NOT many of 1987’s top films are worth watching today. Fatal Attraction or Dirty Dancing, perhaps? But a modest British production from then, and now on DVD/Blu-ray, still is: A Month in the Country (Cert. PG) continues to speak truth to power as we grapple with current global turmoils.
Two shell-shocked First World War soldiers arrive in a Yorkshire village. Outwardly cheery, Moon (Kenneth Branagh) excavates a grave. Alone, he howls in anguish. Colin Firth as Birkin stutters, presaging his performance in The King’s Speech. He’s restoring the church’s medieval wall-painting. The vicar (Patrick Malahide) indicates they’re only there on sufferance. He, too, is damaged, despairing of parishioners with no need of God.
A lighter moment has Birkin dragooned into leading a Chapel service. He explains his work, and the delicacy that is required to remove scum covering something glorious underneath. One dab too few or many, and it’s never seen. “Makes me sound rather like God.”
The film’s title was to be The Falling Man, a reference to the mural’s one hellbound character. J. L. Carr, author of this Booker-shortlisted novella, resisted. A Month in the Country intimates restorative possibilities. As the painting is brought back to life, so are the characters.
Heart-breaking understatement is key to the film and the book, none more so than in the person of the vicar’s young wife, Alice (Natasha Richardson). She is unhappy herself, and yet the space between her words gives others hope.
Extras include interviews with the director Pat O’Connor and Colin Firth. Both highly praise Michael Staines, Vicar of Radnage, Buckinghamshire, where they filmed it.
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