The Chalk Garden - The Chalk Garden(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2021]
The Chalk Garden is a drama, come low-key mystery from the 1960’s- that features father and daughter acting team John and Hayley Mills in two of its lead roles. Here from Powerhouse is a Blu Ray release of another difficult to peg/ bracket film- with the disc featuring a new crisp and clear scan of the picture, a new commentary track, and a good selection of extras.
Released in 1964 The Chalk Garden was directed by British Cinematographer, Director, Producer Ronald Neame. In all he had twenty-five feature film directorial credits to his name- these went from British noir Take My Life (1947). Onto desert-based action-adventure Escape from Zahrain (1962), through comedy thiller/ spy spoof A Man Could Kill(1966), onto classic disaster film The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and Scrooge (1970)- a musical remake of A Christmas Carol. The Chalk Garden is certainly well made and classy looking film- bringing together dramatic in house interactions, and moody exterior shots of the grand country house and white cliffs/ beach nearby.
The film focuses on Laurel( Hayley Mills)- a troubled and rebellious sixteen-year-old, who lives with her well-mean if cantankerous grandmother( Edith Evans) in a grand cliff set country house. Living with pair is Maitland(John Mills)- the pairs manservant. With her troublesome behaviour, Laurel has gone through numerous governesses. And in desperation, her grandmother employs Miss Madrigal(Deborah Kerr), a mysterious middle-aged woman who seemingly has no past, but isn't thrown by young Laurels behaviour- which includes threatening to burn down the house, hiding, and constantly snapping back against her elders. As we get into the film we find that the grandmother won’t let Laurel go back with her mother Olivia(Elizabeth Sellars) – who in the past seemingly deserted her daughter to go off and have an affair. The film is largely based around the interaction between the four key characters- Laurel, her grandmother, Maitland and Miss Madrigal- with these are mainly carried out inside the grand house- so the film has a decidedly stage feel, though of course it’s all very well scripted and acted.
Hayley Mills is most effective, and at points, generally annoying as the constantly trying teen- with along the way moments of heart moving and tear-jerking emotion. John Mills is well placed as the knowing manservant- with a balance of proper decorum and subtle snipes. Kerr plays the caring-yet-mysterious governess with a good mix of unphased knowingness & buried forlornness. And Evans is wonderful as the battle-axe grandmother. The Chalk Garden is very much a pros and cons film- on the positive side of things- it’s all very well acted, with both the drama and mystery of who or what Miss Madrigal keeping one held over the films nearing two-hour runtime. On the less positive side- it does rather lack any real grit or edge, the cloying/ vapid orchestrated score often repeats the same melody, and lastly, the mysteries reveal is done in a fairly heavy-handed manner.
Moving onto this new region B Blu Ray, and we get a nice crisp and clear scan of the film- really bringing out the very English colour pallet of greens and blues. On the extra front, we get a new commentary track from film historians Lucy Bolton and Josephine Botting- this is a rewarding if-fairly darting/ chatty track, which finds the pair moving from discussing the meaning behind the film's title, going onto discuss the film's locations. They talk about the original play the film is based on, discusses the cast- and other actors who were going to play lead parts. They relate actors bios, talk about the set design and the cast's wardrobe. They discuss the film's themes, and how the actors handle these- moving onto talk about the film's press, and much more. Next, we get an on-screen interview Maurice Landsberger- the films assistant production accountant, this runs around the seven-minute mark and finds him recalling fondly his time on location in Eastbourne, and his stay with the cast/ crew at The Grand in Brighton. There’s Clever Conversation- a twenty-two-minute featurette with author and musician David Huckvale, where he talks about the films score by Malcolm Arnold- and as usual, Huckvale gives us a rewarding assessment of the score. There’s Loved and Envied- an eleven-minute featurette with BFI’s Josephine Botting where she discusses the life and career of Enid Bagnold- who wrote the play the film was based on. This was most interesting as she spends a lot of time talking about the stage version of The Chalk Garden, its cast and how successful it was. Moving onto the archive side of things- we get a 107-minute audio interview with Ronald Neame from 1991, 8mm location footage, original trailer, and image gallery. The finished release comes with a 32-page booklet featuring a new essay by Melanie Williams, extracts from interviews and autobiographies, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits.
If you enjoy cleverly written and well-acted drama then I think you’ll enjoy The Chalk Garden- and once again Powerhouse has given the film a classy and well put together presentation. Personally, I just wish there had been a little more edge to the whole thing, and the mystery elements were a little deeper/ more shadowy- but that’s just me.Roger Batty