A Month in the Country (film)

A Month in the Country (film)

Infobox Film
name = A Month in the Country

image_size =
caption = Original theatrical poster, showing Colin Firth and Natasha Richardson.
director = Pat O'Connor
producer = Kenith Trodd
writer = J.L. Carr (novel)
Simon Gray (screenwriter)
narrator =
starring = Colin Firth
Kenneth Branagh
Natasha Richardson
Patrick Malahide
music = Howard Blake
cinematography = Kenneth MacMillan
editing =
distributor = Euston Films
Channel Four Films
Warner Bros
released = 27 September 1987 (USA)
runtime = 96 minutes (92 minute version extant)
country = United Kingdom
language = English
budget =
gross = $443,524 (USA) [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093562/business Box Office & Business] at the Internet Movie Database, URL accessed 8 August 2008]
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website = http://amitc.org/index.html
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0093562

"A Month in the Country" is a 1987 British film directed by Pat O'Connor. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by J. L. Carr, and stars Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, Natasha Richardson and Patrick Malahide.

Set in rural Yorkshire during the 1920s, the film follows a destitute World War I veteran employed to carry out restoration work on a Medieval mural discovered in a rural church while coming to terms with the after-effects of the war.

Shot during the summer of 1986 and featuring an original score by Howard Blake, the film has been neglected since its 1987 cinema release and it was only in 2004 that an original 35 mm film print was discovered due to the intervention of a fan.Hilary Whitney " [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml;sessionid=OPJYFF0TOTWIPQFIQMFCM5OAVCBQYJVC?xml=/arts/2005/02/21/bfbran21.xml&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=3182 How I found Branagh's lost movie] " in "The Daily Telegraph", 21/02/2005]


The film is set in the early 1920s. It follows the experiences of an artist, Tom Birkin (Colin Firth), who has been employed to carry out restoration work on a Medieval mural discovered in a church in the small rural community of Oxgodby, Yorkshire. A veteran of World War I, the escape to the idyllic countryside is cathartic for Birkin, who soon fits into the slow-paced life of the remote village. In particular, he forms a close friendship with archaeologist James Moon (Kenneth Branagh), another veteran who, like Birkin has been emotionally scarred by the war. Moon is similarly employed in the village, working to uncover a mysterious lost grave, but is more interested in discovering the remains of an earlier church building.

Birkin becomes accepted into the Ellerbeck family, dining with them on Sundays, and who eventually persuade him to preach a sermon at the Methodist chapel. Birkin also forms an emotional attachment, albeit unspoken, to Alice Keach (Natasha Richardson), the young wife of the vicar. The vicar himself (Patrick Malahide) is portrayed unsympathetically, as an obstruction to the ongoing work in the church, who dislikes the superstition still prevalent in the remote community.


"A Month in the Country" featured film debuts or early roles of several notable British actors. Although it was the third cinema feature film to cast Colin Firth, it was his first lead role. Similarly, it was Kenneth Branagh's first cinema film, and Natasha Richardson's second. Conversely, it was also the last role of David Garth, who died in May 1988. [http://amitc.org/actors/Cast.html Cast information] at amitc.org, URL accessed 31 July 2008]

*Colin Firth as Tom Birkin
*Kenneth Branagh as James Moon
*Natasha Richardson as Alice Keach
*Patrick Malahide as Reverend Keach
*Jim Carter as Ellerbeck
*Vicki Arundale as Kathy Ellerbeck
*Martin O'Neil as Edgar Ellerbeck
*Richard Vernon as Colonel Hebron
*Tim Barker as Mossop
*David Garth as Old Birkin


Initially intended to be a made-for-TV film, the film's producer Kenith Trodd upgraded his original plan to a cinema feature. [http://amitc.org/filming/filming.html Filming information] at amitc.org, URL accessed 22 July 2008] The original working title for the film was "Falling Man". [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093562/releaseinfo#akas Release info] at the Internet Movie Database, URL accessed 8 August 2008] Playwright Simon Gray was commissioned to write the screenplay, and Pat O’Connor chosen to direct. In contrast to the book, which is narrated as a recollection by Birkin as an old man, the film is set entirely in the 1920s. In initial drafts of the screenplay, Gray had included a narrator, but O'Connor felt this was not the correct way to present the story:

