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A Cottage on Dartmoor DVD

Anthony Asquith, 1929

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Film Details

Directed by Anthony Asquith

Produced in 1929

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

The extraordinary A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) gives the lie to two widely-held suppositions: that British silent films not directed by Alfred Hitchcock are artistically worthless, and that Anthony Asquith only made stuffy, talky literary adaptations. In fact, as this riveting film reveals from the start, Asquith was one of our greatest masters of the silent screen, and arguably ahead of Hitchcock by this stage in his career, the latter's four-year head start notwithstanding. Superficially, the film is a love-triangle melodrama about the jealousy felt by barber's assistant Joe when his attractive colleague Sally finds herself drawn to regular customer Harry. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a passionate and violent conclusion, but although this is signalled from the start (much of the narrative is told in flashback), the complexity of the characters and the unpredictability of their actions makes this one of the most acute psychological studies in all British cinema. It's also an encyclopaedia of silent cinematic technique, with intertitles kept to a Murnauesque minimum (the seven-minute opening sequence set on a desolate Dartmoor has none until the very end, when the single cry of 'Joe!' provides a brilliantly-judged bridge to the first flashback). Wonderfully expressive images combine with cutting that's sometimes so rapid as to make the Soviet masters look like sluggards. Thankfully, the DVD transfer preserves the famous coup de cinéma that interrupts the black and white cinematography with a single flash of red during one of Joe's particularly murderous fantasies, though the brief talkie sequence sadly no longer survives in its original form. The disc also has two delightful extras: Asquith's comic cautionary tale, Rush Hour (1941), a WWII propaganda vehicle about the importance of giving way to essential war workers when using public transport, and a short documentary about the shooting of Libel (1959) that includes fascinating footage of the director in action. His cut-glass accent betrays his aristocratic roots (he was the son of the Liberal prime minster) while his trademark boiler suit reveals his lifelong socialist sympathies – in short, a man as complex and contradictory as his sorely underrated films.

Michael Brooke on 6th May 2008
Author of 154 reviews

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Film Description

This late silent film from Anthony Asquith is a dark tale of sexual jealousy and thwarted love that gives the lie to the supposition that British films of the era were staid. Recalling Hitchcock in both style and substance, the film prompted Raymond Durgnat to comment that Asquith here "out-Hitchcocks Hitchcock, before Hitchcock became Hitchcock". It begins with Joe, a convict, fleeing across the moors at dusk...

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Publisher: BFI

Length: 84 mins

Aspect ratio: 1:1.33 (4:3) Standard

Format: DVD B&W

Region: 2

Released: 26th May 2008

Cat No: BFIVD779

DVD Extras

  • Insight (1960) – Study of Anthony Asquith at work featuring on set footage and interviews
  • Rush Hour – Comedy film from the BFI National Archive about Britain's workers coping with the transport system during the War (Asquith, 1941)
  • Fully illustrated booklet including essays by Bryony Dixon and Geoffrey Macnab

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