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The Alan Bennett Collection featuring An Englishman Abroad

4.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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
Our Winnie
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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 29, 2011
  • Run Time: 645 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004H83IHS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,036 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kyle Renick on April 24, 2011
Verified Purchase
The many fans of British playwright, screenwriter, author and actor Alan Bennett have a wonderful treat awaiting them in this recently released (March 29, 2011) 4-DVD collection. Famous for his plays and film versions of "The Madness of King George" (BAFTA Award and Oscar Nomination) and "The History Boys" (6 Tony Awards), he also wrote "Prick Up Your Ears" (directed by Stephen Frears) and "A Private Function" (directed by Malcolm Mowbray). One reason Bennett fans must rush to purchase this set is the first availability on DVD of his brilliant imaginings of episodes in the lives of Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, two key figures of the Cambridge Spies -- the major spy scandal of the 20th century, which affects international relations to this very day 60 years later. Alan Bates plays defector Guy Burgess and Coral Browne herself in "An Englishman Abroad" and James Fox art historian Sir Anthony Blunt and Prunella Scales Queen Elizabeth in "A Question of Attribution." Other admirable performances include Daniel Day-Lewis as Franz Kafka in "The Insurance Man" and Alan Bates as Marcel Proust in "102 Boulevard Haussmann." The collaboration between Bennett and director Stephen Frears (Oscar Nominee for "The Queen" and "The Grifters") is represented by "A Day Out," "Sunset Across the Bay" and "A Visit from Miss Protheroe" starring the remarkable Patricia Routledge -- who also appears in "A Woman of No Importance." "Our Winnie" is quintessential Bennett in both theme and execution, based upon a youthful Leeds cemetery experience. Bennett himself is the subject of two titles: "Dinner at Noon" and "Portrait or Bust." Although production values occasionally reflect both age and provenance, this outstanding BBC set of stories by one of the great writers of our time, running over ten hours and shown in aspect ratio 1.33:1, is not to be missed.
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The brilliant, hugely fecund Bennett is the author of nearly two-hundred widely admired stage, television and radio plays, screenplays, novels, short stories and memoirs. He is also an occasional actor. His work illuminates the human comedy with subtlety, a light touch, wit, gentle irony, humanity, a soft glaze of melancholy and crackling dialogue. And Bennett has an extraordinary ability to imperceptibly and credibly make something from nothing. Eleven of Bennett's short television plays have recently been released as a collection on DVD. They're all good, but the standouts are: A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, a hypnotic and increasingly disturbing monologue delivered by the great Patricia Routledge; AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD, which tells of a funny and quite sad encounter in Moscow between the Australian Actress Coral Browne (playing herself) and the, by then, seedy, profoundly alcoholic, nearly forgotten fugitive spy Guy Burgess (Alan Bates): the piece ends on an unexpected, gloriously cheerful note; A QUESTION OF ATTRIBUTION, a tense, enthralling drama about Sir Anthony Blunt (James Fox), toff, Cambridge graduate, art historian, Director of the Courtauld Institute, Keeper of the Queen's Pictures and, for decades, a spy in the service of the Soviet Union. It's best moments: a chance encounter and highly freighted conversation in Buckingham Palace's art gallery between Blunt and the Queen (played wonderfully by Prunella Scales). This is all great stuff!
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Alan Bennett is one of the UK's greatest playwrights and it seems odd that he has not received any sort of royal honour such as an OBE or even a knighthood. Maybe he has followed the example of his fellow Yorkshireman J.B.Priestley by turning down honours with the sole exception of the O.M.

This selection is very much a mixed bag and I would not recommend sitting through it all at once. But each part has its special value.

"A woman of no importance", played brilliantly by Patricia Routledge, starts in comic vein and ends in stark tragedy.

For cold war afficionados we have "An Englishman Abroad". The final scene is a gem, with Guy Burgess (played by Alan Bates) strutting flamboyantly through a Moscow snowstorm in his newly-arrived English clothes, to the patriotic strains of Gilbert and Sullivan's song "...for he is an English Man".

Last but not least, reality fans will enjoy the fly-on-the wall documentary from the Crown Hotel in Harrogate. Brilliant editing and a thoughtful commentary by Bennett. It goes to show the truth of the old Yorkshire saying, "there's nowt so queer as folks." [queer in its original meaning!].

Lots of good stuff here, as they would say in Leeds.
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A wonderful anthology of the best of Alan Bennett's film and documentaries made for the BBC. The breadth of the subject matter is an amazement as is Bennett's wit, humor and scholarship. This is the definition of entertainment. I am so happy that decision was made to issue these DVDs. There are several other Alan Bennett programmes including THE ABBEY WITH ALAN BENNETT that I would love to have on DVD. My VHS copy of THE ABBEY is almost worn through from my constantly showing it to friends in my home. And where are: THE OLD CROWD, ONE FINE DAY, ME! I'M AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, AFTERNOON OFF, DORIS AND DOREEN, ALL DAY ON THE SANDS, etc.? (The completist in me is asking. Shut Up completist in me!)
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