I felt that if I couldn’t do it in the present, suggesting internal pain by performance, then I wouldn’t really want to do it at all. [http://amitc.org/screenplay.html Screenplay] at amitc.org, URL accessed 8 August 2008]

Funding for the film was scarce, and it eventually fell to two television companies to finance the film: Euston Films (a subsidiary of Thames Television) and Channel Four Films, who had had some success with low budget features such as "My Beautiful Laundrette".

To compensate for the lack of budget, a very tight shooting schedule was planned over 28 days, during which Kenneth Branagh was only available for two weeks and was performing on-stage nightly in London. [cite book | last=Branagh | first=Kenneth | title=Beginning | year=1990 | publisher=W W Norton & Co Inc | location=New York| isbn=0393028623]

Despite being set in Yorkshire, the majority of location filming was moved to Buckinghamshire, although Levisham railway station in North Yorkshire was utilised. [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093562/locations Locations] at the Internet Movie Database, URL accessed 22 July 2008] The location shooting of the film began on August 18, 1986 at St. Mary's church in Radnage. [" [http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/287069 A Month in the Country] " at the British Film Institute, URL accessed 22 July 2008] Filming was periodically hindered by inclement weather - the perfect summer in which the book was set was not forthcoming, and scenes were filmed during breaks in heavy rain. Interiors were shot at Bray Studios in Berkshire.

The church, which is a main location for the film, was substantially set-dressed. Despite having several original medieval wall paintings, the largest addition was the creation of the medieval mural by artist Margot Noyes. To create the impression of an austere country church, Victorian stone flags were replaced with brick pavers for the duration of filming and the original wall paintings covered up. Plastic guttering and other modern additions were covered up or removed. [http://www.amitc.org/filming/Radnage.html Location filming] at amitc.org, URL accessed 6 August 2008] The churchyard had several gravestones added, including the large box tomb which is a focus of several scenes." [http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=46416 Old way of being church] " in the "Church Times", Issue 7546 - 26 October, 2007]

Several members of the local community were used as extras in the film, and local children were recruited by the director to collect butterflies to be released out-of-shot to create a "summer feeling". However there was some opposition to the disruption caused by the filming, and also problems involving unwelcome damage to a section of the interior plasterwork, which had to be restored after filming had concluded. [ [http://www.amitc.org/filming/RogerGuidery.html Location filming] at amitc.org, URL accessed 6 August 2008]


The soundtrack of the film was written by Howard Blake, and is scored entirely for string orchestra in the style of early 20th Century British music. Blake notes that the style chosen was intended to compliment and contrast recordings of classical music during particular scenes: Verdi's "Quattro Pezzi Sacri" was used during the uncovering of the mediaeval mural and a flashback montage of the First World War which opened the film utilised an excerpt from Schubert's "Mass in E flat".

Howard Blake recalls: "I went to a viewing and saw that the film was very profound, with a serious anti-war theme, but a certain amount of 'found' choral music had already been laid in by the editors...I explained that I loved the film and I thought the choral/orchestral music worked brilliantly but it was very big and rich and I felt a score would have to emerge from it and be very pure and expressive and quite small — and that I could only hear this in my head as done by strings only." [http://amitc.org/filmscore/score.html Score] at amitc.org, URL accessed 31 July 2008] Blake decided to compose his score to match the key of the Schubert "Mass", in order for the music to continue seamlessly. However, during the recording session with his orchestra, the Sinfonia of London, he found that the Schubert piece was running slow and therefore flat, and he had to ask the players to tune flat to match his intended key. [http://www.howardblake.com/music/Film-TV-Scores/608/A-MONTH-IN-THE-COUNTRY.htm Howard Blake Official Website] , URL accessed 22 July 2008]

