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The Shooting Party (1984)

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  • The Shooting Party (1984)

    This is a genuine under-rated classic, an outstanding and evocative film that left a strong impression on me when I first saw it in a (mostly empty) Boston theatre when it was first released here in 1985, and still moves me each time I have seen it since.

    It takes place in the autumn of 1913, at an English country house; however, this is not another Country House Weekend story intended to produce easy nostalgia for the Brits and Anglophile longings for those of us on on the outside. The film is based on the book by Isobel Colgate, which is a small classic in itself and well worth reading.

    All of the action is played out against the backdrop of the coming war, and its presence is felt throughout; this is a daring and challenging idea for both the author and the creators of the film for the obvious reason that we know what is coming and the characters do not. But in both cases, the challenge is met.

    In too many eve-of-1914 war stories, the characters are either mocked and condescended to or romanticized and idealized. Here, they are quite human, and acted by a group that will not be available again any time soon:

    James Mason as the discerning landowner who senses the end of an era is coming and is quietly preparing for it; Dorothy Tutin as his shrewdly perceptive and likeable wife; Robert Hardy, Cheryl Cambell, Edward Fox, Ruper Frazer, Aharon Ipal, John Geilgud as an eccentric pacifist and a very, very beautiful actress named Judi Bowker. I can't recall seeing her in anything else. She is so dazzling that I find it hard to believe she just disappeared.

    There is not a great deal of action; the closest comparison is probably with Chekov, although the characters are a good deal more robust and self-confident than those of The Cherry Orchard or The Three Sisters perhaps the difference between pre-war England and Russia?

    The final sequence does involve the shooting party of the title, but the symbolism never become melodramatic, and the last moments set against a darkening sky, with John Scott's beautiful score playing and an understated written coda describing the fate of each character, are among the outstanding experiences I have had watching a film.

    That final sequence seems to me a living illustration of these lines from John Masefield's poem August, 1914. I have no idea if this was intentional:

    How still this quiet cornfield is to-night!

    By an intenser glow the evening falls,

    Bringing, not darkness, but a deeper light;

    Among the stooks a partridge covey calls.

    The windows glitter on the distant hill;

    Beyond the hedge the sheep-bells in the fold

    Stumble on sudden music and are still;

    The forlorn pinewoods droop above the wold.

    An endless quiet valley reaches out

    Pat the blue hills into the evening sky;

    Over the stubble, cawing, goes a rout

    Of rooks from harvest, flagging as they fly.

    So beautiful it is, I never saw

    So great a beauty on these English fields,

    Touched by the twilight's coming into awe,

    Ripe to the soul and rich with summer's yields.

    If you have not seen it, I hope you have the chance to.

  • #2
    Loved it- but then it is a film with Robert Hardy...


    • #3
      Judi Bowker played Andromeda in the original Clash of the Titans. I remember her from my childhood in the series Black Beauty