The Sleeping Dictionary (2001)

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Sell-Through Release Status Unknown
Available for Rent

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-dts: piano, Dolby Digital Rain
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 104:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:35) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Guy Jenkin

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Hugh Dancy
Jessica Alba
Bob Hoskin
Brenda Blethyn
Emily Mortimer
Noah Taylor
Eugene Salleh
Junix Inocian
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Rental Music Simon Boswell

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In the not-so-distant past, young British men, fresh out of university, were sent to outposts of the Empire to practice their administrative skills on one of the many races subjugated by the British at the time. This film follows young John Truscott (Hugh Dancy) as he arrives in Sarawak (now part of Malaysia) in 1936 for his stint — he is idealistic, and full of ideas for educating and civilising the primitives. He is startled to be met by a tattooed native who speaks perfect English, and who introduces himself as Belansei (Eugene Salleh). Belansei takes him upriver, where he meets Henry Bullard (Bob Hoskins), who is governor of the district. Truscott is assigned a hut, a cook (who cooks well, but drinks heavily), and, to his surprise, a "sleeping dictionary". A sleeping dictionary, he is informed, is a young woman who will sleep with him and teach him the local language. Truscott is shocked, and upset, although he feels very attracted to Selima (Jessica Alba). He refuses to sleep with her, but offers to learn the language from her. Bullard is angry, because he is rocking the boat and refusing to follow tradition, even though this is the way things have been done for centuries.

    Truscott yields to propinquity, however, and falls in love with Selima, and she with him. This love is deepened when they experience danger together. He wants to marry her, but this is forbidden by British traditions, and all manner of retribution will fall upon them should they persist. Instead, Bullard's wife, the manipulative Aggie (Brenda Blethyn), pushes him to marry her daughter Cecilia (Emily Mortimer, who plays this role in unflattering make-up so she looks plain). This doesn't make the other young British administrator, Neville Shipperly (played with superb chinless sleaze by Noah Taylor) at all happy, for he had designs upon Cecilia for himself.

    Jessica Alba's acting skills are fairly limited (not that she's required to do much here), and easily surpassed by Hugh Dancy, who does a superb job of English prig on arrival, gradually learning that the Iban, and others, are people too.

    This film was shot in Malaysia, and the river and jungle scenery is really quite lovely.

    The love story is nicely told, set among the ugliness of British colonialism.

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Transfer Quality


    This transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical aspect ratio was, unsurprisingly, 1.85:1. It's close.

    The image is fairly sharp and quite clear, with just a hint of softness to take away the jaggies. There's good shadow detail, and no trace of low-level noise. Film grain is not a problem.

    Colour is very well-rendered, and there's a fair assortment of colours on display. There are no colour-related artefacts, except for a very few moments that look to be very slightly over-bright.

    There are no film artefacts worth mentioning. One of the few I noticed was a tiny blue dot just as the closing credits were starting. There is occasional noise on the sky, but that's about it.

    Aliasing is held to a minimum, almost all the time, by the hint of softness — nice work. There's no moiré or MPEG artefacts.

    There are subtitles in English, but no other language. They are fairly accurate, well-timed, and easy to read.

    The disc is single-sided and RSDL-formatted. The layer change is at 84:35. It is not a good layer change, quite obvious, and spoils the magic of the film more than a little, but only momentarily.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is only provided in English, but we get a choice of three formats. We can listen to the English soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps), dts 5.1 (768kbps), or Dolby Digital 2.0 without surround encoding (224kbps). I listened to the whole of the dts soundtrack, and sampled the other two — I didn't notice a lot of difference between the dts and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. There's a moment of crackle in the original sound just as the closing credits start, but that's the only flaw I noticed.

    The dialogue is clear, and the English comprehensible (I don't speak Iban, so I can't comment on the dialogue in that language). There are no obvious audio sync problems, although some of Bob Hoskins' lines are clearly ADRed.

    The music is from Simon Boswell. He has patterned much of it after sounds from local music.

    There is some delicate surround work in this soundtrack, but nothing blatant. The subwoofer is hardly called upon.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The main menu has footage from the movie playing, and gentle music.

Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

    A long trailer that shows a bit too much of the story.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This movie was released on DVD in Region 1 earlier this year, as a direct to video release. The R1 release has exactly the same features, including the same soundtracks, and extras (or lack thereof). What reports I found suggest that the Region 1 version is just as good as this one. Nothing to choose between them, really.


    The Sleeping Dictionary is a love story, with gorgeous scenery, set in British-ruled Sarawak and presented on a very good DVD.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good, with a choice of formats.

    The extra is basic.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Slight geography problem - JeffB REPLY POSTED