Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Kenneth Branagh on Valkyrie

While recently chatting up Sleuth, his directorial effort starring Michael Caine and Jude Law, Kenneth Branagh also found time to touch upon Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie, his latest acting gig. “Chris McQuarrie, of The
Usual Suspects
fame, wrote it with Nathan Alexander, and it’s about an
assassination attempt on Hitler that was attempted by Claus von Stauffenberg,
played by Tom Cruise, and recruited by my character, Henning von Tresckow,” says Branagh of the film, currently in production and slated for release next year.

“It’s a really brilliantly put together thriller. It’s incredible when you are
completely aware of the outcome; they didn’t succeed, but it nevertheless is this
. The nearness to changing the entire course of 20th century history,” Branagh continues, gesturing for emphasis, an act
“that was averted by where a briefcase was put on either side of the wooden
leg of a table at the end of another series of quite incredible near misses and
was great. And Tom Cruise is brilliantly cast. He looks quite like (von Stauffenberg)
just by the by, the historical character. I have high hopes of the film.”

The Brontë Collection

High-toned, well-read femininity is on the rebound, as the recent theatrical
release of Becoming Jane and The Jane Austen Book Club both showcase.
And two of literature’s favorite sisters are reunited with WGBH Boston Video’s
release of the superb The Brontë
, a special DVD packaging of two classic romances produced for
the award-winning Masterpiece Theatre series.

Kicking things off is a lavish version of Charlotte Brontë’s
classic novel, Jane Eyre. After a
wretched childhood that leaves her yearning for new experiences and wider
vistas, both figuratively and literally, the orphaned title character (newcomer
Ruth Wilson, delivering a fantastic performance) accepts a governess position
at Thornfield Hall, where she tutors a lively French girl named Adele (Cosima
Littlewood). Jane soon finds herself falling in love with the brooding master
of the house, the passionate Edward Rochester (Toby Stephens, of Die Another Day), and though she gradually
wins his heart, they must overcome the dark secrets of her past before they can
find happiness.

When Jane saves Rochester
from an eerie fire, she begins to suspect that there are many mysteries behind
the walls of Thornfield Hall. Her fears are confirmed when Rochester’s
own secret past is revealed, destroying her chance for happiness, and forcing
Jane to flee Thornfield. Penniless and hungry, she finds shelter and friendship
in the form of a kind clergyman and his family. Costarring Francesca Annis (Wives and Daughters), Lorraine
Ashbourne, Andrew Buchan and Arthur Cox, among others, this sensual new version
of Brontë’s classic novel is modern and moody — nicely directed by Susanna
, who previously brought a deft touch to 2005’s serial Bleak House and scored a deserved Emmy
nomination here for her efforts.

Sister Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, meanwhile, is another timeless
tale, read in high schools across the country
. This 1998 production, helmed by David
Skynner, breaks new ground by covering the complete story of a love so powerful
that it reaches beyond the grave. Orla Brady stars as one of literature’s most
controversial heroines, the spirited but tragic Cathy. Robert Cavanah plays
Heathcliff, the dark stranger whose love for Cathy leads him to take terrible
revenge on anyone who comes between them.

Nothing is known of Heathcliff’s mysterious past when kindly
Mr. Earnshaw (Matthew Macfayden) adopts him into his family, but his daughter
Cathy sees in him a soul very much like her own. They are divided by birth,
class and Cathy’s jealous brother, but nothing can break the bond between them —
not even when Cathy marries the wealthy gentleman Edgar Linton (Crispin
Bonham-Carter, cousin of Helena). Neil
McKay’s adaptation captures all of the windswept love and foreboding of the source
text, and Brady and Cavanah deliver riveting performances.

Presented in full-screen, both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre come housed in individual slimline snap cases, and are in
turn jointly housed in an attractive, single cardboard slipcase
. Jane Eyre’s bonus features include interviews
with the cast and crew, a small collection of deleted scenes, hour-long audio
commentaries for two of the episodes, and trailers from the program’s original
British broadcast on BBC. To order any DVD release from WGBH Boston Video,
including The Brontë Collection, phone
(800) 949-8670 or simply click here. B+ (Movies) B- (Disc)