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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Daphne Laureola
Daphne Laureola
HBO // Unrated // June 17, 2003
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted August 12, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Daphne Laureola is an excellent example of why "theatrical" and "film" productions aren't interchangeable; it has been brought to the screen very much as a "filmed play" rather than a film adaptation of a play, and it shows. This made-for-TV story of a young man's fascination with a middle-aged woman, the "Daphne" to his "Apollo," attempts to get us interested in the emotional lives of the young Ernst (Clive Arrindell) , the erratic Lady Pitts (Joan Plowright), her resigned husband Sir Joseph (Laurence Olivier), and a handful of lookers-on, but the story never gets off the ground.

Many elements that would seem natural in the theater ring false notes here. The dialogue, for instance, has an exaggeratedly dramatic quality that's certainly not realistic, and the performances from all the characters, whether in major roles or in small parts, all seem a little forced, as if they are "projecting" their characters rather than living them. These are both tendencies that work in theater: with the more limited, often more abstract world of the theater set, the dialogue can be less naturalistic; we accept that poetic expression can take precedence over pure realism.

Similarly, over-dramatizing the performances themselves is somewhat of a necessity in a theater performance, simply because a gesture, a tone of voice, or a facial expression has to be exaggerated at least a little in order to be noticed by the audience. In contrast with the arms'-length distance of theater, the film camera brings the audience right into the drama, as if the theater seats were actually on the stage: here, subtlety of facial expression and tone can be picked up, and exaggeration suddenly becomes obtrusive rather than effective.

The film also sticks closely to the limitations of time and space of a theater set, with its four acts each limited to a single location (the restaurant, the house, the garden, and the restaurant again) and taking place in "real time" with any jumps in time occurring between acts. The result is that the emotional buildup that we need to see just isn't there: Ernst's fascination with Lady Pitts, expressed largely in monologues to her and later her husband, seems abstract and sterile, an intellectual exercise rather than a real emotional response. Given the film's attempt to reach an emotional peak in the final act, I think we're intended to really appreciate the feelings and personalities of the characters, but instead of showing us how they develop, they're handed to us on a platter, and it doesn't work.

Daphne Laureola is a story that tries to address deep human concerns about relationships between men and women, but it ends up feeling shallow and inconsequential. The awkward combination of a realistic presentation with highly theatrical dialogue, pacing, and staging is enough to make the film fall flat; on top of that, the acting isn't particularly convincing, and the story is uncompelling as well.

The DVD

Video

Daphne Laureola is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Some aspects of the transfer are reasonably satisfactory; the clarity of the image is good, and there is little noise. However, other problems crop up. Print flaws appear periodically throughout the film, and especially toward the end we get frequent horizontal distortions of the image, as if the DVD were being transferred from an ailing VHS copy. The color quality is uneven; while the darker colors (reds, browns) are fairly natural-looking, some of the other colors are either drab (as with the green colors in the garden) or excessively bright with occasional bleeding.

Audio

The film's mono soundtrack is basic but it gets the job done: with its highly theatrical setup, Daphne Laureola is an entirely dialogue-based film. The dialogue is always clear, though of course it's fairly flat-sounding, and the sound as a whole is clean and free of distortion.

Extras

Text biographies of the main members of the cast are provided.

Final thoughts

In 1949,  the original stage version of Daphne Laureola was popular and award-winning, but this 1977 film version of it doesn't capture whatever charm may have graced the original. I recommend that viewers skip this uninspired DVD release.

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