Written by: Christopher O’Neill on January 25th, 2011
Theatrical Release Dates: UK, 1971
Director: Barney Platts-Mills
Writer: Barney Platts-Mills
Cast: Bruce Robinson, Susan Penhaligon, Michael Feast, George Fenton, Robert Brown
DVD released: January 17th, 2011
Approximate running time: 89 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English (Hard-Of-Hearing)
DVD Release: BFI
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99
The BFI have issued PRIVATE ROAD in a special Dual Format Edition with the film presented on both BluRay and DVD in the same package. This review relates to the DVD version.
Peter is a writer about to complete his eagerly-anticipated first novel who meets Ann, a young receptionist who works at his publisher’s office. The two begin seeing each other, much to the chagrin of Ann’s over-protective parents who try to welcome Peter into the family circle but the defiant author rebels against their gentle intrusiveness. The pressures of this interference and London city life in general lead the young couple to move to a remote part of Scotland where they seek self-preservation in the highlands. Initially, rural living is welcomed but soon Ann grows discontent while Peter loses interest in completing his novel. Returning to London they try to settle down to a life of domestic conformity when Ann discovers she is pregnant and Peter decides to abandon his novel for a career in advertising. With Ann’s parents increasingly concerned for their daughter’s welfare and Peter throwing away a promising career as a novelist, the couple’s relationship begins to fracture and Peter must come to terms with what he needs rather than wants for his own individual fulfilment.
What is most welcoming about the BFI’s continuing Flipside series is not just the exceptional presentation of the films on DVD/BluRay but also the fact that it is introducing previously-obscure examples of British cinema to a new audience. In 2010 the company reissued Barney Platts-Mills’ debut feature Bronco Bullfrog both theatrically and on home video in the UK, and several months later they have issued the director’s follow-up picture Private Road on the DVD/Bluray market.
While the earlier film is shot starkly in black and white with a cast of amateur actors and focuses on working-class characters, in contrast Private Road is lensed in eye-catching colour while utilising professional actors and takes place in a middle-class social environment. Despite these differences Platts-Mills’ thematic style with each film illustrating characters plighted by the restrictions that society imposes on them. Ann and Peter’s situation may lack the desperation of the young lovers in Bronco Bullfrog but, stripped of lawful and financial restrictions, ultimately they are equally as troubled. Ann leaves her conventional background for a life of bohemia while Peter, when under pressure, decides to move the other way in a misguided attempt to do right by his partner and potential child. Bolstered by naturalistic performances from Bruce Robinson (who later wrote and directed Withnail & I) and Susan Penhaligon (Patrick), the couple collectively have mixed attributes that are both immaturely naïve and acutely responsible, making them refreshingly flawed and admirable so the ups and downs of their relationship are agonizingly relatable.
Presented in its correct aspect ratio of 1:85:1, Private Road has been meticulously restored by the British Film Institute. Taken from the 35mm negative stored at the National Archive, the image is sharp and clean while the colours are vivid.
The soundtrack is in the original 2.0 mono dimensions and has also been remastered with repairs made to remove any pops, crackle and hiss. Like the visual presentation on the disc one word can describe the audio: flawless.
Also included on the DVD are two short films. Platts-Mills’ St Christopher (48 minutes) is an observational documentary about the education of mentally-handicapped youngsters and The Last Chapter (29 minutes) is a fictional tale based on a story by John Fowles (The Collector) about an author (played by Denholm Elliot) who is approached by an obsessive fan. Its inclusion here is due to the casting of Susan Penhaligon as the fan and both performances are strong and these films are welcome companion pieces to Private Road. Also included is a 22-page booklet featuring an essay by Kevin Jackson, the Monthly Film Bulletin review of the film from 1971, biographies of the director and two lead players, and essays about the accompany shorts St Christopher and The Last Chapter.
Private Road is another welcome release to the BFI’s Flipside collection. Along with Bronco Bullfrog it is an example of independent British cinema that, until this DVD/BluRay release, has not been widely seen. Remastered to perfection with additional short films of relevant interest, this release is whole-heartedly recommended.