SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON
Review by Michael Jacobson
Kim Stanley, Richard Attenborough
Director: Bryan Forbes
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: September 24, 2002
be afraid. It’s just a
game…it’s just a game…”
on a Wet Afternoon is a superbly acted, smartly crafted and sumptuously photographed crime
and character drama that unfortunately falls flat at the end with a contrived
finale that frustrates.
Stanley is wonderful in her Oscar nominated role as Myra Savage, a mentally
frail but emotionally strong woman trying to make do as a psychic and a medium.
She holds a weekly séance in her home, where she (and others) believe
that she can communicate with her long dead child and find answers for people
through him. She may not really have any powers as such, until the moment
the script calls for them…in a surprising later revelation, we find out why.
good is a young Richard Attenborough as her long suffering husband, Bill.
Bill is the opposite of Myra: he’s
mentally sound, but emotionally weak. He
meekly does his wife’s bidding, even though he (and we) constantly question
the sanity of her decisions.
has come up with a grand scheme to prove her prowess as a medium.
She wants Bill to “borrow” the young daughter of a wealthy couple,
stage a full style kidnapping including a ransom demand, and then she will use
her “powers” to convey to the couple where the child and the money is.
With her celebrity secure, their future should be as well…yet these
people aren’t real criminals, by any stretch, particularly Bill.
Is the scheme really foolproof?
up her deceased child’s bedroom like a hospital room, they care for and keep
the unsuspecting child while Myra’s plan unfolds. But the girl is smarter than she looks. And Bill’s nervous state makes him an unlikely candidate to
keep a cool head when most called for.
of this is satisfying, as I mentioned, up until the final stretch.
Usually in crime dramas, particularly ones in decades past, there is a
unmentioned conscience dictating that those who commit the acts pay the price in
the end. Without giving away too
much, there seems to be some of that at play here, only it’s carried out in a
fashion that can only be described as manipulative.
Hardly a worthy conclusion to such a thoughtful exploration of character
and screenwriter Bryan Forbes uses black and white photography superbly…in
fact, the look of the film is one of its greatest pleasures.
He uses an otherwise lovely Victorian styled home to create atmosphere
out of light and shadow, and manages to even bring about suspense here and there
with a few simple strokes. But the
strength of the performances is probably the picture’s biggest asset.
Ms. Stanley and Mr. Attenborough seem to thoroughly explore their
characters, and bring out their few strengths and many weaknesses on the screen
for all to ponder. This material
would make for an excellent play, if it hasn’t been done so already.
so much to enjoy in Séance on a Wet Afternoon that I wish I could
recommend it more highly. For many,
it’s been a quiet fan and critical favorite for nearly four decades.
But for me, I enter into a thriller with a certain amount of faith that
the resolution will be worth the time and emotional investment I put forth.
This is simply an instance where that is not the case.
Vision Entertainment did a commendable job with their anamorphic transfer,
keeping all of Bryan Forbes’ remarkable visual style intact.
The black and white photography is luminous, with excellent detail, crisp
lines, clean whites and deep blacks. The
only marks against the presentation come from the print itself, which suffers
from a few spots and scratches here and there (it’s quite noticeable in the
darkest scenes). Still, some effects of aging are acceptable for a film this
old, so it earns high marks overall.
mono soundtrack offers dynamic range, but mostly by getting quieter instead of
louder. During some of the séance
scenes where the characters spoke in hushed whispers, I found myself constantly
clicking up the volume on my receiver so as not to miss any dialogue.
John Barry’s score is a plus. Overall,
the presentation is clean, with minimal noise, and is serviceable, if you crank
it up just a tad.
no medium, so I didn’t see the ending coming…had I did, I might have forgone
Séance on a Wet Afternoon, though to do so would have deprived me of a
well acted and beautifully photographed study of two fascinating characters.
Some might and have found the finale more satisfying than I…for fans of
the film, this DVD offering from HVe should be a treat.