Plot: What’s it about?
This is not the kind of movie where traditional narrative drives the experience, so a synopsis would be hard and perhaps impossible to provide. There is a storyline of course, but to discuss much beyond the very basics would spoil elements best left to discover on your own. As stated on the case for this release, A Canterbury Tale is like a lullaby, with a flowing rhythm that takes precedence over traditional narrative elements. What I can do is give you the simplest of plot elements and the rest should be seen to be appreciated. The movie follows three people, an American soldier, a British sergeant, and a rather melancholy English girl, all of whom find themselves on the road to Canterbury. The path is not a simple one, but they press on and soon enough, are in the middle of a local mystery. The trio aren’t detectives, but now they have to try to uncover the truth about the mystery and the motive of whoever is behind it. I know that isn’t much to go on, but Powell and Pressburger fans should know it is better just to see for yourself.
The Criterion Collection is stocked with cinema from filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger with good reason, as their collective resumes are quite impressive. A Canterbury Tale is unmistakably their work, with the fingerprints of the two filmmakers on each frame. As always, the visuals shine and while what we see isn’t always beautiful in the traditional sense, the photography is spectacular. For instance, even when showing the bombed out buildings, the camera does so with beauty and grace. The visuals really drive home the kind of damage war can unleashed on mankind. But not all we see is brutalized by the ravages of war, as we are taken inside a gorgeous cathedral and shown some incredible sweeping views. Powell and Pressburger were visual masters and this film is no exception of their talents, a pleasure to take in all the sights. But this movie isn’t all style and no substance. The film places its characters at a crucial crossroads and provides the hope that they can and will take the right path. I’m not one for melodrama or what not, but the emotion and inspiration here works and that is a credit to the filmmakers. Although I wouldn’t call A Canterbury Tale the best work of the directors, it is a great movie and earns a high recommendation.
Video: How does it look?
A Canterbury Tale is presented in full frame, as intended. The case lists this transfer as a new restored, high definition presentation, but the result didn’t meet my expectations. Between Warner’s flawless restorations and Criterion’s own work however, perhaps we’ve come to expect too much at times. The transfer is good though, with a more than decent print and the visuals are acceptable. But I suppose when I see the phrase restored, I expect more than a solid presentation. I saw lines ramble across the screen on occasion, as well as several bouts of softness, both problems that detract from the experience. But I am sure Criterion used the best elements available, so perhaps this is as good as the film can look at this time.
Audio: How does it sound?
There just isn’t much to discuss here, as the included mono option is good, but won’t turn any heads, of course. This is a dialogue driven movie and that means mono is more than adequate, no real problems seem to surface here. I heard no hiss or distortion of any kind, which is good news with a flick of this age, to be sure. No errors in terms of dialogue either, which is crucial and all, since this is a movie dominated by dialogue, to be sure. Not much else to report to be honest, although optional English subtitles were included, should you need them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
In addition to a couple of scenes from the American version of A Canterbury Tale, the first disc houses an audio commentary with film historian Ian Christie. As usual, Christie is well prepared and covers a lot of ground, from historical perspective to the cast and crew involved to the film’s lasting impact. Christie never slows down much and as a result, we have a lively and informative session. The second disc is home to a trio of featurettes, one that explores the film’s locations, another that focuses on star John Sweet, and finally a piece that shows the real life England from the depicted era. In addition to those supplements, we also have an interview with star Sheila Sim, as well as an updated take on Listen to Britain.