Written and directed by Alan Rickman, "The Winter Guest" is a small, subtle and often quite lovely 1997 feature about a series of characters living in a small, cold little Scotish town. There really isn't much of a narrative to be found, as the picture is quite satisfied to simply stand back and observe the events of a variety of characters trying to deal with different events in their lives, while also trying to keep from freezing. There's been a lot of Winter movies, but here's one that just makes you feel cold watching it.
The different characters include Elspeth (Phylida Law) and recently-widowed daughter, Frances (Emma Thompson). The two have a relationship that could easily be called difficult, despite the fact that the two obviously love one another. The two are fiercely independent, and can't seem to pull down their front long enough to admit that they need each other's care and love. The two actresses are absolutely expert in their performances, and the way that the two slowly break down and open up to one another is very subtle, and yet very emotional and often heartbreaking. The two are actually mother and daughter in real life, and they are terrific together on-screen.
The other stories include couple of older women - Lily (Sheila Reid) and Chloe (Sandra Voe) - who find themselves going to the latest funeral, and find their friendship even further cemented as they go further into old age. There's also a couple of young kids (played by Douglas Murphy and Sean Biggerstaff) who decide to take the day off of school to have an adventure by the beach and a couple of teens (Gary Hollywood and Arlene Cockburn) who fall for one another, but things happen so quickly that they find themselves trying to figure things out as they go.
The movie is soft, and largely quiet, with crisp, cold (and quite beautiful) cinematography and deliberate pacing. However, I didn't find the movie slow or tedious, as the acting was mostly excellent, and the details of daily life seemed well-observed and compelling. Overall, this is not an exceptional picture in every regard, but I felt it was an enjoyable and well-acted one.
VIDEO: Image Entertainment presents "The Winter Guest" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally good, if rather inconsistent. The film appears to be shot with natural, cold light and, as a result, can sometimes seem a little washed-out looking. Sharpness and detail are mostly very good, although there are some low-lit scenes that appear a bit soft.
The picture is mostly clear and free of concerns, although some very slight shimmering appeared in a couple of scenes. No edge enhancement, pixelation or print flaws were spotted, and colors remained quite subdued, due to the location/environment.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, although there really seems to be no need for it. Michael Kamen's terrific score is nicely spread across the front speakers, and dialogue is rooted in the center speaker. Surrounds really don't have much to do, nor are they needed for this dialogue-driven picture.
EXTRAS: Interviews with Alan Rickman, Philida Law and Emma Thompson, some brief behind-the-scenes footage and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Winter Guest" is a small, superbly acted character study. Despite being a quiet, subtle picture, I didn't find it emotionally cold or dull. Image Entertainment's DVD presentation is fine, with mostly crisp images, clear audio and a couple of supplements. A recommended rental.