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Alan Bennett (The History Boys, The Madness of King George) is one of Britain’s most popular and prolific playwrights. Following his runaway success with Beyond the Fringe in the Sixties, he began writing for the stage, but soon found that his work transferred easily and effectively to the small screen. This collection, spanning over twenty years from 1972 to 1994, showcases Bennett’s observant eye for the absurdities of modern life and his sharp ear for dialogue. The BAFTA-winning An Englishman Abroad was inspired by Coral Browne’s real-life encounter with an eccentric Englishman in Moscow. None other than the notorious spy Guy Burgess (Alan Bates), he sends the actress on a rather counterrevolutionary mission. Also includes: The Insurance Man (with Daniel Day Lewis as Franz Kafka), A Question of Attribution (with Prunella Scales as Queen Elizabeth II and James Fox as Sir Anthony Blunt), 102 Boulevard Haussman (with Alan Bates and Janet McTeer) plus early plays A Day Out and Sunset Across the Bay (directed by Stephan Frears) and Our Winnie. Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances) stars in A Visit from Miss Prothero and A Woman of No Importance. Two film essays, Dinner at Noon and Portrait or Bust, reveal Alan Bennett’s unique onscreen presence.
An Englishman Abroad
A Day Out
Sunset Across the Bay
A Visit from Miss Prothero
A Woman of No Importance
The Insurance Man
Dinner at Noon
102 Boulevard Haussman
A Question of Attribution
Portrait or Bust
Though hardly a household name in the United States (his scripts for The Madness of King George, which earned him an Oscar nomination in 1995, and 2006's The History Boys are probably his best-known works in America), playwright-screenwriter Alan Bennett has had a long and distinguished career in his native England. The reasons for that are evident throughout the Alan Bennett Collection, a four-disc set containing 11 works (including one documentary) produced between the early 1970s and mid-'90s and ranging in length from about 40 to 75 minutes. Bennett is an erudite, articulate writer. His work contains few jokes, but is often satirical and very witty; there's not much action (indeed, there's so little happening in some of these pieces that Masterpiece Theatre seems positively rousing in comparison), as he establishes his characters with crackling dialogue and situation, helped along by outstanding performances by Alan Bates, James Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis, Coral Browne, Harry Markham, Patricia Routledge, and others, along with fine directors like Stephen Frears and John Schlesinger. Given Bennett's background in the theater, some of the films are a bit stagy, and the production values vary considerably. But while fans of, say, Jersey Shore may not be interested, those in search of genuine depth, not to mention Anglophiles who revel in quintessentially British entertainment, will find much to admire.
Among the more renowned works is 1983's An Englishman Abroad, based on actor Browne's account of her meeting in Moscow with the notorious Guy Burgess (Bates), who defected to the USSR after being caught spying for the Russians in the '50s. Bennett, who supplies new introductions for each film, aptly describes this meeting between "the elegant actress [Browne plays herself] and the seedy exile" as both funny and sad; Burgess comes off as a drunken, fairly pathetic character, a self-described "tremendous villain" who knows he can never go home again. Another of the so-called "Cambridge spies," Sir Anthony Blunt (Fox), who was the "keeper of the Queen's pictures" and also confessed to spying for the Soviets, is the subject of A Question of Attribution, while The Insurance Man stars Day-Lewis as Franz Kafka in a surreal fantasy about a nightmarish bureaucracy that can only be described as Kafkaesque. These portraits are brilliant, but so are the ones about more ordinary folks, like Sunset Across the Bay, a meditation on aging in which a couple moves from Leeds (Bennett's hometown) to the seashore, only to find that retirement isn't quite what they'd hoped for, and A Woman of No Importance, a 48-minute monologue with Routledge as the title character (the very idea of this piece--one woman talking for nearly an hour, mostly about trivial matters--sounds impossibly boring, but in fact it's remarkably poignant). Bonus features include an extended interview with Bennett. --Sam Graham
A brilliant collection of Alan Bennett's less familiar works, superbly acted and wonderfully introduced by the writer himself, one of the greatest of our day, whose gentle insight... Read morePublished 2 days ago by David J. Conolly
All wonderful.....each and every story....watched it all twice. Bennett is great.Published 11 months ago by Sullivan
The Alan Bennett Collection is rife with the clever understated dialogue, droll humor, and astute observations of the human condition (bordering at times on character... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Charles S. Houser
Not every piece here was a five star film for me, but the stunning breadth of Bennett's work, often ranging from outrageous humor to dark tragedy in a single piece makes this a... Read morePublished 12 months ago by K. Gordon
Saw this 20 or more years ago and always remembered it.
Glad to have the chance to own it.
Quick service. Thanks.
Odd in many ways, but in the ways that I enjoy. Quirky, a bit queer, but I found that the lesser known items were at least as enjoyable as the famous ones. Read morePublished on July 17, 2013 by Absinthe
If you want to be depressed for more than a few weeks, this is for you. On the other hand, if you are a devoted Alan Bennett fan, you will kvell from.Published on July 15, 2013 by Harrison H. Sheld
If you like his Talking Heads videos, this is another one to see. He does the commentary between pieces himself.Published on December 26, 2012 by Pamela Nelson
I am a great fan of the cold war stories particularly the ones of the English spies from oxford and CambridgePublished on December 23, 2012 by Philip Richards