Perfect Strangers (2001)

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Released 7-Jan-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Stephen Poliakoff (Dir),John Chapman(Prod),A.Johnson (Comp)
Featurette-Writer And Cast Interviews
Gallery-Photo-Montage
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 238:39 (Case: 256)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:30)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Stephen Poliakoff
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Michael Gambon
Lindsay Duncan
Matthew MacFadyen
Claire Skinner
Toby Stephens
Jill Baker
Timothy Spall
Anton Lesser
Kelly Hunter
Michael Culkin
Tony Maudsley
Kathleen Byron
Sheila Burrell
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 Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     It's no accident that Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) is employed as a surveyor. This young, suburban member of the mighty Symon clan has a talent for passively observing life around him without too much direct involvement. That is, until the patriarch of the family, Ernest Symon (Peter Howell) confronts his mortality by throwing a massive family reunion in a grand London hotel. After helping his mother Esther (Jill Baker) persuade his irascible father Raymond (Michael Gambon) to actually attend this extraordinary gathering of the clan, Daniel finds himself confronting family members he's never met and, more significantly, finding connections to the past that unbalance him, but redefine his sense of self.

     Having been duly processed by the nervous function coordinator Poppy (Kelly Hunter) and provided with his copy of the family tree, Daniel is enchanted by second cousin Alice (Lindsay Duncan) and also meets his other cousins Rebecca (Claire Skinner) and Charles (Toby Stephens). These two golden characters are the epitome of well-heeled urban chic - a wild contrast to Daniel's more pedestrian sensibilities, and are consequently a source of utter fascination and absorption for him. But something sinister broods between Alice, Rebecca and Charles, and over the course of their time together, Daniel becomes increasingly determined to solve the riddles.

     This weekend family get-together is on a grand scale, with no holds barred, and filled with eccentric personages, like the spivvy and mysterious Irving (Timothy Spall); the dotty old dowager sisters, Violet, Edith & Grace (played respectively by Muriel Pavlow, Kathleen Byron, and Sheila Burrell); and the fussy and pedantic "pedigree hunter" Stephen (Anton Lesser). Stephen has collated a series of intriguing photographs for each family member and, curiously, neither Raymond nor Daniel can remember any of the events surrounding the photographs of them. In Raymond's case, it is a collection of pictures when he was a boy, straddled across a gargoyle, laughing hysterically at what transpires to be his father dancing in the garden. For Daniel, it is a photograph of him as a pensive child, dressed as a 17th century prince. Over the course of the series, these images haunt both father and son as they both struggle to draw memories from where none had previously seemed to be.

     Perfect Strangers is an exquisite piece of drama that utilises every moment of its approximately 4 and a half hours running time, filling them with a strangely unhurried, vaguely sinister, but always low key sense of yearning and secrets. Writer/Director Stephen Poliakoff has been responsible for some of the most hypnotic and intriguing British television drama for some time now, with other recent releases including the superb Shooting The Past and his more recent offering, The Lost Prince, recounting the oft-forgotten story of Prince Johnnie, the epileptic and hidden progeny of George V and Queen Mary. There is always a certain quietness in Poliakoff's productions - even the most extreme human emotions are presented without histrionic displays, and this affords his characters a particular dignity and dimensionality. Perfect Strangers deservedly garnered a BAFTA TV award of Best Actor for Michael Gambon, and nominations for Best Actress (Lindsay Duncan), Best Drama Serial (Producer, John Chapman and Writer/Director Stephen Poliakoff), Best Editing (Paul Tothill), Best Original Television Music (Adrian Johnston) and Best Photography and Lighting (Cinders Forshaw). It is clear that Poliakoff is a great believer in assembling a team that he believes in, then allows them to be the best they can be. What results is a vision splendid.

