Color, 1972, 106 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Peter Medak
Starring Alan Bates, Janet Suzman, Peter Bowles, Sheila Gish, Joan Hickson, Murray Melvin
Indicator (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Sony (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Sony (DVD) (UK R2 PAL)

No A Day in the Death of Joe Eggdirector in A Day in the Death of Joe EggBritish cinema has a career quite like Hungarian-born Peter Medak, who made a modest but intriguing debut in 1968 with the Glenda Jackson drama Negatives and followed it up with this seriocomic take on a smash 1967 play by Peter Nichols (The National Health). The film was shot in 1970 but ended up being released the same year Medak would unleash the cult favorite The Ruling Class, but his subsequent path would prove just as wild as he swerved among titles as diverse as The Changeling, Romeo Is Bleeding, The Krays, and Species II, not to mention a couple of episodes of Hannibal.

On paper, the subject here seems dreary and potentially tasteless as it captures the everyday life of a British couple coping with the challenge of raising a daughter with brain damage so severe she can't communicate or comprehend her surroundings. The couple in question consists of schoolteacher Bri (Alan Bates, still on a hot streak after Ken Russell's Women in Love and Joseph Losey's The Go-Between) and Sheila (theater legend Janet Suzman, fresh off of the theatrical release of Nicholas and Alexandra, which was actually shot after this delayed 1970 production, and future star of Peter Greenaway's A Day in the Death of Joe EggThe Draughtsman's Contract), A Day in the Death of Joe Eggwho use irreverent humor and one-sided conversations as coping mechanisms. They don't really agree on the long-term outcome, however, with Sheila hoping for an eventual miracle as her husband thinks the situation will never improve and could require commitment to a medical facility. Their friends and family also affect how they relate to their situation, with fantasy sequences and their own up and down sex life also having an effect on where they see themselves heading.

More of a character sketch and an actors' showcase than a traditional film narrative, this is a meaty example of early '70s British cinema with both leads in fine form (despite the occasional tendency to let the stellar Bates lapse into some acting mannerisms). It's also a treat to spot faces in the supporting cast, including a young(er) Joan Hickson before she went on to become TV's best Miss Marple a decade later and Ken Russell regular Murray Melvin just after his one-two punch in The Devils and The Boy Friend.

A Day in the Death A Day in the Death of Joe Eggof Joe Egg received a reasonable theatrical release from Columbia Pictures but didn't seem to find the wider reception given to the play, which was later A Day in the Death of Joe Eggadapted for television again years later with Eddie Izzard. It became something of a TV and VHS perennial in the '80s and first hit DVD in the U.K. from an okay older master, followed with an MOD DVD in the U.S. from an HD remaster commissioned by Sony. However, both can be discarded in light of the 2017 dual-format release, which looks terrific with that vibrant, colorful look familiar from early '70s Columbia transfers; it looks natural and very impressive throughout, especially the detailed interior scenes which feature quite a bit of depth. The LPCM English mono audio (with optional English subtitles) is also in prime condition.

Medak appears for a detailed, interesting audio commentary moderated by Sam Dunn (a guiding light behind the BFI's stellar Flipside series) that covers his British filmmaking career in just as much depth as this particular film, with quite a bit of detail about his filmmaking approach and the challenges A Day in the Death of Joe Eggof adapting very familiar stage source material. "From Stage to Screen: Peter Nichols on Joe Egg" (19:43) features the playwright discussing how he managed to A Day in the Death of Joe Eggwring an unlikely comedy out of his own real experience with a brain-damaged child who lived for 11 years, which led to a smash hit play with Albert Finney taking it to Broadway for three months. Interestingly, he has substantial issues with the more "sentimental" approach of the film and feels it's too handled too dramatically. A very cheerful Suzman also appears for "Remembering the Day" (17m29s), in which she has a far more positive appraisal of the film itself and, along with noting its non-PC approach by today's standards, explores how she tackled one of the challenging portrayals in her career. The theatrical trailer is also included, while the thick liner notes booklet is another Indicator work of art (albeit with a misprinted second page, but you can get a free replacement from the label), packed with a Marcus Hearn essay, an additional recollection on the film by Nichols, and an overview of the original acclaimed version mounted by Citizens Theatre.

Reviewed on September 4, 2017.