Reviews | Written by Kieron Moore 07/03/2019

JARMAN VOLUME TWO – 1987-1994

February 19th marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Derek Jarman, a pioneer of queer cinema, and the BFI marked the occasion with this second bumper box set of his work. Included are his final seven films, produced during a creative spree that followed his HIV diagnosis.

The first three features here are experimental, non-narrative productions, more at home in an art gallery than in a conventional cinema. The Last of England captures his anger at Thatcher’s Britain and Section 28, a melancholic montage of imagery accompanied by extracts from poets including T. S. Eliot and Allen Ginsburg. If that’s not your thing, skip this and the following two films, but you’ll be missing out on two men shagging atop a giant Union Jack.

War Requiem is an adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s sombre orchestral work of the same name, a series of wartime scenes following an English soldier and a nurse during World War I. It features Tilda Swinton, Sean Bean, and the final film role of Laurence Olivier, brief though it is.

The Garden has a loose narrative about a gay couple who are arrested and tortured, but takes Jarman’s patchwork filmmaking to an extreme; it’s an arthouse sketch show with themes of homosexuality and Christianity. Some of these scenes are entertaining, including the surreal adaptation of the Nativity and the ‘Think Pink’ musical number; others test the patience.

With Edward II, an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play, Jarman returned to narrative filmmaking. The eponymous king’s relationship with nobleman Piers Gaveston leads to members of his court plotting against him. It’s a powerful story with some strong performances, not least Swinton as the scheming Queen Isabella; she appears in all the films on this set but gets a particularly substantial role here. Jarman adds contemporary touches such as a 1990s-esque gay rights march.

Wittgenstein is, like Edward II, Caravaggio and Sebastiane before it, a biopic of a historical gay man, in this case the Austrian-British philosopher. Shot against a black backdrop, it’s heavy on philosophical discussion, but if you can put up with that, there’s a lot to appreciate - Jarman at his wittiest and most playful.

Blue is one of Jarman’s most unique and challenging works. A single shot of saturated blue (the filmmaker was losing his sight at the time) is accompanied by narration about Jarman’s struggle with his illness, plus a soundscape of music and effects. Mournful and insightful, this is as genuine an insight into AIDS as you’ll get.

Finally, Glitterbug, broadcast after Jarman’s death, is a collection of the director’s home movies. Though ponderous at times, it’s only 55 minutes long and offers some behind the scenes insights into his film sets that will be of interest to fans.

What’s remarkable about this box set is the wealth of special features. To list them takes more than two pages of A4, but highlights include: ten newly recorded interviews with Jarman’s collaborators; the surrealist short film Dead Cat; composer Simon Fisher-Turner’s collage of audio clips recorded with Jarman; a 70-minute interview with the director about filmmaking; and a 100-page book of essays. It’s a seriously impressive collection, as comprehensive as there will ever be.

So for Jarman fans, this is an absolute must, even though the more experimental films here won’t be to all tastes, and the overall quality of the features doesn’t quite live up to Volume 1. Nevertheless, Jarman’s singular filmography is well worthy of such a high quality presentation.

Extras - click here

JARMAN VOLUME TWO - 1987-1994 / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: DEREK JARMAN / SCREENPLAY: DEREK JARMAN, KEN BUTLER, TERRY EAGLETON, STEPHEN MCBRIDE / STARRING: TILDA SWINTON, STEVEN WADDINGTON, KARL JOHNSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

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