     The series is presented in 3 episodes over two discs:

     The quintessentially magical part of this series is the way it provokes the viewer into thinking about his or her own family in a slightly new light. As we see the poignant stories of these characters unfold, we are afforded the chance to rethink that dotty maiden aunt or that embarrassing uncle. We see them in a more holistic context and are prompted to wonder what the stories of their life truly were. As a culture, we are too prone to assess people superficially, and frequently, the closer we are to family members, the more cartoonish are our perceptions of them. Perfect Strangers calls us to reassess - to redignify those around us, and, in the process, gives us the chance to meditate on what being a member of a family is all about. What are the familial bonds that tie us to a family? Is it merely a case of simple genetics, or are there strains from the past still pulsing in our own veins that guide us on courses that seem otherwise inexplicable? Families are both our harbours and our greatest points of danger - the place where both security and vulnerability seem to coexist. I seem to recall a biblical passage that states (in paraphrase) that the sins of the fathers are rested on the children. Poliakoff has created a piece which shows both the damage and the restoration available in our familial past. He seems to be saying, "we can't always resolve the past, but we can be reconciled to it." It is a moving and profound message, explored hypnotically and filmed lovingly, that has a haunting and complex character which settles like dust in the corridors of one's own memory. Highly recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Yet again, the BBC proves that television can be translated into quality - this disc is really rather nice.

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced.

     There are occasions where the picture is a teensy bit soft, but overall, it's very good quality with great definition in close-ups, and only minor falling away in mid and long shots. The luminance is glorious, with a large emphasis on either natural ambient or naturalistic lighting, all shot on location in various hotels, mansion houses and stately homes around the London area. There is no significant low level noise, excellent shadow detail and very fine grain.

     Colour was iridescent throughout, with excellent skin tones - rich warm colours and no significant colour blocking in evidence. Poliakoff mentions in the commentary how frequently British film is geared to the neutral, rather than the European approach of a much broader, warmer palette. None of that neutrality appears here - it is lavish, lush and glowing.

     With the exception of very occasional mild anti aliasing, this is a very clean print. There is the smallest hint of motion blur at times, but it is clean and without any major MPEG problems.

     Subtitles are occasionally a little abbreviated, but generally they are timely and sufficient to explain the story well.

     Disc 1 is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change placed at 73:30. It is quite a smooth transition and does not disturb the story at all.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are two audio tracks on this DVD. The default is a 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 clear and easy to understand at all times. There were some minor distortions audible and the sound appeared a little "tinny" at the beginning, but this settled down into a fairly warm and clear soundtrack. Audio sync presented no problems at all.

     The musical score by Adrian Johnston was as haunting and beautiful as his previous effort in Shooting The Past. It is clear that Poliakoff and Johnston have a very close working collaboration, and Poliakoff requires music to be written as though a central character in the piece. Johnston has totally delivered to his brief in this series - there is an elegant simplicity to the soundtrack that enhances every moment of screen time.

     The 2.0 soundtrack was given maximum use, although most dialogue came firmly from the centre speaker. There was a hint of subwoofer activity from time to time.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

     The menu design is themed around the movie. It is 16x9 enhanced. The main menu is static and has Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio.

Featurette

     This runs for 17:32 and is a series of interviews with Poliakoff and cast members. As with the Shooting The Past featurette, there is genuine substance and things to be learned from this extra - it is well presented and interesting. This featurette is 16x9 enhanced, and has Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound.

Photo Montage (01:52)

     A miniature audio visual of photographs from the set and more publicity based pictures, set to Johnston's wonderful music.

Director's Commentary - Stephen Poliakoff (Writer/Director), John Chapman (Producer) and Adrian Johnston (Music)

     Another excellent presentation here. Poliakoff, quite rightly, does most of the talking, with insights by the other two. It's a great blend between technical information, discussion of the actors' performances and challenges, and the formidable research undertaken by Poliakoff in the writing of the piece. He is unashamed to point to the parallels between his characters' struggles with family and those of his own, and also indicates some of the poignant serendipities as well - the ballroom where the banquet scene is shot is actually where his own parents took refuge during a bombing raid in WWII. These small insights and revelations further deepen the experience of viewing this series.

R4 vs R1

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

     This disc is not yet available in other regions, so I'm guessing that R4 is the winner.

Summary

     Haunting, hypnotic, dangerous and ultimately redemptive, this is a magnificent series that is to be savoured and enjoyed. As is typical of a Poliakoff piece, it unfolds in a somewhat languorous way, so this is only for those who enjoy drama that plays out at a more leisurely pace, but it is to be utterly savoured. The glorious Lindsay Duncan is once again perfectly cast, Michael Gambon is at turns irascible and vulnerable, and relative newcomer Matthew Macfadyen holds his own very well in luminous company. A superb tale of the hidden magic and stories tragic that lie under the surface of every family. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Monday, January 05, 2004
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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