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