Directed by Alan Clarke BFI (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL)
A director whose reputation has rested primarily on memories of many of his finest achievements, Alan Clarke carved quite a reputation for himself at the BBC with a decades-long string of powerful productions that transformed the way narratives were told on television. Some of his most famous works like Scum and The Firm went on to re-arings and home video releases (with the former also turned into a feature film), but for the most part his TV work has been extremely difficult to see outside of specialty screenings and the occasional retrospective. His small amount of big screen work (including Rita, Sue & Bob Too and, sort of, Made in Britain) only gave an inkling of his full powers, but fortunately that situation has been addressed with a vengeance courtesy of a mammoth effort by the BFI to bring all of his BBC productions to home video for the first time. A limited 13-disc Blu-ray set (with bonus DVDs) is the best way to go if you have the cash, since over half of these were shot on film and have been meticulously restored. However, you can also get them split into to halves (1969-1977 and 1978-1989) as DVD sets, with two of the most famous titles also available separately. All of the features come with optional English subtitles (very handy for some of the thicker accents at times) with a virtual avalanche of bonus material.
Disc one starts with the earliest surviving Clarke material from the BBC including the recently discovered George’s Room (1967), which was previously considered partially lost.
The 24-minute Half-Hour Story production (a rare color survivor from the period) stars the fetching Geraldine Moffat (in a wild '60s skirt) as a widow approached by a potential lodger (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen's John Neville) about a room for rent. She's never done this before, she claims, and talks quite a bit about her late, much older husband, George. However, their afternoon interview soon starts to take some very odd turns. Though a minor work, this is an interesting example of Clarke's fledgling technique as the story uses increasingly tight close ups until it turns into an alternating pair of tight compositions on the actors, finding relief in an ending that's sweeter than you might expect. The 16mm film elements here are in excellent shape, with a nice restoration job that brings out the interior detail far better than what anyone could've seen on TV at the time. The Last Train through Harecastle Tunnel (1969, 76 mins.) is a monochrome, shot-on-video offering from The Wednesday Play about Fowler (Richard O'Callaghan), an obsessive trainspotter looking forward to the titular train ride through a tunnel about to be closed down. His two office mates (including busy character actor Paul Brooke, seen in Lair of the White Worm and Revolution) mock him mercilessly as little better than a peeping tom, but the actual train ride puts him in touch with others who are at least as fixated and maladjusted as he is. It's interesting how this tackles the sadder side of what might be termed fan culture today, with some well-chosen music by The Kinks giving it some extra kick despite an overly protracted running time. Then it's back to color and 16mm again for Sovereign’s Company (1970, 76 mins.), a slicker production for The Wednesday Play with a very troubling look at the military training mentality among young men. Here we follow young military academy inductee Cantfield (Gareth Forwood), who comes from a long line of honorable servicemen including an intimidating grandfather noted for his time in India. However, the environment proves to be more than he bargained for, with his cowardly nature forcing him to camouflage himself -- particularly in his complex relationship with his fellow newcomers as hazing, bullying, and intimidation lead to a violent, reactionary turn of events. Extras here include a gallery of Clarke's early stage work at The Questors Theatre in Ealing, London in the mid-'60s, where he apparently caused a stir several times, and the first part of "Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light," a series of featurettes continued on all of the other discs. Running 31 minutes, this first installment lays the groundwork for his establishment as a filmmaker with Moffat, author and Clarke biographer Richard Kelly, daughter Molly Clarke, sister Norma McMinn, former partner Jane Harris, friend Grenville Middleton, writers Roy Minton and David Yallop, director Paul Greengrass, The Questors Theatre's Carla Field, producer Stella Richman, and actors Alan Chambers, Angela Pleasence, Richard O'Callaghan, and Ken Ratcliffe laying out the details from his childhood through his theatrical ventures and into his early plays for television, all united by his fondness for unusual characters with a melancholy bent.
