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Title: A Month in the Country
Year: 1987
Company: Euston Films
Running Time: 96 minutes
Colin's character: Tom Birkin
Director: Pat O'Connor
Written by: Simon Gray (screenplay), J. L. Carr (novel)
Producer: Johnny Goodman and John Hambly (executive producers), Kenith Trodd (producer), Dominic Fulford (associate producer)
Cast: Kenneth Branagh (Charles Moon), Jim Carter (Mr. Ellerbeck), Patrick Malahide (Rev. Keach), Natasha Richardson (Mrs. Keach), Richard Vernon (Col. Hebron), Vicki Arundale (Kathy Ellerbeck) and Martin O'Neil (Edgar Ellerbeck)
Original music: Howard Blake
Cinematography: Kenneth MacMillan

 

Birkin arrives A Month in the Country tells the story of a young British World War I veteran whose summer spent in a small village helps him overcome the trauma he suffered during the war. Birkin, an art restorer, has been hired by the estate of a wealthy woman to uncover and restore a mural above the nave of a small village church. During his stay in the village, he meets another veteran, an archeologist hired by the same estate to find the grave of an ancestor of the dead woman. Birkin is also befriended by the local train station master and his family. His relations with the minister of the church where he is working are quite chilly, but he is clearly attracted to the minister's wife, as she is to him.
With the roses

 

 This film is a story of restoration, not just of a painting, but of a man's spirit. Based on the novel of the same name by J. L. Carr, the story provides a wonderful vehicle for Colin's talent. Birkin is a man of few words, and much of his personality and feelings are conveyed through his struggle with his twitch and stammer, after effects of the war, and through his eyes. And Colin is masterful as the troubled young man trying to come to terms with the horrors he's experienced and the wife who has left him for another man.

Watching

And the film itself is marvelous - beautifully filmed with a haunting score. The supporting performances, especially Branagh's, complement Colin's effectively. The scenes with Birkin and Moon are among the best in the film - these two actors should work together again.

Birkin & Moon


 

Natasha Richardson (Mrs. Keach) also starred with Colin in Hostages, where she played Jill Morrell, girlfriend of Colin's character, John McCarthy.

Mrs. Keach

Jim Carter has co-starred with Colin in more films than any other actor: here as Mr. Ellerbeck; in Lost Empires as Inspector Crabbe and in The Advocate (Hour of the Pig) as Mathieu, law clerk to Colin's character, Richard Courtois.

Kenneth Kitson (Mr. Sykes) also had a small role in Lost Empires as Inspector Woods.

Colin worked with director Pat O'Connor again on Circle of Friends.

Pat O'Connor directed Natasha Richardson in the US made for tv movie, Zelda, about the life of F.Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda.

The film's score won the British Film Institute's Anthony Asquith Award for Musical Excellence. A Month in the Country: A Suite for Strings, based on the score, is available on a CD of Howard Blake's music from ASV Ltd. (CD DCA 905) issued in 1994. Also on the CD are Blake's Violin Concerto "The Leeds" and his Sinfonietta for Ten Brass Instruments. The CD is available from either Amazon.com or CDNow.com.


 

 Colin has said that this role is one of the ones of which he is most proud (Tumbledown being the other). According to one writer, when asked about it, Colin gives credit to director Pat O'Connor for his performance saying, "I never had to display for him."

In an interview done when Apartment Zero was released, Colin talked about the kind of character that attracts him, comments that could easily explain why he felt strongly about Birkin:

Haunted

"Neurotics and paranoids and villains are the hunting ground for an actor. As soon as I see a character with problems - it's something to play: you get to do the walk and the twitches. You can take the hang-ups and see it to its conclusion; it's like splashing around in the mud, much more exciting than putting on a winged collar and walking around with your hands in your pockets."


 

 In an article that appeared in 1989, the author commented that "Colin Firth has a talent for playing highly-intense, often sexually-repressed, always psychologically complex individuals." Certainly an apt description of Birkin and this is one of Colin's best performances. Reviewers described his performance as "subtly effective" and "outstanding." Another review , praising the "faultless" cast, notes that Colin, Kenneth Branagh and Patrick Malahide all "have the authentic distress of men for whom words have lost all potency and ideals all purpose."

 

 Village Voice, 3/15/88

Pat O'Connor's A Month in the Country is a deceptive though not devious kind of movie experience in which almost nothing happens dramatically while a lot goes on emotionally. One is moved, occasionally even shaken to the roots of one's being, but one can never escape the feeling of being becalmed in an interlude, an intermezzo, an interruption… As it is, A Month in the Country is perhaps the only film I have ever seen to concentrate almost entirely on the process of healing, and the capacity of one human being to allow the wounds of another to repair themselves over time, in the natural course of events. In the end, the Firth character has lost his twitch and stammer, and gained an invaluable insight into his own soul. And some of us in the audience have been instructed in the ultimate niceties of compassion.

