DVD Review

One evening, in a small English village, a young graduate student named John Morgan (Tim McInnerny) arrives at the home of Jean Travers (Vanessa Redgrave), an unmarried literature teacher at the Wetherby School. Jean is hosting a dinner party, and assumes John to be an acquaintance of Stanley and Marcia Pilborough (Ian Holm and Judi Dench), her two best friends. Jean smiles warmly and invites them all in, mumbling something about "the more the merrier." Throughout the meal, John remains quiet, speaking only when spoken to, and rarely contributing to the philosophical discussions swirling about the table. He helps Jean fix a pesky leak in her roof, and later departs with the other guests. The next day, he brings her two dead pheasants. She invites him in again for tea, and as they chat about the lingering warmth and tranquility of summer evenings, John opens his mouth, inserts a revolver, and fires.

The police investigate, and their questions reveal a disturbing truth. No one present at the dinner party that night had any idea who John Morgan was.

And so begins Wetherby, a riveting, often unsettling drama, written and directed by the acclaimed British playwright David Hare. To most writers, such a grisly act of self-violence would constitute a climax, but Hare makes John's shocking suicide the film's catalyst, and its ramifications drive the intricate plot. A handful of complex character studies follow, through which we learn how the death of a man nobody really knew forces a group of upright citizens to reflect on their own personal traps, and the shortcomings and repressed feelings that keep their escapes elusive.

In death, John achieves the spiritual affinity with people and deep human impact he craved so desperately in life. And he's able to extract from others the emotions of goodness, anger, evil, and desire that he felt so acutely, but could never express. During their brief time together, Jean senses these raw feelings; as she later tells investigator Mike Langdon (Stuart Wilson), "I think the lonely recognize the lonely." But Jean recognizes more than her own emptiness in the tortured John. He also evokes startling, passionate memories of an affair she had with a British flyer in her youth.

Part mystery, part romance, part psychological thriller, and part introspective drama, Wetherby amazingly balances and honors all its disjointed elements. It may lack the cohesion of most mainstream American productions, but when examined closely, its puzzle pieces interlock with snug precision. The non-linear story employs flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks to unlock the characters' secrets, and a pungent British flavor pervades the literate, but never pretentious dialogue. As director, Hare creates a claustrophobic atmosphere of stark but subtle tension that eventually explodes in a powerful emotional rush. He also extracts performances of natural intensity and lyrical grace from his impressive cast.

Redgrave gives a standout performance of vast range and depth—another in her seemingly endless array of mesmerizing portraits. Few faces possess as much character or can convey as many conflicting emotions with a squint, grin, or vacant stare, yet Redgrave never seems self-conscious or affected. In an inspired bit of casting, Joely Richardson (Redgrave's daughter) portrays Jean as a young woman, and beautifully conveys her budding passion, individualism, and integrity. Holm, Dench, and Tom Wilkinson form a memorable supporting trio, each filling in vital narrative blanks and fleshing out the village's insular attitudes and ideals. As the investigator, Wilson is especially fine, and quietly demonstrates how a detached third party (and jaded cop) can also get sucked into the situation's emotional fabric, even as he tries to solve the mystery of why John chose Jean to witness his devastating final act.

Like most worthwhile entertainments, Wetherby requires effort and commitment from its audience. It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea, yet for those who persevere, this adult, arty film yields great rewards. Hare fashions a memorable, stimulating cinematic experience—a rare film that shocks, touches, informs, and challenges.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Home Vision presents Wetherby in its original aspect ratio, but the "new digital transfer" never achieves the degree of lushness and clarity necessary to please the film's fans. Many scenes seem overly bright (which may have been the filmmaker's intention), and a noticeable fuzziness lends the picture an unflattering soft focus look. Colors are somewhat muted, though contrast is good, and few specks or scratches intrude.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: An annoying hiss permeates the two-channel mono track, and at times distracts from the on-screen drama. Dialogue, however, remains clear and comprehendible, although the thick English accents sabotage a few lines. The intriguing music score by Nick Bicat occasionally overwhelms the action, but enjoys fine presence and tonal depth.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: It's too bad Home Vision couldn't convince writer-director David Hare to sit down for a commentary track, as I'm sure he would have relayed a host of fascinating insights. Instead, all we get are selected filmographies and biographies of the actors, and a three-page insert, featuring an introduction by Hare (written in 1985) and an essay by Brian McFarlane. Both articles offer welcome perspective on the film, and are well worth reading.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A richly textured drama of small-town English life, Wetherby dares us to look inward and come to terms with the choices we make and the emotions we leave unexpressed. Vanessa Redgrave is exquisite, and leads a seasoned cast in this complex, thought-provoking, and brilliantly constructed film. Recommended.


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