On to disc two, the Play for Today drama The Hallelujah Handshake (1970, 75m.) dissects the social operations of a village congregation where devout faith contrasts with rowdy activity at the local pub. The opening sequence featuring parishioners' voice over thoughts during prayer (about sports, house chores, and cooking) is a taste of what's to come as a young man named Henry (Tony Calvin) enthusiastically ingratiates himself with the churchgoers, despite indications that he is not all that he appears. Even once all has been revealed at the end, it's hard to judge Henry too harshly as his outside status and loneliness are established right from the beginning, and the script by Colin Welland (a future Oscar winner for Chariots of Fire) is an incisive and fascinating piece of work that bears comparison to the more fantastical Brimstone & Treacle. The 16mm filming is solid with that somewhat pale and rough early '70s veneer, nicely recaptured here for a title only occasionally revived since its original airing. Sharing space on the same disc is the TV feature To Encourage the Others (1972, 103m.), a version of the true story later made into a theatrical feature by Peter Medak as Let Him Have It. Here the pivotal shooting of a police officer kicks off the story with the mentally disabled Derek Bentley (Charles Bolton) taking the fall for a gunshot actually fired by his 16-year-old best friend, Chris Craig (Billy Hamon). Whether Bentley understood what was going on and egged Craig on is the crux of the trial, whose outcome had a seismic impact on the British justice system. It's quite astonishing here to see how many visual cues were carried over for the Medak film, and while no one here hits the acting of Christopher Eccleston in the '91 version, all of the performers are quite solid for what amounts to more of a courtroom drama take on the material. The SD video production looks less impressive than its companion film here, but considering the material it's quite gratifying for a title that was once very difficult to see at all. An optional intro by actor and writer David Leland (a longtime Clarke collaborator) is also included, while part 2 of "Out of His Own Light" (13 mins.) has Kelly, Molly Clarke, Harris, Richman, writer David Rudkin, producer Mark Shivas, Greengrass, actor Peter Whelan, and producer David Rose giving a general overview of Clarke's interaction with actors who instinctively understood him as well as his cinematic tastes, such as a fondness for Antonioni.
Clarke goes totally gender bender next with Under the Age (1972, 31 mins.), a chamber piece made for Thirty-Minute Theater about a slow evening at a gay bar when a couple of working-class ruffians and a couple of underage girls decide to pay a visit. Paul Angelis steals the show here as bartender Susie, showing what he was capable of when he had the right material (as in the great Armchair Thriller classic, A Dog's Ransom) and even selling the truly disturbing ending, which might not fly on any TV station today. This one's shot on video but slickly produced, so even upconverted it holds up reasonably well. The 16mm TV feature Horace (1972, 91m.) on the same disc takes a quirky and compassionate look at the life of the title character (Midsomer Murders' Barry Jackson), who's developmentally disabled man who lives with his doting mother. His job at a gag gift manufacturer and seller keeps him busy, and one afternoon on break he runs into Gordon (Stephen Tantum), a young boy who keeps getting into trouble at school for his daydreaming and lack of attention. At a nearby churchyard they strike up a friendship in the storage shed, leading to a pretend game of gypsies and an escape from reality in the countryside that puts them at odds with their families and local law enforcement. The outcome is sad and realistic but thankfully not quite as tragic as it could have been, with Jackson's strong performance carrying it all the way through to the end. Part 3 of "Out of His Own Light" (9 mins.) features Yallop, Hare, Molly Clarke, Leland, Schumann, Minton, Greengrass, actor Brian Cox, Kelly, and producer Margaret Matheson generally recalling Clarke's passionate disposition and search of truth in his dramas as well as the way television captured the British way of life at the time.
