The Last of England is art. It can be debated whether it translates to good cinema or not, but no matter how you look at it, this movie is art. Turning it on I had no idea what I was getting into. Within the first few moments I knew I had to dig deeper, and get a better understanding of what The Last of England was all about. Strange scenes flashing before the screen, the constant following of a young man tearing up anything he crosses, only stopping to smoke and get his heroin fix. A strong, recognizable voice telling a story, with long breaks featuring no dialogue - just strong music and sound effects. The story isn’t fiction. It isn’t normal. No, The Last of England is something entirely different than what one might expect.
Online, The Last of England is compared to Roland Barthes Camera Lucida, Susan Sontag's On Photography, and Jeanette Winterson's Art Objects; all movies I haven't seen and all movies that use film as a vehicle to broadcast art in both visual and dialogue form. That’s exactly what Derek Jarman does here, he constructs a series of moving images to tell a story much like the first half of The Tree of Life.
The story being told is a somewhat bizarre one. The movie starts with a strong narrative and some powerful sequences. But it evolves into an interesting series of events, some of which seem very disjointed, and others that directly affect each other. There's an awkward dance sequence that flashes plenty of full frontal nudity and a man in a tutu that seems to come out of nowhere. Then there are those long drawn out sequences with the views of the culture, cities, and behaviors of 80’s England.
As clear as it is that a message of culture shock is the point, it's still up to the audience to interpret certain sequences and whether or not they're positive or negative depictions. The tutu scene may be a random display of craziness but there's no randomness in two men having sex on a giant British flag or a man destroying a nude painting and then proceeding to use it as a tool of self-pleasure. Littered in between those moments are scenes of destruction, both of self and community, as well as moments of inspiration.
Because the movie is so different, and a bit odd, The Last of England’s covers and posters push the fact that Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton is in the film. She is, but not for very long and not in the way we have become accustomed to seeing her. The strength of the film really lies in the early narration by Nigel Terry. He narrates much of the movie, but he's able to capture one’s attention very early with a deep and recognizable voice that directs the flow of scenes and keeps you focused on what's occurring.
I don’t know if one can accurately judge The Last of England on the same merits other films are judged on. As I mentioned before, the film is art and whether or not it makes for a good film can be easily debated. However, it can’t be argued whether or not the message of changing and evolving culture is brought across. Whether it comes off disjointed, well constructed, or just a series of random events; The Last of England displays a culture and those in it more accurately than most fictional tales could ever dream of.
The mix of music and dialogue is truly something else. I am glad that I took the time to visit a film as unique as The Last of England. The movie is a narrative about a changing culture told in such a twisted and odd manner. Jarman clearly accomplished what he was going for, and that was to get a message across, not necessarily entertain the masses.
At first glance, the AVC 1080p encode for The Last of England appears very difficult to judge. The movie is in the style of found footage, artistic sequences, and gritty depictions of a land and culture the director feels like he's starting to disconnect from. This gives the movie a dark and gritty look that is filled with inconsistent grain and plenty of distractions. Washed out sequences are plentiful and some scenes are just too dark. Once you come to grips with all of that, and see it as the director’s intent (at least most of it) the wonderful three-dimensional image underneath proves to be a winner. The detail is there and the majority of footage that isn’t found footage is full of depth and life. The movie looks strong, but is far from perfect and it will be up to each viewer to decide whether they can get past the grim look Jarman was going for.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo track on The Last of England is marvelous. Sound is such an important aspect of this film and the track does a magnificent job of portraying that. There are bits of weakness, most notably during a scene in which a militia fires some very quiet guns, but overall this track is successful from beginning to end. Music is loud and vibrant, with each song telling a story. Narrative dialogue is loud and clear never losing out to another part of the soundtrack. When there are actual bits of dialogue those moments are crisp and clean as well. Both speakers sound great and I was very surprised to find such an amazing track on board The Last of England.
There isn’t a single extra on board Kino’s release of The Last of England. The menu opens up with a choice of playing the film or adjusting the settings. My initial thoughts were something like this may have never had the opportunity to get some extra features, but after watching it I really wanted more information on Derek Jarman, the movie, and the book that was written to accompany it.
Very few times do I walk away from a film feeling like I’ve been inspired and entertained but also feeling as if I just wasted a portion of my life. The Last of England does that to me, and it has given me a puzzled look that I've worn while typing this entire review. Either way, fans know what they are getting into and they won’t be disappointed with the strong video and incredible audio found on this Blu-ray release. The lack of extras, however, will prove to be very disappointing as such a subject deserves some content to go along with it. Recommended, not recommended, like I said, I really don’t know. It looks like you will just have to fly solo on this one.