"Surely you don't object to meeting me as man to man. Haven't I always treated you as a human being?"
"Most certainly not, my lord! Your treatment of me has always been as it should be."
"Well, that's enough. This afternoon at 4 o'clock, you will be my equal. I'll soon show you whether you're my equal or not!"
"You do as you're told!"
It doesn't go well.
Loam's friends and colleagues are incensed. His staff can't help but feel awkward and embarrassed. And to dig the needles in just a bit further, a phone call in the middle of all this tumult reveals that one of his daughters is in the clink for whomping a bobby on the head during a suffragette rally.
"My daughter arrested as a suffragette! That's what comes of all this damned equality!"
Only two things can air out the stench of this humiliation: time and distance. Whatever you're picturing right now, farther. No, even farther than that, I'm afraid. At least Lord Loam – with his three daughters, a couple of potential sons-in-law, and more servants than he could possibly count – can do his many months of penance in luxury, aboard his palatial yacht. This is around the time I suck in a lungful of air in preparation of a heaving sigh.
The good news is that no casualties were suffered. Everyone made it safely to the lifeboats, and, in keeping with decorum, the staff depart in their boat, while the upper crust carries off in theirs. Okay, there are a couple of interlopers, as head butler Crichton (Kenneth More) mounts a daring rescue of Eliza (Diane Cilento)...errr, or Tweeny, as you might know her. Their presence is wholly improper, but it's not as if these British gentlemen are going to leave the two of them to drown (well, maybe). It's a decidedly temporary inconvenience anyway, as they'll surely be rescued any minute now. Any minute now. Aaaaaaany minute now.
Try to picture Gilligan's Island with a whole lotta Howells. Despite being stranded on an uninhabited island in the absolute middle of nowhere, untold hundreds of miles from wherever any potential rescuers would ever think to look for them, the upper crust is more concerned with the lack of table linens than food or shelter. Accustomed to having their every whim catered to, they're not so much the survivalist types, but hey, Crichton will take care of it: still clad in a tuxedo and still treated like one of the help. But as it becomes clearer that they're going to be here a long while and will...y'know, die if things remain as they are, Crichton can't exactly allow the status quo to keep chugging along.
There's so much more to The Admirable Crichton's social satire than "upstairs bad, downstairs good". It's immediately established that there's a pecking order even among the help, with Crichton reigning not entirely sympathetically at the very top. While roles are certainly reversed on the island, the film doesn't argue against social hierarchies altogether. Societies require structure. Structure requires leadership. And, y'know, rank doth have its privileges. A lesser movie would have Crichton ascending as Lord of this nameless isle, devolving into the sort of useless aristocrat he and his family have long served, learning a valuable lesson afterwards about cooperation and friendship. The Admirable Crichton instead portrays this little slice of utopia as a meritocracy, where those in charge have earned their positions rather than by wealth or by birthright. Everyone cooperates for the greater good – at first because they have to, and later because they want to. Their only half-assed effort, once the castaways settle into their new reality, is in constructing a boat to leave it. There's plenty that they miss about London, but that doesn't mean they're prepared to abandon paradise.
And, as part of the audience, I wasn't ready for them to depart either. It's a breath of fresh air that The Admirable Crichton shrugs off so many of the usual storytelling conventions. No threat – internal or external, natural or all-too-human – threatens to destroy the society they've built from the ground up. The closest thing to drama revolves around which men are in a position to court which women, and even then it's devoid of any jealousy or enmity. If there could've been another half hour of just hanging out on the island, continuing to pal around with the castaways and marveling at how they've cleverly reconstructed modern conveniences (or, well, their equivalents circa 1905) with seashells and coconuts, I'd have been in heaven.
The Admirable Crichton is more British than a Dalek singing "She Loves You" in between gulps of Ribena in Piccadilly Circus, and, for my money, that's very much a check in the 'Win' column. It's wonderfully cast, particularly Kenneth More in as the titular butler, exhibiting a warmth, strength, resolve, and duty that I'd struggle to imagine much of anyone else conveying nearly so effectively. I stand in awe of how sleek and efficient the film is. The opening sequence conveys without a word of dialogue how insufferably perfect duties are expected be carried out at Loam Hall, complete with a newspaper warmed by the stove. I didn't even know that was a thing! The pacing breezes along effortlessly. Never once did I feel as if I was being guided towards an inevitable, precalculated destination, wielding a remarkable capacity to surprise. Its distinctively British wit constantly had me in stitches. Take this exchange between Lord Loam, who's asking one of the help about his wife, only his hard-of-hearing gardener thinks he's talking about an orchid instead:
"Ah, Lovegrove. How are all your family?"