Easily the most anticipated title in this set is Penda’s Fen (1974, 88m.), which is also available as standalone Blu-ray and DVD editions. Never released on video before in any format and seen only via its original broadcast and very dupey bootleg copies, this is a startling, intense fantasia orignally shown as an episode of Play for Today. Written by playwright David Rudkin, the enigmatic story revolves around adolescent Stephen (Spencer Banks), a lad who's fixated on the music of Edward Elgar (which he plays full blast in his bedroom) and becomes besieged by intense visions of pre-Christian English paganism including the ancient King Penda, with various angels and jet-black demons thrown into the mix. His vicar father offers some unorthodox viewpoints of his own as the boy struggles to determine his own identity, both spiritually and sexually. Definitely an unusual undertaking for Clarke, this strays closer to Ken Russell territory than anything else he directed and still packs a visceral punch even when you aren't entirely sure what it all means. It's a real joy seeing this filmed production in immaculate quality, looking absolutely pristine and far better than anyone has ever seen it before. The shots of the English countryside are especially striking, with magic hour lighting in particular making this a real visual showcase. It also makes it clearer how this operates as a sort of spiritual relative to Malpertuis and Dario Argento's Inferno with its ideas of ancient, potentially sinister religions and cultures lurking inside the skin of the current one. Paired up on the same disc is The Love-Girl and the Innocent (1973, 127m.), a Play of the Month production adapted from a Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn play. A very young Patrick Stewart can be seen here among a solid cast including Gabrielle Lloyd (Sleepy Hollow) and TV vet Richard Durden about a week in the lives of prisoners serving a decade-long sentence in a Stalin-created gulag in 1945. Among the many characters, the main focus is the honest Nemov (David Leland) and Lyuba (Lloyd), who strike up a tentative romance despite the fact that she has to resort to desperate measures for better living conditions. This stark and dramatic production was produced on PAL video and is bumped up here, though it actually looks quite solid for what it is. The sole extra here is part 4 of "Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light," which runs 18 minutes and features Leland, set builder Mike Hagen, Rose, Schumann, and Hare recalling both of these challenging productions with a focus on how shooting away from London providing some security from BBC oversight.
A retirement home becomes the setting for one of Clarke's shot-on-video Play for Today projects, A Follower for Emily (1974, 63m.), an unsentimental but affecting look at the bond that forms between residents Emily (Betty Woolfe) and Harry (Herbert Ramskill) and ultimately turns into marriage. That's far from the end though as the administrative routines and day-to-day social activities are thrown for a loop. This one could have easily gone for tearjerking or syrupy sweetness, but instead it goes to a more subdued and plausible place by the end with some fine performances holding the center of it together. The videotape production is pretty typical for the time with a flat, drab appearance and natural, sometimes noisy sound recording, but that's built into the source material. The following year's Diane (1975, 96m.) for BBC2 Playhouse features a stellar performance by a young Janine Duvitski as the title character, an adolescent girl who strikes up a possible romantic relationship with a fellow classmate Jimmy (Paul Copley) while bicycling one afternoon. However, she has a deeply dysfunctional relationship with her father (Frank Mills), the full extent of which only becomes evident when... well, let's not ruin things, but halfway through the narrative takes the audacious step of leaping forward three years to find how she's coping with the aftermath in a completely new environment. A very welcome audio commentary with Duvitski and Kelly goes deep into how she became an actress and worked with Clarke to elicit a searing performance (or perhaps performances?), and a brief part 5 of "Out of His Own Light" (8 mins.) continues the thread with her and Hare (who seems very irked with the state of film production these days), Rose, and Leland about the very different conditions of getting into directing and acting at the time with far less interference and money hustling.
