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19 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Haunting performances, camera work, music

Author: David Brown from London, England
6 April 2004

I've just watched Fortunes of War again after a 17 year gap and it is every bit as good as I remember it.

The fact that Branagh and Thompson's marriage fell apart in the 1990s adds poignancy to their acting of marital tensions here.

Much of the drama revolves around Harriet's struggle to get Guy to "see" her as a person in her own right, although Branagh's portrayal of Guy's grief is the emotional high point.

Two supporting roles deserve a special mention - Ronald Pickup as the (ultimately) lovable aristocratic rogue Prince Yakimov, and Alan Bennett as the blinkered, snobbish and self-important Lord Pinkrose. Thank God we were spared more than the first five words of his lecture!

Even the small roles (e.g. Simon's army physiotherapist) are beautifully played.

The camera work is also wonderful - particularly the final shot.

The only drawback of seeing it on video, as opposed to the original TV episodes, is that the haunting theme tune is only heard right at the end of the film.

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16 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

One of my new top 20 of all time films

9/10
Author: mary mcreynolds from Arcadia, Oklahoma, USA
2 May 2006

I don't know where I was when this first came out on PBS or BBC, but I know where I was when we rented it and watched it recently. Riveted and delighted. I award Fortunes of War a 9.5, from the marvelous real world settings to the splendid acting by every member of this incredible ensemble...and the story is simply superb. I didn't give it a 10 because I can't think of a 10 film at the moment with which to even compare. Enough superlatives. Watch it and be entertained and enlightened. Kenneth and Emma are joys to behold, the predicaments and conflicts totally believable, the insidious creep of Nazi Europe frightening, the subsequent war scenes thankfully subdued but still realistic. Rent it, own it, view it. Again and again.

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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

a wonderful wartime movie that is not about war.

Author: Berrin from Chicago, IL
15 April 2000

This is a very long, but also very enjoyable movie (originally a tv series) set against the background of WWII. Guy Pringle (Branagh), a university professor, leaves Britain and comes to Romania to teach. He has a love for his wife (Thompson) and all the people surrounding them. We watch his passion to make a difference when other people are escaping from Germans marching toward their city and gain influence from within. Relationships develop between the couple and locals, and we start to care about most of them. We see how horrible everyday life could be with the constant threat of war, but how it isn't. We observe Guy treat everyone around him with good intentions, at the expense of his wife, and we want to shake him to come to his senses. We follow their journey to other countries, and the movie is a joy to watch from beginning to end. There are a few memorable scenes between Guy and his wife that I cannot forget, and Branagh really touches me when he cries. The acting by all the cast is simply wonderful, and the movie is definitely worth spending 3 hours.

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17 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

superb !

Author: Masmi
26 June 1999

I've watched this 3 hrs+ movie a dozen of times already, and I am sill thirsty for more. This movie is packed with beautiful acting by nearly all casts. These English actors seem to know how to control their facial expressions, vocal tones, body movement with remarkable precision to convey all degrees of emotions and personalities. Directing, music, costume, editing, cinematography are all equally good as well, and together with the great actings, creates a beautiful harmony. This movie is made of one piece. Like "Lawrence of Arabia", whereever we slice it, the piece has a harmony, like the music by great composers.

If I have to live in a desert island and can bring one video with me, I guess I'll choose this one.

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10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Excellent Mini-Series. Early Views Of Kenneth Branagh & Emma Thompson. Recommended For Die-Hard Drama Fans. Epic Storytelling.

10/10
Author: hamletmusketeersbond (hamletmusketeersbond@yahoo.com) from North Miami, Florida
23 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I admit, I have never read the source material for this excellent mini-series, but I loved it just the same. Honestly, I am such a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (sad to know that they would divorce 8 years after meeting on the set of this epic drama) that I bought this without bothering to read the reviews. I have never seen a film from the pair of them that I didn't like ("Henry V," "Dead Again," "Peter's Friends," "Much Ado About Nothing," (unfortunately, this star-studded version of one of Shakespeare's best comedies would be their last collaboration) and "Sense & Sensibility" (which won the Academy Award Best Screenplay by Emma Thompson, who also starred as Elinor in that classic film)). They are both excellent, within their own right, of course. I haven't seen "Howards' End" or "The Remains Of The Day" in their entirety (but read the novel of the former film, by Howard Forster (who was gay) and enjoyed it, imagining Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in their respective roles), but liked them from the bits that I have been able to see on TV.

