“Enchanted April” is truly a tale of enchantment. It is a film that not only requires you to leave all cynicism at the door, but it insists you believe in the possibilities of love occurring as subtly and as beautifully as the first bloom in spring. Based on Elizabeth Von Arnim’s novel, “The Enchanted April”, director Mike Newell does a fantastic job bringing the novel to life. While not a film packed with conflict or even a great deal of storyline, “Enchanted April” manages to keep your attention throughout.
For Rose (Miranda Richardson) and Lottie (Josie Lawrence), leaving behind their lives in 1920’s rain-soaked London seems like the perfect solution to escaping their passionless marriages. When they discover an advertisement in the paper that promises a “Small Medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean” for the month of April, Lottie does her best to convince Rose they must go there together. Lottie doesn’t tell her money conscious husband, Mellersh (Alfred Molina) that she’s going or that she has a nest egg to pay for her Italian adventure, but Rose has no problem telling her husband, Frederic (Jim Broadbent) of whom she disapproves.
After meeting George Briggs (Michael Kitchen), the owner of the Italian castle, Rose and Lottie realize they’ll have to invite two other women to go with them on their trip to help pay for the expenses. The two additional women couldn’t be more different from Lottie and Rose. There’s Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance), a wealthy older woman who has a habit of dropping the names of famous authors she knew, and Caroline Dester (Polly Walker), a beautiful socialite who is tired of men pawing at her and determined to get away from it all for a while.
Once the women arrive in Italy, everything begins to change, especially for Lottie, who is able to see all kinds of wonderful things coming about in the future, thanks to the beautiful location. Lottie makes a wonderful transformation from a plain, unhappy housewife into a free-spirited beauty who can’t contain her happiness. The other women take their time letting go of old habits; for Rose it’s tending to everyone’s needs, for Mrs. Fisher its maintaining control, and for Caroline it’s letting go of the past. The past holds them all back, but eventually catches up to them and ultimately helps set them free with the help of the Italian coast.
“Enchanted April” has a wonderful way of bringing to life a fairytale for adults. The story takes a nice approach by allowing the women to share their thoughts aloud (Peter Barnes’ screenplay is wonderfully written), but the characters could have used just a touch more development. Although this is somewhat thin film in terms of plot, the breathtaking scenery and lovely performances make it more than worthwhile viewing. Watching “Enchanted April” makes you feel that something as simple as getting away and seeing a place so magnificent could truly open up your heart to love and happiness. This film makes it easy to believe in the enchantment of Italy in April.
VIDEO: "Enchanted April" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Given the picture's age and relatively low budget, the presentation quality is pleasing. Sharpness and detail are not remarkable in any way (the picture does have a slightly soft look by intent), but did remain at least mildly crisp throughout much of the running time.
Some issues did become apparent at times throughout the movie, such as print flaws. Although the picture certainly didn't appear too in need of TLC, there were instances of slight specks, marks and debris on the print used, especially in the first half of the picture. A few instances of light edge enhancement were also seen. Colors looked satisfactory, appearing warm and well-saturated in the scenes taking place in Italy.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is entirely dialogue-driven (not exactly a surprise, given the material.) Surrounds are employed lightly and infrequently for slight ambience and some light reinforcement of the music, but the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is satisfactory, with clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: “Audio Commentary with Director Mike Newell and Producer Ann Scott” The duo start out by commenting on the time that has passed since they made “Enchanted April”, but the time doesn’t hold them back from remembering several details regarding the making of the film. With comments about the importance of making the adaptation of the loved novel, as well as only having initial interest from BBC Television (which they actually made the film for TV), this commentary provides a great deal of insight. Newell and Scott are very easy to listen to as they offer a great deal of interesting information regarding the author of the novel, filming in Italy, designing the setting, and their thoughts about the characters. Although there are a few patches of silence, this is definitely worth a listen.
Final Thoughts: A superbly acted romantic drama, "Enchanted April" still stands up quite well 17 years after it hit theaters. The DVD offers good video quality, fine audio and one solid bonus feature. Recommended.
The Film B+