While not in the same league as “CASABLANCA”, to which “THE WHITE COUNTESS” has been compared, it’s still an entertaining film that fares well, even after repeated viewings.
The last “MERCHANT/IVORY” production, “THE WHITE COUNTESS” revolves around Todd Jackson, a blind American diplomat in China, wanting only to open up a great bar, while everyone around him seeks to exploit Asian riches. Natasha Richardson is the “Countess” Sofia, a woman living in exile from her beloved Russian homeland due to the revolution. Jackson sees Sofia as a drawing attraction for his club, giving it and its customers a sense of class that is being sorely overlooked elsewhere. Of course the two fall in love, just as war with Japan looms on the horizon. The cast is terrific, but Fiennes is Oscar-worthy!
Merchant/Ivory films have always dealt with class structure in an exquisite way. But, unfortunately, they also leave the viewer feeling detached from the characters onscreen. While one mourns for their loss, there’s never a direct connection with the characters, and this is a small problem with “THE WHITE COUNTESS” as well.
Still, there’s enough drama, terrific dialogue and exquisite production values to make most viewers pleased with the overall film.
SONY has preserved the film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. Colors are solid and there’s incredible detail, even in darker, smoke-lit scenes.
SONY has provided a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is more involving that we’d typically expect from a Merchant/Ivory film. There are numerous subtleties enhancing the film’s drama in memorable ways. Scenes around the bar, have an impressive depth, allowing for the viewer to really feel part of the excitement in what’s taking place there. The score is terrific and well complimented. While not an aggressive mix, it’s active and creative. Dialogue is always intelligible and free from distortion.
SONY has included a variety of extras for this release.
Several featurettes offer behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s elaborate set construction, costume design and cast members offer insight into their roles via interviews. A running commentary with James Ivory and Natasha Richardson offers even more detail into the film’s development and production. A tribute to the late Ismail Merchant is also offered. Merchant died before the film’s completion.