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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » He Knew He Was Right
He Knew He Was Right
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // January 25, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 17, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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A U D I O
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Highly Recommended
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The movie

Based on one of the lesser-known novels of prolific 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope, the BBC production of He Knew He Was Right is a delight. Brought to life as a four-part miniseries, He Knew He Was Right offers all the delicious elements of a great period novel, including scandal and intrigue, forbidden romances, and distrust, spiced up with a dash of social criticism, as Trollope took a stab at the constrained position of women in British society of his day.

The central focus of He Knew He Was Right is the troubled marriage of Emily (Laura Fraser) and Louis (Oliver Dimsdale). To their friends, their marriage seems idyllic, but Louis is consumed by jealousy, believing that Emily is having an affair with a family friend. It's all downhill from there, as Louis takes increasingly severe measures on the belief that he has been betrayed. At the same time, we follow the stories of several other men and women trying to find love and happiness, such as Emily's sister Nora (Christina Cole), Louis' friend Hugh (Stephen Campbell Moore), and Hugh's sister Dorothy (Caroline Martin), who has to deal with a cantankerous elderly aunt (Anna Massey).

The miniseries doesn't waste any time in developing the stories, and we're immediately given interesting plot developments while we're still getting to know the characters. The result is that He Knew He Was Right is thoroughly entertaining from the get-go, and maintains a brisk and completely engrossing pace through almost the entire miniseries. Most, but not all, of the characters are introduced in the first episode; viewers will need to pay attention to who's who, but fortunately the number of new characters stops short of being overwhelming. As we move into the second episode, there's definitely a sense of knowing the characters and their situations, so the occasional new secondary character from this point is easy to keep track of.

For the most part, He Knew He Was Right sticks closely to drama, and there's certainly plenty of material for the serious plot of the film. To lighten things up, though, there's one minor story thread that's entirely humorous: the romantic misadventures of a minister in the same town as Dorothy and Hugh's family who happens to be an "eligible bachelor" and hotly pursued by the local unmarried girls. Since it's kept as a secondary aspect of the story, the situation of hapless Mr. Gibson provides a pleasant change of pace from the more melodramatic story threads.

The various plot threads, but especially that of Louis and Emily, are predicated on the very specific cultural context of upper-class English society in the Victorian era, in which it's not enough to do what's right: it's also necessary for everyone else to think that you're in the right. It's a situation in which a young woman's hopes for marriage could be blighted by even the hint of scandal, and "what would people think?" is more than just an idle concern. It's not necessarily easy to convey this atmosphere in a modern production, but He Knew He Was Right handles it very well: we can see how frustrating and ridiculous many of the social customs are, but at the same time we can see how the characters are constrained to act within them.

It almost goes without saying for a BBC production of a classic novel, but I'll say it anyway: He Knew He Was Right is a polished and very well-crafted production. One of the things I liked quite a bit about this miniseries is that it breaks some of the conventions of film, by having the characters frequently address the viewer directly. On many occasions, when a character is alone, he or she will turn to the camera and directly express his thoughts, explaining himself, and justifying his actions. It's surprising at first, but it somehow fits in perfectly with the overall feel of the film. It's also quite effective in helping to give a well-rounded portrayal of all the main characters in the story. For instance, the plot certainly puts Emily more in the right compared to her insanely jealous husband, but thanks to the intelligent handling of the characters, we get to hear Louis' side of the story, and understand why he's doing what he's doing.

We'll probably still side with Emily on the whole, but Louis becomes a character whom we can sympathize with, and whose position we can understand. That's no small accomplishment, given how easily Louis could have been portrayed as a one-dimensional bad guy. Oliver Dimsdale's performance in the role is excellent, showing us a very human and sympathetic Louis while still taking the character further and further down the road to madness.

The only real weakness in He Knew He Was Right is the fourth (and final) episode, which doesn't match the first three episodes in terms of dramatic tension and interest. The miniseries does a fantastic job with introducing and developing the situation that the characters find themselves in, but it doesn't do as good a job of wrapping things up; the pacing feels slower and it's not quite as engrossing. Still, it's certainly a credit to the series that it kept the intensity as high as it did for the previous three hours, and even though the final episode takes it down a notch, it's still an enjoyable viewing experience, and wraps up the loose ends in a satisfying way.

The DVD

He Knew He Was Right is a two-disc set, with the first three 60-minute episodes on the first disc, and the fourth episode and special features on the second disc. Unfortunately, I can't comment on the packaging as I only got check discs to review.

Video

He Knew He Was Right appears in a pleasing anamorphic widescreen transfer, preserving the miniseries' original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The overall image quality is respectable, looking excellent in all regards, except for looking quite soft in middle- and long-distance shots.

Audio

The Dolby stereo soundtrack offers a clean, crisp rendition of dialogue, which is the mainstay of the miniseries. Other sound elements, from environmental effects to music, is handled well also, and overall the track sounds pleasing.

Extras

Viewers who enjoyed the miniseries will find the hour-long documentary "The Two Loves of Anthony Trollope" on Disc 2 to be very interesting. It's a look at the life of the author of He Knew He Was Right, focusing on (as the title indicates) his love for two different women. A set of cast biographies is also included.

Final thoughts

If you've enjoyed other film adaptations of Victorian-era novels, you'll surely enjoy He Knew He Was Right. It's a highly entertaining and polished adaptation of Anthony Trollope's novel, with an engaging plot, excellent performances from the cast, and as always, great production values. It's even in anamorphic widescreen. Highly recommended.

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