And now we get to one of the big landmarks in Clarke's career, Scum (1977, 74m.), an unflinching look at life in a boys' correctional institution. The broadcast proved to be so controversial it was banned by the BBC, prompting Clarke to turn it into a feature film with many of the same actors, with debate continuing as to which version is the more effective. However, there's little doubt that this first TV presentation is the more extreme of the two with an overt depiction of the sexual class system that emerges and the abuse that regularly goes on inside these walls. Ray Winstone gets a fantastic role as Carlin, who climbs his way up the ladder through brute force in an effort to control his surroundings and just survive day to day. Both versions were released on US DVD by Blue Underground in a two-disc set, with the BBC one getting an audio commentary with Matheson and actors Phil Daniels and David Threlfall plus a selected scene commentary by Winstone. Here the main complete commentary is carried over, while new extras include a Leland intro from the 1991 BBC broadcast, a Tonight discussion (10 mins.) about the controversy over the banned broadcast and its illicit screening for critics, and a 46-minute episode of Arena, "When Is a Play Not a Play?" about the contrast between the normal passive nature of TV consumption and the issues-oriented, aggressive dramas like this one that were causing such a stir at the time. Clarke himself pops up for some interview footage as well, explaining how a realistic drama differs from a documentary. Also on the same disc is the thematically appropriate Funny Farm (1975, 92m.), a matter-of-fact Play for Today depiction of everyday life in a mental institution where the living conditions and treatments aren't always conducive to helping the inmates recover. With its SD video lensing and more traditional stagey execution, this plays more like a '70s updating of the Vincente Minnelli film The Cobweb than the confrontational masterpiece on the same disc; however, there's some meaty material here as we get to know all of the older patients and feel sympathy for their plight with little chance of getting outside again. Part 6 of "Out of His Own Light" (25 mins.) has Kelly, Minton, Shivas, Matheson, Winstone, Daniels, Yallop, and Middleton covering the intense, sometimes grueling production of both titles and the catastrophic end result for the BBC that forced an even angrier Clarke to switch to the big screen.
The greatest rarity among the Blu-ray titles has got to be Clarke's documentary Bukovsky (1977, 50 mins), shot for the BBC but never broadcast. Interview footage with the famous Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky who became a noted spokesperson against USSR human rights violations after he was sent to the West in 1976. His years of confinement and abusive psychiatric treatments are just a small piece of the puzzle here as he tries to explore the ins and outs of his remarkable story including chunks of information he still hasn't worked out to form a complete picture. It's not the most flattering portrait of any particular government, with other Russian defectors offering their own takes on the injustices taking place. The only film element in existence is in less than ideal condition, but the fact that it exists at all to this day is rather remarkable. (Apparently the original soundtrack was entirely lost until just before this release.) On top of that there's a hefty helping of extras including 50 minutes of B&W interview and organized speech outtakes (as much as the film itself!), a thorough Dunn-moderated commentary with Jehane Markham (daughter of actor and interviewer/historian David) and cameraman Grenville Middleton, a 20-minute David Markham/Clarke interview about the definitions of dissent and its importance in society, and a gallery of Clarke’s correspondence with the Markhams. Also on the disc is the Play for Today production Nina (1978, 75m.), a showcase for the wonderful actress Eleanor Bron (Bedazzled, Two for the Road) as the titular doctor who's ordered to keep dissident patients under control with excessive, unnecessary medication. She ends up falling for one of them, Yuri (Jack Shepherd), and together they go to the West with her leaving behind her son -- temporarily, she believes. Their attempts to speak out about the Soviet conditions are complicated when their own relationship takes a suffocating turn, mirroring all too closely real life events witnessed by Jehane Markham (who wrote the screenplay). The filmed production looks low budget, not surprisingly, but the transfer features a sterling HD presentation of its original look, rough grain and all. Part 7 of "Out of His Own Light" (18 mins.) brings together Kelly, Leland, director Stephen Frears, Middleton, Jehane Markham, Hare, Minton, actor Phil Davis, and Daniels, going into more depth about David Markham's efforts to get Bukovsky out and the ways Clarke used his skills and influence to tell both of these stories.