Due to the small budget of the film, Blake agreed "in lieu of a reasonable fee" to retain the copyright to his music. The score was subsequently arranged into a suite for string orchestra, and is available on CD in a recording by the English Northern Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel. [ [http://www.howardblake.com/music/Orchestral/Overtures-Suites-etc-/679/SUITE-A-MONTH-IN-THE-COUNTRY.htm Howard Blake Official Website] , URL accessed 26 July 2008]

Reception and awards

Upon its release in 1987, the film was generally well-received by critics. Rita Kempley, writing in "The Washington Post" suggested "It's all rather Arthurian, with its chivalric hero on his spiritual quest, the atmosphere suffused, seeming to dance with once and future truths." [Rita Kempley, [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/amonthinthecountrypgkempley_a0ca2a.htm Review: A Month in the Country] in "The Washington Post", 18/3/1988] Tom Hutchinson in the "Mail on Sunday" praised "a script whose delight is in the rounded reality of its characters". Janet Maslin, writing in "The New York Times" praised O'Connor's direction, suggesting it lent the film "a strong sense of yearning, as well as a spiritual quality more apparent in the look of the film than in its dialogue." [Janet Maslin, " [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEFDB1039F93AA25751C0A96E948260 A Non-Turgenev Month in the Country] " in "The New York Times", February 19, 1988] Desmond Ryan of "The Philadelphia Inquirer" wrote "Rarely has the impossibility of love been more wrenchingly presented than in the scenes of dashed hope between Firth and Richardson. [http://amitc.org/reviews/criticvoices.html Critical reviews] at amitc.org, URL accessed 22 July 2008]

However, Nigel Andrews of the "Financial Times" found it "like a pastoral parable that has been left outside in the damp too long, causing its batteries to go flat" and following a 2008 screening, Sam Jordison of "The Guardian" suggested "even though this film is (unusually) faithful to the book...it is really little better than inoffensive. Somehow the magic that makes JL Carr's book so precious is missing." [Sam Jordison, " [http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/06/an_evening_with_a_month_in_the.html An Evening with "A Month in the Country"] " in "The Guardian", 19/06/2008]

The film was the recipient of two awards: Pat O'Connor won the Silver Rosa Camuna at the Bergamo Film Meeting in 1987 [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093562/awards Awards] at the Internet Movie Database, URL accessed 22 July 2008] and Howard Blake was awarded the Anthony Asquith Award for Musical Excellence by the British Film Institute in 1988. In addition, Colin Firth was nominated for an "Evening Standard" Award. [ [http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Cinema/1280/amitc0.html Colin Firth Career Timeline] , URL accessed 27 July 2008]

DVD Release

Following its cinema release, the film was transferred to VHS in a pan and scan edition in 1991. However, when Glyn Watkins, a poet who had been encouraged by J.L. Carr early in his career wished to screen the film to accompany the launch of a poetry book at the National Media Museum in Bradford in 2003, the museum found that all original 35mm film prints had disappeared.

Watkins, undeterred, contacted the cast's and director's agents and eventually the online fan clubs "Friends of Firth" and "Ken Friends". He discovered that the film had appeared as part of the National Film Theatre's Branagh season in May 1999 and that the film's American distributors, Warner Bros., had a print in a bonded warehouse albeit of a shorter cut running to 92 minutes. However, the rights of the film were still unclear, and it was only after several months that it was found Channel 4 still owned the rights, and the film was eventually released on limited edition Region 2 DVD in late 2004. However, the DVD is now no longer available in the United Kingdom. As of 2008, a complete 96 minute print has been located in the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles and a campaign is underway to have it restored and released on DVD. [ [http://amitc.org/TheQuest/quest.html Site objectives] at amitc.org, URL accessed 7 August 2008]


External links

*imdb title|id=0093562|title=A Month in the Country
*rotten-tomatoes|id=month_in_the_country|A Month in the Country

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