Literary Adaptations Collection Vol. 1: The Four Feathers, The Frenchman’s Creek, The Great Gatsby and The Old Man & the Sea

No, the ITV Literary Adaptations Collection Volume 1 is not a collection of the latest blockbusters with high-fidelity audio that’s packed full of special features. Rather, it’s a barebones collection of four British public television films based on classic books. Nonetheless, it may find appeal with a certain subset of millennial viewers, myself included.

Of the four classics, two were familiar to me prior to diving into my review copy of this collection (The Great Gatsby and The Old Man & the Sea). None of these films will blow you away with production values or fresh remasters, although thankfully they do retain their original aspect ratios. These are no-frills retellings. The Great Gatsby, for instance, comes in at just under two hours and is a straightforward adaptation.

That’s not to say the quality is bad. There are even a few recognizable faces, like Paul Rudd, Anthony Quinn and Mira Sorvino. You can find bigger-budget or more classically regarded adaptations of almost all of these films, but these probably appeal to kids in the 1990s who grew up on this kind of stuff. It’s the sort of thing we watched in class or while at home during the day with nothing else interesting on the TV.

This collection of films offers a group of films that aren’t hard on the eyes or the brain. Sometimes the familiar and nostalgic are comfortable. There isn’t much to say about this collection beyond that: Unless you’re really into the books, that vague sense of nostalgia for this kind of material is probably the main selling point.

The Naked Civil Servant

Originally a 1970s British TV movie, The Naked Civil Servant is introduced by, of all people, the subject of the biography itself, Quentin Crisp. Crisp was a controversial trailblazer in British culture, in part for his openly queer public persona. The film is based on his autobiography. At the time of its release in 1975, homosexuality had only been decriminalized for about eight years. It was a watershed moment for the British queer community. The film has somewhat disappeared into history, but Via Vision’s new release brings it to a new audience.

The late, great John Hurt plays Crisp, a gay man who refuses to fit into a culture that rejects him. Ironically, Hurt had met Crisp before and painted him as a model while at art college (the profession from which the movie draws its title). Hurt plays Crisp extraordinarily well (and indeed reprised him in a sequel of sorts decades later) and rightfully won a BAFTA for his role. The Naked Civil Servant is a pretty straightforward biography, following Crisp’s story from a young man up until what was then present-day. Hurt carries Crisp with dignity and humanity, convincingly displaying the wit and flamboyance that naturally seems a part of Crisp’s personality and is used to deflect and project the culture around him. Hurt skilfully imbues Crisp with an innate pride in who he is as a person. At the time, this performance could’ve easily spilled over into caricature and outright farce, but Hurt is too much of a pro to allow that to happen and anchors what is ultimately a very moving story about one man’s survival, if not triumph, in a world hostile to his very existence.

The new release is remastered and thankfully retains the original aspect ratio. The production is very clearly a TV movie, but the central performance is so well done and the content so risky for the time, you can’t really hold anything against the film for simply looking good enough. In addition to the newly remastered video, the disc comes with a load of extras. A legacy commentary with Hurt, director Jack Gold and executive producer Verity Lambert will be a welcome addition for any film scholars or historians (or simply fans) wanting to dig deeper into this landmark, and two legacy interviews with Crisp add more than an extra hour of footage to go further in-depth with this fascinating character. For a TV movie from 1975, this plethora of extras should satisfy newcomers and fans alike who want more context around this landmark piece of media.

Watershed moments are often remembered by the generations for whom they were landmarks but fade into memory as time passes. The Naked Civil Servant is one that deserves revisiting.