A major change of pace (at least in visual terms) comes with Danton’s Death (1978, 94m.), a Play of the Month depicting the trial of Georges Danton, a pivotal figure in the French Revolution who famously attempted to undo the tyranny that eventually consumed the country and was executed when he was perceived as being too soft on their enemies. (His life was later filmed in 1983 by Andrzej Wajda as Danton.) Adapted from a play by Georg Büchner, it's a somewhat didactic piece that doesn't quite gel with the Clarke approach; however, it's enjoyable seeing a unique cast all in one place with TV regular Norman Rodway as Danton getting completely overshadowed by the great Ian Richardson as the venomous Robespierre. Also on hand are later Hammer actor Shane Briant and even Rocky Horror's Dr. Everett Scott himself, Jonathan Adams! Shot on video and upscaled here, this is one of the rougher looking presentations here mainly due to the fact that it's largely shot in low lighting with the usual video noise and smeariness that comes as a result. It's still quite good overall, but don't expect anything above DVD quality. Lensed in 16mm and much more elegant looking is Beloved Enemy (1981, 68m.) a Play for Today drama about the political push and pull that ensues when a British automotive corporate head (Graham Crowden) and his strongarm Blake (Tony Doyle) try to get a foothold in the USSR, represented by Kozlov (Beverly Hills Cop's Steven Berkoff). The sometimes vicious quid pro quo raises the stakes higher than expected when laser weapons become bargaining chips, a clear allegory for the dangerous Cold War games being played out for real on the news at the time. This one's also very chatty and static, but it really takes off once Berkoff shows up and injects some welcome wild card energy into the proceedings. Sadly, the depiction of corporate-political chicanery looks downright quaint these days, which gives the film more of a nostalgic air than what was probably intended. Part 8 of "Out of His Own Light" (19 mins.) features designer Stuart Walker, Leland, editor Tariq Anwar, and writer Jehane Markham discussing both productions, with a focus on how tightly Clarke adhered to the text in both cases while encouraging experimentation among the crew.
Things get more stylized with the Play for Today piece Psy-Warriors (1981), complete with stark, glowing white rooms with cages as the backdrop for a sort of abstract look at soldiers captured and imprisoned by powers that be. Three of the captives are relentlessly interrogated and mistreated about what seems to be a terrorist attack, though we soon find out, nothing is remotely as it seems. The double twist story is best experienced unspoiled, but this is a fascinating look at mind control and politicized conditioning with more than a few echoes of what the CIA is now known to have been conducting years before this was shot. It's not an easy watch (including some protracted humiliation nudity that would never fly on American TV), but the execution works without a hitch. This one's an SD video production and definitely looks it, as does the companion TV feature on the same disc, Baal (1982, 63m.), an audacious Bertold Brecht adaptation starring none other than the late David Bowie as the titular musician and poet. Arcane wordplay and jokes are interspersed at a swanky party as Baal, looking debauched and disheveled from the outset, seems ready to shuffle off this mortal coil after indulging in every manner of indulgence. Veteran actress Zoë Wanamaker also has one of the more prominent roles here (way before she appeared on Poirot), but this is really Bowie's show all the way, complete with bizarre split-screen musical intervals at random points. How on earth this has never been released in any video format until now is anyone's guess (nor has it apparently aired on TV again), but thankfully we have it now. Unlike the other Blu-rays there's no SD content here, so you're just as well off with the DVD. Part 9 of "Out of His Own Light" (19 mins.) goes deeper in two of Clarke's more difficult and challenging productions, with Leland, Schumann, and playwright Simon Stephens dissecting what amount to two very "oppositional" but rewarding dramatic experiments.
Clarke's mid-'80s work comes next with an odd but effective pairing. Stars of the Roller State Disco (1984, 72m.) is essentially a more grounded, kitchen sink response to the roller disco teen films earlier in the decade. Here some teenagers are coming out of school and about to enter the job force, only to find that the basic training courses being offered for jobs like demolition aren't enough to secure an actual position that will get them by. The twist here is that unemployed kids spend all their time in a skating rink run by the state where they hear job announcements and have to report to an officer on a screen about their qualifications and willingness to relocate. Unrest, bullying, and class consciousness emerge in the graffiti-strewn building, setting up a strange but fascinating social critique of Thatcher-era strife (complete with great vintage arcade games and barely heard pop tunes) that also sets the stage of Clarke's later 1987 surreal pool hall musical, Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire. Extra points for the grim and memorably bloody final scene, about as pointed a statement as you can get. This is another video production upscaled for the Blu-ray, but the source material is in great shape and it looks about as good as SD can get. Then we hit the following year's Contact (1985, 66m.), a dramatic war story for Screen Two about five British paratrooper soldiers traversing the countryside in Northern Ireland. Based on a novel by AFN Clarke (no relation), it's a tense and tight drama running just over an hour with a strong central performance by Sean Chapman, who would soon go on to play the evil Uncle Frank in Hellraiser. The 16mm film production has been beautifully transferred with its original gritty but colorful textures intact, and it's astonishing that this one hasn't had a video release of any kind until now. The film can also be played with an optional Leland intro (recorded for a Clarke BBC retrospective), an in-depth audio commentary by Chapman and Allan Bairstow, or a 22-minute video interview with AFN Clarke about his work on the film after being recruited to adapt it in a restaurant. Part 10 of "Out of His Own Light" (12 mins.) is one of the strongest with actor Gary Oldman, Greengrass, Hare, Leland, Frears, Schumann, Kelly, Matheson, and Chapman covering Clarke's organic camerawork and the specific challenges of mounting Control without many of the normal conventions of narrative film.