"Ah! Same to you, my lord."
"And how's your wife? Blooming?"
"Blooming? First thing this morning. Opened out a fair treat, she did."
"Bright purple with deep yellow spots, she is."
"Of course, she won't last. No, she'll be dead by Monday."
No shortage of laughs are supplied by The Admirable Crichton's sly, smirking sexuality and seemingly endless parade of sight gags as well. At the same time, there is a meaningful message underneath it all. Its sense of humor doesn't deflate the film's more emotionally wrenching moments, which repeatedly hit like a slug to the gut as the end draws near. I'm not sure how closely the ending matches with what J.M. Barrie penned more than a century ago – shortly before staging the first performance of Peter Pan, even! – but it's the finalé that this story deserves rather than the tidy crowd-pleaser I'd expect.
I'll confess to having known next to nothing about The Admirable Crichton before setting out to write this review, and I am head over heels in love with it. The film, I mean, not my review. It's little wonder that The Admirable Crichton proved to be such a runaway success at the British box office, skillfully managing to be clever, ridiculous, incisive, insightful, and surprising without any one of those elements diminishing another. If you're unfortunate enough to, like me, have never stood witness to The Admirable Crichton's many charms before, Twilight Time has assembled a terrific Blu-ray release that serves as a perfect introduction. Longtime admirers have just as much to look forward to, as this marks what appears to be the film's worldwide debut in high definition, and its remarkable presentation proves to be well worth the wait. Very Highly Recommended.
I haven't come across any notes detailing the specifics of this remaster: what elements were used, when it was scanned, at what resolution, and on and on. But given how consistently marvelous Twilight Time's collaborations with Sony have been, it shouldn't come as any surprise that The Admirable Crichton – presented under its American release title of Paradise Lagoon – looks spectacular as well.
Some dodgy opticals and a few scattered, soft shots aside, the 1.66:1 image is wonderfully crisp and overflowing with fine detail. I appreciate the contrast between stately Loam Hall and the hopelessly remote island. It looks at first glance as if the Loam family inhabits a painting; I was so convinced I was looking at a flat background that I was rather astonished to see people descend from the stairs:
Inside Loam Hall, the palette is warm and lovely but in somewhat of a regal, tastefully understated way. The island, however, is far more arresting – so brilliant and vivid that it's little wonder that the castaways are reluctant to leave:
Cinematographer Wilkie Cooper's seasoned eyes ensure that it's deeply felt that this is indeed an altogether different world. Though not "photographed in Technicolor" as the flipside of the case notes – hailing from the other end of the 1950s, 'color by Technicolor' does not refer to the original photography – its hues are so dazzling that it's an easy assumption to make.
Sony's remaster is, as ever, immaculate, showing no signs whatsoever of wear or damage. Upon close inspection, the AVC encode struggles a bit with the fine, filmic texture:
...but I can't say that I noticed anything like that from a traditional viewing distance. Bitstarving certainly isn't to blame; Twilight Time found this release worth the added expense of a BD-50 disc, even though The Admirable Crichton and its extras just barely inch over onto that second layer. That refusal to compromise a presentation is always heartening to see.
I'm beyond thrilled with what Twilight Time and Sony have delivered here. I fell so hard for The Admirable Crichton that I'd have enthusiastically recommended a Blu-ray release even if the presentation had been middling, but that it looks this stunning...? I can't fathom passing this up.
I'm every bit as impressed by The Admirable Crichton's lossless audio, presented here in 24-bit, two-channel mono. Every line of dialogue is clean, clear, and readily discerned – essential for a film in which wit is such a primary selling point. Every element in the mix sounds outstanding, really, and its effects, dialogue, and the score are balanced perfectly. The destructive storm is bolstered by some substantial heft in the lower frequencies as well. As with the visual end of things, there really aren't even any minor concerns to grouse or groan about: no intrusive background noise, no dropouts, and not so much as a flicker of clipping or distortion. Every bit as terrific as I'd hoped to hear.
A set of optional English (SDH) subtitles is also included, as is the isolated score (plus effects!) that you've come to know and love from Twilight Time.
Tucked inside the case is a brief but engaging appreciation by Julie Kirgo.
The Final Word
Smart, silly, sweet, witty, bawdy, and more substantive than you might think, The Admirable Crichton easily ranks among my favorite Twilight Time releases to date. It doesn't hurt that this adaptation of J. M. Barrie's play is so inexorably British that it's catnip for the Anglophiles in our home. As far as I can tell, this stunning release is the only way to experience The Admirable Crichton in high definition; it's not on any of the main streaming or VOD services, and this appears to be its first appearance on Blu-ray the world over. Highly Recommended.