Most helpful positive review
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Immensely enjoyable adaptation... Highly abridged but true in spirit... Fine DVD
on January 7, 2007
This is immensely enjoyable. It is a brilliant 3-hour adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's "Sword of Honour" trilogy. Given the time constraint, much material has been excised. Most of the religious content has been stripped out. The various supporting characters and events have been drastically reduced or eliminated entirely. But the essence of Waugh's work is here, his wickedly cruel humour, his biting satire, his bitterness and his elegizing of the loss of all that he considered good in British society. For me Sword of Honour is the work that best pairs the dark satirical humour of his earlier novels with the elegiac, spiritual quality of his later phase, so beautifully exemplified in "Brideshead Revisited". I wish this could have been as meticulously and faithfully mounted as the incomparable Brideshead but if you bear in mind that Brideshead ran for close to 11 hours, a similar enterprise on the same scale here, would stretch anywhere from 25 to 30 hours in length.
To its credit, despite the massive slashing, it does still remain true to the spirit of the book. The ending is changed but I'm not sure what a previous reviewer meant when he said that it was a "happy" ending. In the book, the story ends with Guy marrying Lady Plessington's daughter, Domenica, the good Catholic girl who cared for his dead wife's son in his absence. In the film, the Plessingtons are entirely eliminated. The film ends with the brief scene of Guy alone with his sister back in their ancestral estate. He tells her of how his Italian villa has been taken over by the murderous Ludovic and how he has come back to Broome to shepherd what is left of the once great Crouchback lands. From the book we know that most of it is actually gone. There is nothing particularly "happy" about this. In fact if you were to pause and reflect, you would realise that it was an intensely sad ending - not only has Guy lost most of his physical possessions, he has also seen the moral values he grew with cynically trampled underfoot; and in accepting Virginia's child as his own, he has given away all that remains of the Crouchback legacy to the son of a commoner and a bounder. For me that final shot where he embraces his dead wife's love-child as his own, shows more than anything, the immense goodness in his soul; that far from being diminished by all the liars, cheats, and traitors he has encountered and all the unfairness that life has thrown at him, he has kept intact his honour and the essential goodness which defines him as a man.
The story takes in all the places where Waugh himself saw action. So the film sweeps us along from England to Scotland, from Senegal to Egypt, from Crete to Croatia (Yugoslavia), and finally from Italy, back home to England. Some commentators have rightfully called it an anti-epic because despite the many hairy situations and exotic locations in which he finds himself, Guy never actually gets to fight in a major battle. The battles we see on screen, as in the book, are almost all farcical and point to the utter stupidity and futility of war. Guy finally realises the truth of this in his conversation with the Jewish woman Mme Kanyi who consoles him with the line, "Even good men thought that by going to war, they could win a kind of honour," to which he acknowledges tearfully, "God forgive me. I was one of them."
In this adaptation, the Sword of Honour is purely a metaphor. The actual physical Sword of Honour is never mentioned in the film. In the book, there is a physical Sword of Honour, embodied in the Sword of Stalingrad given by King George VI to Stalin in 1943 to seal the newly forged Anglo-Russian alliance. Crouchback like Waugh was aghast at this alliance with the Godless Communists and the apparent betrayal of all that he thought he had been fighting for - the defense of Christian civilisation. To him, the British alliance with Communist Russia and the betrayal of Catholic Poland and Croatia to Communism was simply trading one evil for another and this was the bitter irony that the physical Sword of Honour represented.
Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond), makes a fine Guy Crouchback. It's to his credit as an actor that he looks not the least bit like the suave secret agent he would later become. Here he is a naive, idealistic, earnest, slightly befuddled English gentleman; just a simple good man trying to do the right thing. Megan Dodds (Love in a Cold Climate) is absolutely gorgeous as Guy's fickle and materialistic wife Virginia. Richard Coyle (the clownish Jeff in Coupling) is engagingly funny as Trimmer/McTavish, the ex-hairdresser who becomes the unlikeliest hero and one of the many conquests of the faithless Virginia.
It's not perfect by any means. It will certainly infuriate many Waugh fans. But this highly abridged adaptation is very well done and a pleasure to watch. It doesn't deserve anything less than a 4-star rating. The DVD is in the original 1.78:1 AR (enhanced for widescreen TV). Picture quality is excellent. Audio is in the original 2.0 Dolby Surround but is rather boomy, with the dialogue less than crystal clear. Unfortunately, Acorn, as always, does not provide any subtitles. There are no extras whatsoever.