After becoming enchanted by a young exotic dancer, Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley), an English doctor (John Hurt) invites her to live with him. Through his contacts and parties she and her friend (Bridget Fonda) meet and begin to date various members of the ruling Conservative Party.
When Christine’s affair with the Secretary of State for War John Profumo (Ian McKellen) goes public, scandal tears through the government and threatens the lifestyles and freedom of those involved. From producer Stephen Woolley and director Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy, Our Ladies) this extras laden special edition is newly restored from original film materials.
BFI presents Michael Caton-Jones’ Scandal on Blu-ray, delivering the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
The opening credits were a little worrying upon throwing this in. The credits feature a montage of archival footage from the time the film takes place, but it looks to be an upscale of a standard-definition source: it can have a digital, pixilated look at times, and the credits themselves have more of a home video look. Considering the film was made in 1988 it was safe to assume the footage should not come from a digital source. I double checked the specs of the disc, which touted a 4K restoration, but it wasn’t looking it and I was thinking this may simply be an older high-definition restoration.
I’m not sure what was going on with the credits but I was happy to see things drastically improve after the credits ended. The rest of the film looks rather astonishing, brand new in fact, and you’d never know it’s over 30 years old now. The image is rather grainy, but it’s cleanly rendered and retains a clean look, delivering that nice film-like look I like.
Outside of the opening credits (and another sequence that makes use of archival footage) the source print is clean and I don’t recall any severe bits of damage ever showing up. Colours also look wonderful, blues and reds popping off screen, and black levels are good, allowing for excellent shadow delineation.
I wasn’t expecting much for the film but it’s a stunning looking restoration and a lot of work has gone into this. A real pleasant surprise.
The film’s 2.0 PCM stereo presentation is fine overall but surprisingly flat. Though music and effects fill out the environment well enough, voices are flat and lack fidelity. Dialogue is still clear and easy to hear, but it’s missing some extra oomph.
BFI throws together a nice collection of features for this edition. It appears they have first ported over features from another DVD edition (admittedly I’m not sure which one) but they have also included new material. Of the old material there is first a 25-minute making-of from 2010 featuring interviews with producer Stephen Woolley, director Michael Caton-Jones, actor John Hurt, and historian Rupert Gavin. Gavin occasionally pops up to talk about the actual scandal and the time period while everyone else talks about the history of the production. This is the only spot Hurt shows up in the supplements, so the piece is worth it for that, but otherwise the documentary is basically a summarization of the two audio commentaries that accompany the film, one featuring Caton-Jones, the other Woolley and screenwriter Michael Thomas.
Caton-Jones’ track is the dryer, more technical of the two, getting into how certain shots were pulled off and then the details of post-production (with some mention of having to deal with Harvey Weinstein). Though it has some levity (he jokingly says he likes to think he’s responsible for Ian McKellen’s career taking off) I much preferred the other track with Woolley and Thomas, who get more into the backstory and the adaptation, which was further complicated by the fact Scandal was originally conceived as a longer television series. They also talk extensively about the controversy behind the film and some of the legal problems they could have faced if they weren’t careful (for example they talk about how they couldn’t mention one character was supposed to be Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., though they mention it here so I assume it’s no longer a problem). It id by far the more engaging and entertaining track.
BFI could have left things there but they decided not to, providing two new interviews, one with Caton-Jones and the other with Woolley.
The two end up being surprising reflections on the film and how it has held up. Caton-Jones is far more critical of it here, explaining how he would do things differently now and feels he was just young and incredibly naïve at the time. He also recounts working with John Hurt, who was drinking heavily at the time following a divorce (while also recalling a completely different experience with him on Rob Roy), and also talks a bit more about Harvey Weinstein and his push for more nudity in the film (he actually wanted the film to get an X rating in the States, seeing it as free publicity). The director admits at the time the push for more sex seemed to be beside the point of the film, but he ended up relenting just thinking that was how things were. With this, Weinstein’s recent exposure from the #metoo movement, and the revelations throughout the features that Weinstein was really pushing for Whalley to disrobe for the film (she refused and a body double was used instead), its apparent Caton-Jones regrets a lot of it now.
Woolley’s interview continues on from this, and ends up turning into a discussion on how a film about a certain time period is always told through the perspective of the time period it’s made, and he points out how the film reflects an 80’s point of view, which in itself can date the film now. From this he then imagines how the film might be made today, feeling many aspects would change to be more critical of certain events, even thinking that the film would probably be less favourable of Hurt’s character, who is presented as the victim in the film. This leads to other subjects he obviously feels sensitive on (like how he doesn’t feel a film should sugarcoat or censor the past) and it ends up being and interesting look at how current events can affect how a period piece is conceived. The interviews runs about 27-minutes and 40-minutes respectively.
BFI then throws in some standard archival material: the music video for Dusty Springfield’s and Pet Show Boys’ “Nothing Has Been Proved,” a self-playing photo gallery featuring lobby cards and production photos (running over 8-minues), and then the film’s British trailer.
BFI also digs up some related short films. Cabaret Firl is a 26-minute, 1956 film about Murray’s Cabaret Club, a central setting in the film. The film provides an (obviously staged) behind-the-scenes look at how it keeps up its “supply of gorgeous girls,” from casting, to “grooming,” to writing music numbers and making costumes. Unsurprisingly the film has aged like milk and is cringey as all hell, but I found it to still be an endlessly fascinating product of its era. And it looks to have been beautifully restored as well.
The best addition, though, is probably Caton-Jones’ short film The Riveter, made in 1986 as his final film for the National Film and Television School. The 35-minute film centers around a Glasgow father and son (the latter played by a super young Ewen Bremner) living on their own at risk of being separated by Social Services because of the father’s insistence on consorting with various “undesirables.” This leads to schemes to get out of this but it’s probably not a spoiler to say things are kind of iffy. The film was apparently a big reason for Woolley hiring Caton-Jones (despite what Woolley called one of the worst meetings he had ever had with a director, which the director even admits was awful), and, yeah, it’s still student-filmish, but it is solidly constructed and moves at a brisk pace. Sadly it looks to be sourced from a video with some tracking problems, but it still looks solid.
BFI then includes one of their wonderful booklets. Things start off with an essay on the film, its production, and the scandal in question, written by Jana Giles, followed by an essay on the scandal and its aftermath, which carried on through the years (before getting into other sex scandals in more recent years) written by Augustin Macellari. There are then notes on the features that appear with this release.
In all, BFI doesn’t phone it in here, simply reusing old features and calling it a day. They do dig up old archival features to cover the film’s production well enough, but then, through their new interviews, offer a wonderful and insightful reflection on the film and other films of its ilk.
I wasn’t expecting much from this but it’s a really good edition for the film: it features a shockingly good video presentation and some insightful features on the film and how it has (or hasn’t) held up today.