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During A Few Splendid Moments, She Proves To Be, Upon Her Own Terms, A Match For The Illustrious Bonaparte.
This hour-long film, first presented upon the BBC network in September 1986, is an absorbing interpretation of George Bernard Shaw's initial historical drama, subtitled by its author "a fictitious paragraph of history", a work that had its premiere stage performance in 1897. It is shot with videotape and is unfortunately mangled by substandard sound recording. The narrative is set during the second day following Napoleon Bonaparte's triumph over an Austrian army in the Battle of Lodi (1796) and its location is within a small hostelry at Tavazzano, between Lodi and Milan where the young general, played by Simon Callow, is awaiting delivery of dispatches wherein which he will find details of his next combat assignment, one designed to liberate Italy from its royal leadership, therewith advancing European principles of Republicanism. The dispatch rider, a young lieutenant (David Troughton), tardily arrives and reveals that he was gulled out of the dispatch papers by an uncommonly charming youth. At this time, the two soldiers are made aware of a "mysterious" woman who has just arrived at the inn, and depicted by the innkeeper Niall Toibin as being very tantalizing. Soon she enters the room and during a lengthy duologue denounces Bonaparte's burning ambition with daring questions designed to avoid his validated suspicions that she may be the swindling "young man" who hoodwinked the gullible lieutenant. Here begins a typically structured Shavian play, its comedy weighty and short of laughter and sympathy producing episodes. Its action is restricted to a single room, actuated by superlative use of irony within dialogue that eventually is contracted to only that between Napoleon and the unnamed woman (Delphine Seyrig), a dangerous opponent for him, as she calls into question Bonaparte's code of honour while he evidences his desire to retrieve the purloined dispatches from her. The lady avers that she will gladly restore them, with an exception of a single "love letter", concerning which both the author and recipient are known only to her. The verbal sparring between the two has been generally tallied as a victory for the woman; however, a close reading of the text, and a careful viewing of this performance, will reveal to some that Bonaparte is the rightful winner with the woman's guerdon following their meeting being somewhat ephemeral. Shaw's customary sensibilities bear fruit in the final pages through Napoleon's rants describing England's comprehensive inferiority to France ("A Nation of shopkeepers" - often and incorrectly ascribed to Bonaparte), ("The English are a stupid people", etc.), and other Shavian accorded flaws of the British Empire. Nonetheless, it shall be acknowledged that the playwright's utilization of original source documents as background for his work is manifest, and referential throughout the play. The diminutive Callow is felicitously cast as Bonaparte, and gains the acting laurels while the performances turned in by the other three players are uniformly excellent. Director Desmond Davis has a merited reputation for his supervision of trenchant dialogue, as is the case here, despite aberrant sound editing that causes the readings of the actors to ebb into inaudibility whenever their backs are turned to the camera (as on the boards). Nonetheless, this is an estimable cinema production of a too seldom produced play.
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