Cinephiles On Both Sides Of The Atlantic Will Enjoy Film Movement, Studio Canal’s BD Re-Issue of ‘The Belles Of St. Trinian’s’

Courtesy: Film Movement/Film Movement Classics/Studio Canal

American television and cinema are all but dead nowadays.  Cinemas and streaming services continue to be overloaded with never-ending seas of prequels, sequels, reboots, and overly embellished movies that are based on actual events.  TV studios and their streaming outlets are also overloaded with their own share of forgettable reboots, many of which have themselves already flopped, and equally unsubstantial new content.  What with the virtual wasteland that TV and cinema remain today, the question remains what actually is worth watching.  Film Movement and Studio Canal have at least one answer in the form of the recently re-issued 1954 British screwball comedy, The Belles of St. Trinian’s.  Re-issued Feb. 23, the classic comedy will entertain audiences who remember the movie and even those who are just searching for plenty of laughs.  Its appeal comes primarily from its central story, which will be discussed shortly.   The cast’s work on camera adds its own touch to the presentation and will be discussed a little later.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie’s re-issue rounds out the presentation’s most important elements and will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the re-issue’s presentation.  All things considered, they make this new re-issue of The Belles of St. Trinian’s a great watch for any viewer and an equally positive addition to this year’s list of top new DVD and BD re-issues.

Film Movement and Studio Canal’s recent re-issue of The Belles of St. Trinian’s is a welcome respite from the content that film and television studios continue to churn out.  It is an especially welcome considering audiences’ continued need to laugh.  The movie is so entertaining in part because of its central story.  The synopses that outlets have provided about the story are mostly incorrect.  The story is actually a great screwball comedy that also boasts some heart.  The story centers on the failing all-girls school, St. Trinian’s.  The school is in some dire financial straits, as viewers will learn as the story progresses.  It just so happens that the brother of the school’s headmistress, Miss Millicent Fritton – both of whom are played by Alastair Sim – and his daughter Arabella have a scheme involving a horse race that is planned to take place near the school.  Clarence (Millicent’s brother) and Arabella “kidnap” the horse Arab Boy, the odds on favorite to win the race, so that their horse can win.  When Millicent and her young charges find out that Arab Boy is being kept at the school, the group plans to get the horse back into the race so that they can win enough money to save the school.  The previous synopses noting the role of the young Princess Fatima in the movie over blow her role.  She is really more or less a secondary character here.  Between that central story and the hijinks in which the girls take part throughout – including making illegal alcohol and fixing a field hockey game – the overall story makes for reason enough for audiences to take in the classic cinematic screwball Brit-com.  The work of the movie’s cast builds on the strong foundation formed by the movie’s story.

The cast’s work on camera in this movie ensures just as many laughs as the story itself.  As a matter of fact, one could argue that the story would not even work without the cast’s work.  Sim (A Christmas Carol, School for Scoundrels) leads the way as Millicent.  One can’t help but imagine that his performance played some role in the work of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot, which came along five years later.  The subtleties that he presents as he takes on the role of the prim and proper, but still slightly playful headmistress are spot on throughout the movie.  The result is that while audiences know they are watching Sim in drag, they are still entertained.  His performance against that of George Cole (who played Flash Harry) makes for even more entertainment.  Speaking of Cole, his performance works so well not just of how he delivers his lines, but also his physical performance.  The way he walks into the school, wearing his hat over his head, and his stiff gait as he walks into Millicent’s office are great reflections of the adage, “actions speak louder than words.”   The students at the school make for their own entertainment, too.  Their casual behavior as they brew their own “home made” alcohol and lower it to Flash makes for its own share of laughs, too.  What’s more, the girls’ willingness to cheat at a game of field hockey and even their ability to get Arab Boy back to the track will have audiences laughing just as much.  Between these noted performances and others throughout, the cast’s overall performance in this roughly 90-minute madcap comedy makes for more than enough reason to take in the movie.  Their work interpreting the scripts together with the story itself strengthens the movie’s presentation even more.  They are just a part of what makes the movie entertaining.  The bonus content that accompanies the re-issue rounds out its most important elements.

The bonus content that accompanies the movie’s re-issue is important because of the background that it offers not just the movie but those involved.  Viewers learn through the bonus interview with Steve Chibnall, Professor of British Cinema at De Montfort University, that while Sim and co-director Sidney Gilliat started out working well together, the pair’s working relationship eventually soured over the course of the franchise which was started by this movie. Chibnall alleges during his interview that things eventually got so bad during filming of one of the movie’s sequels, that an argument ensued and the pair never worked together again.  It’s just one of the tidbits shared in the bonus interviews.  Chibnall also points out that while Gilliat and fellow co-director Frank Launder were versatile in their tastes and abilities, the pair was more well-known for the comedies on which it worked.

Dr. Melanie Williams, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, UEA adds her own background insights to the movie during her interview.  She points out that many critics lauded The Belles of St. Trinian’s because its portrayal of women was counter to the culture at the time.  She goes into depth with this discussion, and that depth will keep viewers fully engaged. 

On yet another note, Sim’s daughter Merlith McKendrick pointed out that at the time of The Belles of St. Trinian’s’ debut, she was young, and did not realize he was a celebrity.  The story here will be left for audiences to discover themselves.  What will be stated is that she points out it had something to do with her own view of her father.  This anecdote is certain to generate plenty of laughs among viewers.  It is just one more example of how much the bonus content adds to the viewing experience in the case of this movie.  When it and the other noted discussions are considered along with the remainder of the interview discussions, that whole cements even more, the role of the bonus content in this presentation.  When the bonus content in whole is considered along with the work of the movie’s cast and the story itself, that whole becomes a work that any cinephile will enjoy.  In that agreement, those audiences will agree that The Belles of St. Trinian’s is one of the best of this year’s DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.

Film Movement and Studio Canal’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of The Belles of St. Trinian’s is an impressive new addition to this still young year’s field of new re-issues.  It is a work that any viewer will find a welcome alternative to everything being churned out by all   the movie and television studios.  That is proven in part by its story.  The story blends lots of screwball elements with just enough heart and a familiar plot element to make it fun for so many audiences.  The work of the movie’s cast as it interprets the scripts adds its own share of entertainment.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie’s re-issue puts the finishing touch to the movie’s presentation.  The interviews that make up that bonus content offer so much interesting background information on the movie.  That final touch, together with the story and the cast’s work, the whole makes the movie in whole a wonderfully welcome watch that any cinephile will enjoy.  The Belles of St. Trinian’s is available now.

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