The ScreenPlay production Christine (1987, 51m.), written by Clarke and Arthur Ellis, offers a particularly unsettling look at a day in the life of the title character (Vicky Murdock), a drug addict seen early on in a startling extended take walking into her sister's house while carrying a plastic bag and sipping a Coke. As cartoons play on TV, she pulls out a cookie tin packed with money and heroin gear, the tools she uses to first shoot up and then ply her trade at neighbors' houses. Incredibly grim stuff, this may be hard to take for some viewers with its many scenes of young kids injecting themselves over and over, while the long takes and minimal dialogue (not to mention lack of music score apart from a simple music box ditty) make this a very memorable day in domestic hell. The 16mm film looks true to the source here with a sharp, accurate transfer that preserves the eerie, bleached-out afternoon sunlight in all its dreary intensity, and the film can also be played with an informative new audio commentary with frequent Clarke first assistant director Corin Campbell Hill, moderated by the BFI's Sam Dunn. A denser slate of extras can be found on the same disc for Road (1987, 62m.), a lighter and more profane look at addiction (also made for ScreenPlay) with alcoholic Scullery (Edward Tudor-Pole) guiding a cast of unemployed characters who address the camera on what amounts to a long pub crawl. Originally intended to be produced on sets, the film was instead moved to real locations with elaborate Steadicam work capturing an intense, raucous air that makes this a major highlight of the set. A young David Thewlis, Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous), and Lesley Sharp are some of the familiar faces here, all of them excellent, and the use of vintage songs is potent as well with Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" making a nice climactic centerpiece before The Commitments revived it more widely four years later. Hill and Dunn return for an excellent commentary with production designer Stuart Walker, while another Leland TV intro is included along with a 1987 "Open Air" BBC One discussion (26 mins.) about the profuse viewer response to the airing, a 2-minute deleted scene, and a gallery of Clarke on location. Part 11 of "Out of His Own Light" (22 mins.) features a great chat with Murdock about her controversial role and the injection scenes (which were intended to be more realistic than Christiane F.), with additional comments by Hill and Road stories from Anwar, Schumann, Sharpe, Davis, and cameraman John Ward.
