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Koch Vision presents
Hedda Gabler (1980)

"Why does everything I touch become vulgar and awkward and commonplace?"
- Hedda (Diana Rigg)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: August 20, 2007

Stars: Diana Rigg, Dennis Lill, Alan Dobie, Philip Bond, Elizabeth Bell, Kathleen Byron, Rosalie Williams
Director: David Cunliffe

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:23m:49s
Release Date: July 17, 2007
UPC: 741952646396
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+C-C- D-

DVD Review

You can see why actresses particularly love Ibsen—aside from helping to invent the modern theater, the Scandinavian playwright provided women with a couple of the finest roles in the canon, and Hedda Gabler would be at the very top of that list, alongside Nora in A Doll House. Ibsen's influence as a playwright may be the very thing that can make his dramas when poorly produced seem obvious and schematic—in this play particularly there's a deep streak of melodrama; were Hedda a man and not a woman, you can imagine her twirling her moustache. This production of the play, mounted by the BBC, overcomes some of the stodginess that can seep in to work by the playwright and his brethren, Strindberg and Chekhov; the cobwebs don't come off entirely, though.

The most promising aspect may be that the adaptation of the play was written by John Osborne, the archetypical Angry Young Man of the English theater—certainly Osborne's Look Back in Anger (and even The Entertainer) would have been impossible without the breakthroughs of Ibsen. And Diana Rigg makes a headstrong Hedda indeed—the character is truly one to rival Medea and Lady Macbeth for onstage wickedness, and Rigg relishes the opportunity. But there's a lot of plummy tones and English airs to all of this—the sense of propriety in the production is so fierce that the churning emotions underneath sometimes get caught up in layers of petticoats and bonnets.

No doubt one of the many reasons that the drama endures is because of its extraordinarily sturdy construction, in which a lifetime of wants and yearnings play out over just a couple of days. The action begins with Hedda returning home with her new husband—Tesman is a competent academic with hopes of a secure future, and we immediately sense that Hedda has married him out of convenience or boredom or fear for security, but certainly not out of love. Word soon comes in that also on the scene is Lovborg—he's in Tesman's field and is brilliant in ways that Tesman never will be, the Mozart to his Salieri, and one, we quickly come to understand, with a turbulent romantic past with Tesman's pretty young wife. Lovborg is now keeping company with Thea, an old schoolmate of Hedda's—she functions as Lovborg's muse, and with Thea at his side, he has written a manuscript that will ensure his place at the top of the academic pyramid, and that will no doubt knock Hedda's husband out of the running for the plum job he thinks he has been promised.

There's not much action, per se, but rather the spilling of secrets, of deep-seated passions and ancient hatreds—the social mores were so strict that Ibsen's characters can barely dance around the subject of pregnancy in polite conversation, this despite the fact that they're all merrily and metaphorically knifing one another in the back. The writer is sticking as many pins as possible in Scandinavian propriety, and he's got a worthy co-conspirator in Rigg, who finds the menacing subtext in every syllable. And in this production especially, Ibsen seems as fetishistic about props as even Hitchcock—when guns get waved around in Act One we can be sure that they'll be fired off later, and the dramatic import of Lovborg's manuscript carries as much weight as Desdemona's handkerchief.

The play runs not even an hour and a half; in this production it's not that it seems slight, but you keep hoping that the pot will really start to boil, but it never quite heats up enough. Elizabeth Bell as Thea is tremulous, the most defenseless of Hedda's victims; Dennis Lill, as Tesman, is an unsuspecting prig, and Philip Bond as Lovborg just doesn't seem quite tempestuous or brilliant enough. Still, Ibsen retains his power to shock, especially to writers imagining the plights of their forebears in the ages before word processors.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Blotchy and degraded video presentation; not a stellar effort, by a long shot.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack lacks clarity and the dialogue can frequently be difficult to discern. Taken together with the video elements, there's little doubting that this was a slapdash, careless transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 4 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring BBC's Charles Dickens DVD Collection
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Only chapter stops (pegged to Ibsen's act breaks) and a trailer for other BBC releases on DVD.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

A visceral performance by Diana Rigg as one of the all-time great stage villains; the rest of the production isn't always up to her high level.

 


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