My favorite episode is no. 2, when Guy (Branagh) is putting on a production of Shakespeare's "Troilus & Cressida." I felt that his decision to cast another actress as Cressida, moving Harriet (Thompson) to designing the costumes would strongly influence Branagh, in real life, several years later to cast Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth in "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," a faithful retelling of the classic tale of terror, featuring a sympathetic portrayal from Robert DeNiro as the Creature, and another tour-de-force from Kenneth Branagh (who also directed, produced and did an uncredited rewrite of the script). One of my favorite characters (besides Guy and Harriet) is Prince Yakimov (Ronald Pickup), a downtrodden man who takes advantage of Guy (in a good way); he provided plenty of the comic relief, in addition to the red-faced drunk (I can't remember his name, either in real life or in the film). The pompous a-- Lord Bennett was a riot. I liked the love story between Guy and Harriet, particularly near the end of episode 4 when Guy (Branagh) is feeling insecure about Harriet's (Thompson) love for him. I loved the drama, all 7 episodes. I recommend it to fans of Branagh and Thompson, as well as to drama students. This is the couple BEFORE "Henry V." This miniseries is Not Rated.

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Very well-made mini-series about characters I mostly despised

7/10
Author: Son-of-WRA from United States
25 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm a rarity in this world. Smart enough to be called intellectual, well-read enough to be called academic, utile enough to be called blue-collar, and pragmatic enough to be called down-to-earth. That means I have little tolerance for the extreme's of that always-in-flux spectrum of human personality. I've been exposed to many worlds in my 54 years, so I've earned the perspective.

We rented this series because of the time period and England does produce some of the best movies and mini-series' I have ever seen. For a production that is 27 years old, it stands with some of the best WW2-era stories out there.

The actors were very good and believable, no mailing-it-in-performances. I felt like I was in Rumania, Greece, Egypt and all points between. But my admiration ends there. Perhaps that is due to good writing and acting, but there were but a few characters I actually liked. Charles Kay as Dobson and Rupert Graves as Simon Boulderstone embodied the better personalities amongst a collection of self-absorbed, self-indulgent, anarchistic anti-authoritarians.

The well-to-do in the world and in fiction both strike me as remote and detached. An air of high-mindedness doesn't fit some people well and thanks go to Mother Nature for the back-handed lessons taught as a result of arrogance. Even so, the haughtiness of the Victorian Age is still loud and clear among these characters despite being set in a different time.

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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Life Goes On.

8/10
Author: jzappa from Cincinnati, OH, United States
2 March 2009

Discerning Northern Irish actor Kenneth Branagh and the beautiful, brilliant Emma Thompson met and presumably fell in love here, as they play bohemian British newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle who arrive in Bucharest, as does the slothful, flat broke Prince Yakimov, who takes up an ad hoc job as a photojournalist of sorts on a British paper to save himself from total indigence. Harriet is introduced to her fellow expatriates, but their happy life is disjoined by the assassination of Romania's prime minister and Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. Gossip murmurs of a German invasion of Romania and Guy, mentally consumed all the same in his work and arranging civil occasions, is gaulled by his Communism (no pun intended) to take peripheral measures to take care of the family of a Jewish student of his from the anti-Semitic Romanian regime. Although this premise sounds as if it gains momentum and grows more and more exciting, it decidedly does not.

Almost reminiscent of the Jean Renoir film Grand Illusion, Fortunes of War shows a group of people segueing through meetings with different cultures, a war raging on around them but not bothering them any more than some other long-term struggle. But unlike Grand Illusion, the conflicts between the characters are unrelated to the war. It is only one of the dominoes that instigates the many things they do, mainly because they, calm and collected, take refuge in their culture, which remains impervious to the effects all the other ones seem to try to impose upon them through each of these seven one-hour episodes. We watch Guy's lofty devotion to make a difference and boost morale from within. Histrionics mature, decelerate or sustain between the couple and those who come and go from their lives, and we start to care about most of them. With this apposing of following the Pringles subjectively and impartially observing their affiliates, we see how fearful daily life could be with the consistent foreboding of war, but how it isn't. We contemplate Guy with his wife as he preoccupies himself with good intentions towards so many, yet at her exasperated cost, and we want to rattle him out of his cerebrum for a breather in her heart.

