In the modern era, Handmade Films stands as a pinnacle of film production. 1987 saw three superb films released. From WITHNAIL & I to launch the year. A clever swipe at the Britian of repression and class. Then on to BELLMAN AND TRUE, a parable on technology. Finally along came THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE. A character study of a woman repressed by church, family and sexuality. It might seem odd to some of us, that a smaller studio could survive on a series of eclectic films. However Handmade films skill was the ability to feel the nations pulse. They were also very good at making quality films, choosing the right cast, crew and often producing with vigor and intellect. In THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE you have teh stunning performance of Maggie Smith and the direction of Jack Clayton. One is an Oscar winning actress, the other a director that was known for winning awards and telling intimate, female lead stories about detail and emotion.
In a world where women were figures of reproduction or seduction, to have a lived a life passed your prime is impossible. Belfast of the 1950s, spinster Judith Hearne (Maggie Smith) is trapped in a life of small rooms and squalid people. She lost her family at a young age and was sent to live with her aunt. A tyrant and a bully. Judith feels kinship however. The aunt raised her, so when the aunt suffers a stroke and is bed bound, she stays. Caring for her as the illness claims her sanity, she is left broke and after her aunts death, has nothing to fall back on except the bottle. While at a new boarding house, she falls for charismatic James (Bob Hoskins). He lived in New York (or so he says) and might be after her money. Judith cant help but return the attention. However the church, society and the problems of family, might hamper an easy romance and a better life for Judith.
Based on the novel Judith Hearne by Brian Moore, its a feast of performance and direction. Jack Clayton and Maggie Smith are on sensational form. Tightly compacting emotion and disconnetion. The demon drink, catastophic church and female failings are deeply exposed. This all said the film often feels hollow, meanders. The points about the church are confused and not sure if it is trying to be redemptive or out and out hostile. The role of James lacks the draw or balance. Is he a monster or a man fallen to be picked up again? Then finally it repeats its points to death, about alcohol, about middle class values and about universities as progressive and potent places of rebellion. The figure of fun that Judith becomes is unworthy of her and the script. She would have been a woman of charity and not derision (as much as the world would see her as a woman destroyed by social circumstance). Smith won a Bafta for the role, I suspect as much for recognition of other work as for this.
The 2K restoration has sorted out three major issues with the VHS release (yes I saw this and it was sub standard). The horrid colour imbalance has been corrected. The grainy interior house scenes have been lessened and the exterior lighting issues are resolved. However the later scenes still have a little light and tone problem. You see the light change in each cut and this was not the intention of Peter Hannan. However since he over saw it, maybe it was.
The best extra is the commentary. Forget everything else. Neil Sinyard may only cover a few scenes but he knows Clayton. Which is essential to understanding the film. He also understands the source material, subtext, script and even the work of Handmade. If you want to know the film start here.
Once you have done this, I suggest moving on to Pauline Kael film appreciation (apprasial is a comical term). She enjoyed the piece. Its all there and its very good. I disagreed with her in many points but I am a nobody and write like a hack. To film studies people (who love the sound of their own voice and flowery language that can be masterbatory) she is Christ. This said (I am being obnoxious here to be fair) She is always readable and valuable.
  • New 2K restoration by Powerhouse Films from the original negative, supervised and approved by cinematographer Peter Hannan
  • Original mono audio
  • Judith Hearne Remembered (2019, 27 mins): documentary featuring interviews with actors Maggie Smith, Ian McNeice and Rudi Davies
  • Selected scenes commentary with Neil Sinyard, author of British Film Makers: Jack Clayton (33 mins)
  • Original trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet featuring Pauline Kael’s appraisal of the film, Bethan Roberts on Brian Moore, Jack Clayton, Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins on The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray
  • Limited Edition of 3,000 copies

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