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Guy Pringle and his new wife, Harriet, are members of the English community in Bucharest, Rumania on the eve of World War II. The film catalogs and chronicles, after the war begins, the characters [diplomats, literary types, spies, penniless royalty, gays, lesbians] that cross and re-cross their path as they flee before the advancing Germany armies to Athens and then to Cairo. Written by
Noble Bell <email@example.com>
Travelogue and soap opera don't add up to Dickens or Austen
Some of those who have commented on "Fortunes of War," have mentioned a 3-hour movie. I just watched a DVD of the 7-part BBC TV mini-series. It runs a little more than 6 ½ hours. At the time of this review, only eight others had reviewed the film, and only 380 had rated it. The high rating (8.1 at this time), means to me that it must rank up there with great works put on film by such English authors as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte or George Eliot. But such clearly is not the case.
I enjoy most of the pre-war British movies that I have seen. Various films give one a sense of history of the time in the decade leading up to WWII. A number of very good movies give a picture of the life among the civilians in England and elsewhere, especially in the last few years before war and then in the outbreak of war in Europe. We hear and see the concerns and worries, uncertainty from news reports, fear for loved ones, hope against despair, and British resolve.
So, I was anticipating something along those lines in "Fortunes of War." But, we don't get much of that. Instead we are taken along the "adventures" of a recently married English couple in their moves to three locations in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. They are civilians, associated with an institute that teaches English language and culture in other countries. The series/film is based on six novels of fiction by Olivia Manning, who used her travel and living experiences with her husband who worked for the BBC. I'm not familiar with Manning's works, so I don't know how true to the books the mini-series is.
But the film series has only smatterings of war engagements, one of which spends time with a young British soldier who is wounded in Egypt. And, otherwise, there seems to be a mix of concern about war or Nazi Germany among the characters. The film gives far too much time to frivolous matters and somewhat to characters whose parts are frivolous as well. We don't see much depth of character development of these people. These give way invariably to a local adventure for the heroine or a task for the hero. So, we get doses as well of scenery, monuments and antiquity in Greece and Egypt. Interwoven with these, are the personal stories but just superficially for most of the characters. Not all, but most.
The series has all the trappings of a soap opera. Indeed, the description of Manning's first three novels in an Encyclopedia Britannica article reads like the formula outline for a "soaper." Then, toss in considerable doses of travelogue, with an occasional accident or mishap, and you have a film that's a hodgepodge. I give "Fortunes" six stars for the good scenery shots and for the good acting by the entire cast. Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle give top performances. But, the poor script has just an occasional shot of quality. So, the acting and scenery can't lift the listless plot above the level of a good soap opera.
"Fortunes of War" can be entertaining, in small doses at a time. But only if one doesn't mind a mixed bag of soap opera and travelogue, with fantasy characters and a very slow script. It can't possibly stand up to the great books put on film from Dickens, Austen, Bronte or the likes.
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