In seven hours, the story goes through no significant mood swings, nor any real climax, even in the final episode. But that's just how all of its characters feel about it. Life just goes on, and on and on. Characters latch on, decisions are made, people come and go. My favorite part is when Pinkrose finally gets to give his lecture on Lord Byron.

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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Travelogue and soap opera don't add up to Dickens or Austen

6/10
Author: SimonJack from United States
1 September 2012

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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8 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

A Bit of a Disappointment

4/10
Author: (citizenbeta@hotmail.com) from Freeview, VT
16 October 2005

A big novel's length is always a challenge to a film adaptation of the work. When six novels are involved, as is the case here (from Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy), the task of adapting the work means most of it gets left behind. How to produce a script that retains some of the novel's uniqueness and flavor but is still coherent to viewers unfamiliar with the novel? Various solutions come to mind. For example, Volker Schlöndorff wisely bit off only the first third of Günter Grass's masterpiece, The Tin Drum, and created a film that at times exceeds its source material in power and impact. And against all odds, the young Ray Bradbury managed to extract key scenes and language from Moby Dick to come up with a script which, when coupled with a decent director (John Huston) and good casting choices (I'm thinking here of Orson Welles as Father Mapple), made a pretty decent movie.

Sadly, with Fortunes of War, casting works against the film. Where Guy Pringle is a big bear of a man in the novels, Branagh's sensitive Guy just isn't the same character. And where Harriet Pringle is a small and at times frail woman in the novels, Thompson's Harriet is, well, Emma Thompson. This is not a small matter. The novels' point of view is that of Harriet and what we get there is a detailed, personal, even intimate view of the Pringles' marriage. If you read these novels all in a rush, you almost become Harriet Pringle for a time, immersed in the details of her marriage, seeing the world through her eyes. There's a toughness to Harriet, but also vulnerability, something that Guy often misses as he plunges into one project after another. Little of this comes through in the film.

Of course something will get lost in the translation from the literary to the filmic – this is a challenge all film adaptations have to face. But in this film, the mismatch of the lead actors and the characters they play is simply too much to overcome.

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5 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

disappointing

3/10
Author: churwinj from Japan
21 July 2007

The three points are for the splendid production values. I have not read the novels but offer this point of view based solely on the TV series. Well acted by all means, but Fortunes of War is ultimately tedious and horrendously disjointed. It is like watching a Play for Today that goes on and on and on. While Plater's terse and character-obsessed style no doubt works for short TV drama and the stage, it is out of place in a lavish and lengthy production such as this. In the end there was no plot to speak of. I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never did. I kept waiting for some drama, some explosion of conflict between the seemingly endless numbers of characters but again there was nothing. Yes, we had a snapshot of Europe on the brink of war, of the British ex-pat community at play, desperately trying to ignore the gathering storm and looking to their own self interest. But so what? This theme has been done to death. The characters were quirky in some cases (and then only in an irritating way) but mostly they were extremely dull. I was unable to care about any of them. We are told that the story is about the break up of the Pringle marriage as it faces the stresses and strains of impending war. But the impending war never seemed to really threaten and the British ex-pats seemed almost unconcerned about it. The Thompson- Branagh relationship- if relationship is the right word- lacked any passion and from the start they seemed to be two dull people ideally suited to each other. There was never ever a 'relationship' to break up and so when it 'started' I really didn't feel anything at all. Branagh's character was the most disappointing, almost soporifically so. We are told he was a communist, feverishly against war, yet he expresses little outrage at the collapse of civilization (apart from the odd and very unconvincing 'war is an outrage' uttered over yet another glass of wine). Not such an outrage that it should interrupt his frankly absurd obsession with Shakespeare et al at a time when everything Shakespeare stood for was crashing down on his head. All the characters seemed to be thoroughly amoral. The only one I frankly cared for was the old man and the toy dog he dragged around. In the end that summed up this failed production for me. Nothing but a drag.

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