Now we hit perhaps Clarke's biggest title and the one most commonly available on home video, The Firm (1989), featuring a tremendous leading performance by Gary Oldman as the head of a gang of football hooligans (or, if you're in the US, thug soccer fanatics). The Screen Two production was broadcast at 67 minutes, the version released on DVD by Blue Underground in 2004. However, Clarke's original cut run a bit over a minute longer, and both are included here (the latter from Clark's personal print, the only one in existence apparently). The entire editing scheme is actually different with Clarke's cut commencing with the "That's Amore" montage instead of showing Oldman doing his day job, so be prepared for a somewhat alternate viewing experience. The major difference is a pretty astonishing scene at home with Lesley Manville that appears to be a nonconsensual sexual attack... or is it? A real estate agent and amateur footballer by day, Bex (Oldman) leads an unruly gang of lads prone to spraying graffiti, vandalizing cars, and getting into scuffles. The new HD transfer is significantly better than the one on the DVD, with the superior broadcast master apparently subbed in for most of the director's cut except for the slivers of exclusive footage (which drop down at notch or two in quality). Extras include an audio commentary with Oldman for the director's cut (quiet but intelligent and informative, with great recall for almost all of the actors and locations) and Manville, Davis, David Rolinson, and Dick Fiddy for the broadcast version, recalling the sometimes overwhelming nature of the production as it called for escalating violence and chaos from the cast. As with the prior DVD, the second feature here is Elephant (1989, 37 mins.), a brutal and immaculately filmed depiction of a string of violent killings in Northern Ireland. Shot in long Steadicam takes (like its co-feature), this is both a violent statement about the social conditions at the time and a haunting artistic experience that inspired Gus Van Sant to mount a 2003 feature using the same basic idea with high school students. A commentary with director Danny Boyle (who produced the film) and Mark Kermode is carried over from the DVD, shedding some light about "the Troubles" and how the film was meant to restore some shock value to what was becoming numbing news fodder. The same ideas are also explored in a 1989 BBC Open Air special (21 mins.) about the film with Clarke phoning in an interview about his intentions for the shocking broadcast, which motivated hundreds of emotional phone calls. Also included is a 1989 Alan Clarke interview (10 mins.) about Elephant, conducted at a busy street corner in Los Angeles of all places. Finally, Part 12 of Out of His Own Light" (36 mins.) serves as a sort of epitaph for Clarke with Frears, Rudkin, Kelly, Molly Clarke, Ward, Leland, Chapman, Cox, Schumann, Greengrass, Oldman, Manville, and others ruminating on his final two projects before he died on cancer the following year. Manville in particular gets an interesting moment about how her most memorable scene ended up being cut, so be sure to watch the director's cut before you see this. Both projects are regarded as quite radical for their time, and it's no wonder they still continue to provoke shocked reactions and much discussion.
If that weren't enough, you also get a bonus disc comprising the rest of Clarke's existing work for Half-Hour Story. Shelter (1967), a sexually-charged two hander between Colin Blakely and Wendy Craig, takes place in a greenhouse as two strangers taking shelter from a thunderstorm open up to each other in unexpected ways. In The Gentleman Caller (1967), two crude, low class brothers (Mike Pratt and Tony Selby) come up with a plan to con a visiting benefits inspector (George Cole) who wants to find out whether they're qualified for public assistance. Goodnight Albert (1968) focuses on a whiny loser named, yep, Albert (Victor Henry) who begrudgingly takes care of his grandmother (Gwen Nelson) but longs for a life of his own... perhaps not in his own best interests. Weirdly, this one has a macabre little ending that echoes a similar scene in Mario Bava's The Evil Eye of all things. Moffat makes a return appearance in Stella (1968) as a frustrated young chain smoker stuck in a dead-end relationship after two years. When she tries to break it off, her boyfriend (Ray Smith) doesn't take it well. The Fifty-Seventh Saturday (1968) is another two-person drama about Mavie (Frances White) and married McCarthy (Ronald Fraser), whose May-December relationship suffers some speed bumps due to scheduling - and culinary - issues, with a twist ending waiting at the end. Finally, Thief (1968) charts the tricky rapport between a swarthy professional thief (Alan Lake) and a mysterious, elegant divorcee (Siân Phillips) who has plans to give him a special, unforgettable evening. All are taken from the only existing copies, mostly B&W kinescopes or, in the case of the last episode, an okay VHS source; as with the other discs, optional English subtitles are included. Though not available for review with the discs, the finished Blu-ray box also comes with a 200-page book with profuse essays on every title (even the bonus DVD ones) plus a foreward by Molly Clarke and an intro by Danny Leigh, with the other writers including Nick Wrigley, Lisa Kerrigan, Alex Davidson, Richard Kelly, David Rolinson, Mark Duguid, Kaleem Aftab, Lizzie Francke, Ashley Clark, Sam Dunn, and Allan Bairstow, all of them very insightful readings that will make you go back to revisit these twice. Needless to say, this ambitious undertaking may be the BFI's crowning achievement to date in the digital format, which means it comes with the highest recommendation possible.