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Fortunes of War

87 customer reviews

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Product Description

Fortunes of War (DVD)

The Baltics, 1939. British professor Guy Pringle (Kenneth Branagh) arrives in Romania with his new bride, Harriet (Emma Thompson) and becomes enmeshed in the politics of anti-fascism. Despite Harriet's serious misgivings, Guy's social circle soon includes members of the British Secret Service who want to involve him in dangerous missions, and a downtrodden prince who zeroes in on Guy's generous nature and winds up living with the Pringles. Thus the stage is set for this mesmerizing story of marriage tested by accidental betrayal, callous insensitivity, and a world in upheaval. Based upon the autobiographical novels of best-selling author Olivia Manning, and set in places as far-flung as Bucharest, Athens andCairo, Fortunes of War is majestic in both its scope and its vision.


"Wherever we are, that will always be the center of things." So professor Guy Pringle reassures his new wife, Harriet. Unfortunately, where they are is Bucharest in 1939, with the Nazis gathering on the border, and fascism casting longer, darker shadows. Thus begins this epic 1987 miniseries based on Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant trilogies that was originally broadcast in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre. For most Americans, it was an auspicious first look at England's glamorous former First Thespian couple, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, who, as one character notes of Harriet, "lightens the darkness." Fortunes of War suggests what Casablanca might have been like had it followed Victor and Ilsa instead of Rick, who famously didn't want to stick his neck out for anybody. Not Guy. "I want to do something more dramatic than lecturing," he proclaims. "It is our duty to shine a little light to hope someone notices." His activities are enough to put him on a Nazi death list, forcing Guy and Harriet to Greece and Egypt. "It isn't a lark," Guy tells Harriet early on, "but it is an adventure." Fortunes of War is populated by colorful characters, most notably the pitiable and decidedly untrustworthy Prince Yakimov (Ronald Pickup), and the dashing young soldier Simon Boulderstone (Rupert Graves of The Forsythe Saga and A Room with a View). There is plenty of intrigue, betrayals, domestic melodrama, and emotional separations and reunions to propel this nearly seven-hour production to its powerful conclusion. Readers of Manning's books and Branagh and Thompson fans will find the release of War good fortune indeed. --Donald Liebenson

Special Features

Biographies: Cast biosBiographies: Cast biosBiographies: Cast biosBiographies: Cast bios

Product Details

  • Actors: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Olivia Manning
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Original recording remastered
  • Language: English (Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: May 17, 2005
  • Run Time: 407 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007LFPJ8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,892 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Fortunes of War" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

152 of 153 people found the following review helpful By F. S. L'hoir VINE VOICE on December 18, 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I was so pleased when "Fortunes of War" was released on DVD! When I first saw this splendid BBC television series, I rushed to the nearest bookstore (in Rome at the time) and bought Olivia Manning's mammoth Balkan and Levant trilogies, which I have since devoured at least three times (so much so that the paperback editions are falling apart). Reading, however, in no way lessens, but, instead, enhances one's enjoyment of "Fortunes of War," which preserves the essence of Manning's novels. Visually stunning, the film recreates Bucharest and Athens on the brink of World War II, and then Cairo and Alexandria, as well as Damascus and Jerusalem, the outposts of the British Empire in the Levant. One step ahead of the advancing Nazi armies, Guy and Harriet Pringle, the film's central characters, are constantly uprooted and forced to be on the move.

Guy, acted with affable understatement by Kenneth Brannagh, epitomizes the type of academic who constantly puts the wants of his students first. Friend to all the world, Guy Pringle remains totally oblivious to the needs of his newly-married bride. Harriet, played with a dry and subtle irony by Emma Thompson, must cope with setting up house, first, in a city that is about to fall to the juggernaut of the Third Reich; next, in a series of hotel rooms, each more seedy than the last; and finally, sharing digs in Cairo with an odd assortment of British expatriates (and their even odder friends and acquaintances who continually drift in and out of the premises). Guy simply cannot understand that Harriet might be miffed at his heedlessness.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Tanya C. Anderson on October 22, 1999
Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
I have watched Fortunes of War a score of times. I just can't seem to get enough of the characters and they live on in my imagination long after viewing has ended. I have recommended this film successfully to a broad variety of friends, who have all loved it as well. It has appeal on many levels, the music, the scenery (Romania, Greece, Egypt) and outstanding dramatic work by the principals. I find this work haunts me and I have seen different aspects of it upon repeated viewing--once focusing completely on Guy Pringle, the next time taking a closer look at Harriet's character, and so on. It really is wonderful.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By J. Rausch on May 9, 2005
Format: DVD
This is one of the most underappreciated films which delves successfully into the personal side of life during wartime. Life, business, and education goes on even though the world is trying to kill itself. Love is found and lost, jobs come and go, and life goes on-even as the bombs fall. Branagh and Thomson are as always endearing as much for their flaws as for their charms. The scenery and cinematography is simply spectacular. This is in many way reminiscent of The English Patient, while not as powerful or brilliant, still very enjoyable, and highly recomended.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By E. Marin on March 27, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
I had never heard of this movie (or the novels on which it was based) before running across it in my local video store, but fortunately (no pun intended) it provided two solid evenings of entertainment. While populated by unlikely characters who at times border on caricatures and keep turning up under even more unlikely circumstances, its strength is in the depiction of Mr. and Mrs. Pringle and the evolution of their relationship under the pressures of WWII.
Branagh is perfect for most of the film as the charismatic and socially promiscuous Guy, of whom one aquaintance jokes, "Two men met in a bar. They didn't know each other, but they both knew Guy Pringle." However, his portrayal becomes a bit shaky once the unflappable Brit Lit professor is finally forced to face the prospect of his greatest conceivable loss.
Thompson is simply excellent as the more reserved Harriet, who finds to her dismay that her husband not only preaches socialism and the love of mankind but also lives it, with the result that he has little time or attention left over for her. He assures her when confronted that he loves her, but it appears to Harriet and the audience that what he loves is her unflagging willingness to understand and accomodate him. Happily, by the end we all appreciate Harriet's other qualities: her humor, spirit, courage, and compassion.
Rupert Graves also stands out as the eager young soldier living in the shadow of his elder brother. The scene in which Guy first visits him in the hospital following a devastating injury is probably my favorite in the film.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Roger L. Hollenbeck on October 24, 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This DVD "Fortunes of War" has some of Englands greatist actors staring in this epic picture. Also my very favorite actors, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, and Rupert Graves. Yes, there are other actors and they all did an excellent job. The story is a sweeping story, starting in Bulgaria and ending up in Cairo, Egypt. This story begins at the on set of World War Two. The story is about a young Englishman and his wife as they run from country to country as the German Army advances. The scenery is very well done. You get to see a way of life that existed before the Germans detroyed the world. This is an excellent film, and deserves all that stars that I can give it. This is a must see movie, well worth buying and adding to your library.
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