Shooting the Past (1999)

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Released 1-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Stephen Poliakoff (Dir), AndrewJohnston (Composer),J.P.Kelly
Short Film-Veronica's Story, with optional commentary
Short Film-Spig's Story, with optional commentary
Gallery-Photo Montage
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 182:86
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Stephen Poliakoff

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Lindsay Duncan
Timothy Spall
Liam Cunningham
Billie Whitelaw
Emilia Fox
Arj Barker
Blake Ritson
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $49.95 Music Adrian Johnston

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     My father was a photographer. And I became a photographer. So, Shooting the Past was deeply resonant with me. Writer and director Stephen Poliakoff has created a masterful work with this 3 part series for the BBC with an extraordinarily subtle storyline and exquisite performances from the entire cast.

     The lives of 5 rather eccentric and sheltered photographic archivists are forever shattered when the building they are housed in is acquired by an American conglomerate, to be made into a technological business school. Faced with the horror of their collection of 10 million + photographs being destroyed, head curator Marilyn Truman (played exquisitely by Lindsay Duncan) sets out to find a way to save it in its entirety. Her efforts appear to be hampered by the outrageous Oswald (a magnificent performance by Timothy Spall) and only just tolerated by the corporate American boss, Christopher Anderson (a riveting display of acting by Liam Cunningham).

     The work appears doomed, as do the lives of those who had cared for it, but redemption comes from the unlikely source and highly unorthodox behaviour of Oswald. The price is enormously high for all concerned, for none more so than Oswald himself, and the events that transpire have life altering effects on all the participants.

     Shooting the Past is one of the most satisfying viewing experiences I've enjoyed for a very long time. The acting by the small ensemble cast is flawless in every instance, the dramatic tension is exquisitely unpredictable, and the treatment of the script is sensitive, languorous and respectful. It is a superlative master work that is moving, engaging and surprising, and moves at the pace of real life - slowly and exploratively. The absence of stereotyped characters is a joy - each character operates from a uniqueness that is rarely seen in scripted drama, and there is no reliance on the usual clichés to dilute the piece.

     It is presented in 3 episodes over two discs:

     Episode One (70:27)
     Episode Two (52:27)
     Episode Three (60:32).

     The very fact that each episode has vastly different timing must have driven some television programmers to an early gin and tonic, but it is central to Poliakoff's intent to deliberately slow down the normally frenetic pace of visual media, and allow everything to have its own, natural time. His solution to the hour and half hour programming dilemma is ingenious, providing two fantastic monologues. Although it is undoubtedly, and intentionally, much slower paced than what we are generally accustomed to, it is hypnotic in this quality, and it never feels long or laboured.

     Its melancholy and elegant theme of human individuality under the threat of rampant technology is never bludgeoned upon the unsuspecting head of the viewer - the triumph of allowing one's self to live authentically is underplayed and exultant, and the conclusion is both humbling and affirming to the participants.

     If you enjoy intelligent scripts, superb naturalistic acting and masterful story treatment, then this gem may truly satisfy. For those who like their viewing experience to be snappy and fast paced, I suggest you avoid this production. This is character driven drama on a superlative strata. It is moving, emotional and at times quite draining - but I found it to be a piece that stayed with me long after the last strains of the theme music had drifted away in the air.

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Transfer Quality


     Fortunately, this wonderful production has been afforded a very good treatment with this transfer.

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, which appears to be the original format.

     The sharpness of these discs was excellent, with low grain levels, minimal low level noise, and a wonderful crisp luminance that made viewing it a pleasure.

     The colours were rich, accurate and warm, with a broad colour range and a glorious glow.

     MPEG artefacts were at a minimum, and only occasional film to video artefacts appeared, resulting in a beautiful, crisp, clean transfer.

     Generally, the subtitles were good, clean and accurate. There was, however, an incident where the proof reader must have been napping, with the result that a title read: "You can do better much than that." That sin apart, the titles were generally acceptable.

     Disc one is dual layered, but I could find no layer change point, so it may have been hidden between episodes.

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


     There are two audio tracks on these DVDs. The default is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There is also an English Audio Commentary track, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. I listened to both soundtracks.

     The dialogue was very clean, clear and easy to understand. There were no apparent audio sync problems.

     The musical score by Adrian Johnston was an absolute triumph. With the use of a string quartet and synthesiser, he created a musical world that was completely complementary to the onscreen action. At turns capricious, dangerous and melancholy, it weaved and spun a magical thread throughout the production.

     The sound was very rich and directional, with appropriate movement around the speakers providing a dimensional feel. There was no subwoofer activity, and nor should there have been.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     The extras on this presentation are absolutely superb and round out the entire experience in a very satisfactory way.


     The menu design is static with music and is 16x9.


     This runs 19:47 and is a wonderful adjunct to the film. Far more than the usual fare, this is really a mini-documentary, with Poliakoff showing us through the archives of the BBC and regaling us with stories about his background intent in making Shooting The Past. Tim Spall and Lindsay Duncan discuss their involvement with enthusiasm and intelligence and various other actors discuss the impact this production had on them. An excellent and revealing feature.

Short - Veronica's Story (4:41)

     An exquisite monologue with an optional commentary featuring the superb actor Billie Whitelaw discussing the intriguing pictures of Churchill's war time conspiracy to build a ship of ice. Her delivery is assured, engaging and utterly convincing, and, believe it or not, the story is actually true. It's a wonderful chance to see this fine actor coming into her own.

Short - Spig's Story (7:01)

     Another magnificent monologue to camera, this time presented by the inimitable Emilia Fox. Unlike the more far-fetched Churchill story that Veronica unravels, Spig's story is in fact a fiction, but it is told with such convincing aplomb and confidence that one is completely prepared to believe her every word. There is an optional commentary available here also, which adds yet another layer to this ingenious time-filler that Poliakoff created to balance out his programming. In the commentary, he discusses how much impact these shorts made on the viewers, as they "speared the ideas" of the series directly to the audience. They are both masterful pieces of filmmaking that do indeed provide a long lasting impact.

Commentary - Stephen Poliakoff (Director), Adrian Johnston (Musical Director) & J P Kelly (Production Designer)

     This commentary features the director, musical director and production designer in a very revealing and informative discussion about both the technical and human aspects of the film. Poliakoff explains his intended themes, and how they are visually translated, and the others provide excellent input about their own areas of expertise.

Photographic Montage

     The original photographs that the production crew created are set to music in this presentation. It is meditative and pleasant to watch.

R4 vs R1

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

      It appears that Shooting the Past is only available on VHS in the US, so the R4 is a definite winner.


     The English Sunday Times referred to Shooting the Past as "A meditation on the nature of photographic images, a celebration of old-world English eccentricity at threat in a world of high-technology glossiness, and a reminder that nothing in our heritage is sacred." My sentiments exactly.

     A wonderful, moody and haunting piece, superbly performed and executed, and respectfully transferred onto an excellent disc package with meaningful features. For those of you who enjoy subtle, vaguely anarchic and interesting cinema, you too may find yourself entranced by this wonderful series. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Friday, December 19, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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