Films in Review, 8-9/88

A month in the country can mean many things to many people depending on time and place. It can be merely a period of rest that enables us to sort things out - or it can be a period of great decision, a fresh view that time and distance from our normal lives suggest. It is a frequently used device in film and literature which doesn't necessarily tarnish with use - and doesn't at all in this especially fine film… The film is beautifully paced and accurate for its time. Director Pat O'Connor captures the attitudes and feelings of the repressive era that D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce were doing their best to discredit. A Month in the Country is very British it its poetic restraint and superb acting. It is also particularly thoughtful in its suggestion that it is sometimes necessary to accept the inevitable frustration of living at any time or any place.

Los Angeles Times, 3/25/88

This subtle, intelligent British period drama is set in the Yorkshire countryside in 1919, and it follows a pivotal month in the lives of two returning World War I soldiers - both of Moon & Birkin on the tombwhom have been hired, in different capacities, to recapture the past… The inexpressible, in a way, is what the film is all about. There are buried meanings everywhere, and, like the mural, they can be uncovered only through painstaking care and sacrifice. Even then, the revelation may be opaque to many… The movie is intelligent, complex, many layered. Yet it is also a bit stiff and enigmatic. To fully enjoy it, you may have to have a taste for understatement, for this special portrayal of tightly held passion, this evocation of the crawly tensions and black fears that exist, unexpressed, just beneath the surface.

Monthly Film Bulletin, 12/87

One of the attractions of J.L. Carr's novel (published in 1980, a surprisingly recent Booker prize contender) is its economy: brief and delicate, it wastes no effort on overstatement… Playwright Simon Gray's script proves as spare and precise as its source, and the novel's intricate pattern of motives and memories is scrupulously respected. Like the book, the film is a series of inter-related disclosures, of secrets identified and understood if not altogether undisturbed: the admonitory painting, the fate of its creator, the dislocated life of its restorer, the melancholy disgrace of his fellow historian - everything has a place in the jigsaw. The unveiling process, shared by Birkin and Moon to such a degree that we might regard them as two halves of the same war-scarred personality, leads like a form of psychoanalysis to the central character's rehabilitation and placid return to the outside world from his rustic oasis.

Washington Post, 3/18/88

Moon's QuartersNothing so tranquil as A Month in the Country, in which sorrows are laid to rest like the souls in a churchyard… The search for truth is both high and low; the digging both internal and external; the revelations as plentiful as the enigmas… It's all rather Arthurian, with its chivalric hero on his spiritual quest, the atmosphere suffused, seeming to dance with one and future truths.


 

 This film is filled with so many wonderful scenes that it is almost impossible to choose a few to highlight. The scenes as Birkin works on the mural, Listeninghis comments to the church congregation as he watches a Sunday service from the belfry, his first visit from the Ellerbeck children as he works, his attempt to give a fire-and-brimstone sermon, the moment when he gently crushes a rose from Mrs. Keach in his book, his brief loss of control and exclamation of rage after visiting a young girl dying from consumption, digging with Moon for a lost grave - all are fascinating moments. But there are several scenes that stand out above the rest.

Birkin and Moon having a drink at the local pub and talking about the war. Birkin says almost nothing - he listens as Moon talks about the war. Both Colin and Kenneth Branagh are marvelous in this scene. Branagh is especially moving as he struggles to express his thoughts about what happened to them in the war:

"We'll always be different, won't we, the whole lot of us? All the millions of us that survived. If millions did. Different, I mean from the generations before us who had no idea that anything like that could ever happen. I don't know if it's worse not having something to show for it. Like a lost limb or two or blindness. I mean, people like you and me, the intact ones."

Birkin and Mrs. Keach have their first conversation. After sharing lunch with Moon, Birkin stretches out atop a tomb in the church graveyard and naps for a while. He's awakened by Mrs. Keach who quickly apologizes, "Oh, I'm sorry, did I wake you?" Birkin responds to this vision with "That depends on wh-wh-whether I'm awake." The scene, which cannot be reduced to words here, is beautifully filmed with light and shadows playing as important a role as the actors.

Relaxing

The walk through the woods. Again, Birkin and Mrs. Keach together, walking through a wooded area toward the church. The bucolic scene prompts Birkin to begin to express his feelings to Mrs. Keach, only to be interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. Both Colin and Natasha Richardson are wonderful as the sound destroys not only the moment, but Birkin's composure. As they part, Birkin notes, "Well, I suppose that's what comes of believing in paradise."

In the woods


 

 Colin's looks: ****
Colin's acting ability: *****
The film in general: *****
Ranking in the films of Colin Firth: *****
Watchability and rewind factor: *****

 

 Poets of World War I

The Great War

 World War I - PBS

Trenches On The Web

The Quince Tree Press
Publisher of the works of  J. L. Carr
This was the publishing company founded by Carr, 
which is now run by his son and daughter-in-law. 

Text written by Chris and edited by Janet. Page design and technical work by Murph. Pictures provided by Murph, Meluchie and Vicki.

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