This 1975 made-for-television film brings together the redoubtable talents of director George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story), Katherine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier.
These old stagers, at Katherine Hepburn's suggestion, came together to bring to film a tale set in London's courts and barrister's chambers. Katherine plays the widowed and aged Jessica Medlicott, who had foolishly promised to marry a young spiv-ish fortune-hunter Alfred Pratt (Leigh Lawson), a man some 40 years younger than her.
It's a not totally unlikely scenario - after all, veteran actress Celeste Holm, aged 85, just this year (2004) married an opera-singer 40 years her junior. But Alfred Pratt was no opera-singer. He's definitely made of cheaper stuff. And when Jessica comes to her senses and breaks off the relationship, he sues her for 'Breach of Promise'.
Enter Laurence Olivier. He's hired to defend her, but recognises her instantly as the actress with whom, while he was visiting Canada very many years earlier, he had had an intense affair. He fell in love with her, and though she quickly disappeared from his life, he never fell out of love.
But strangely, Jessica doesn't recognise him at all, nor remember anything about their liaison. Or is she just feigning forgetfulness? While he fights her case, he keeps trying to trigger her memory. And when it becomes apparent that the only way he can win her case is to paint her in front of the jury as a pathetic and absurd creature, he's trapped in an agonising dilemma - would the woman he still loves ever forgive him if he takes that course?
This is a quite charming period-piece, low on action of course, while very high on dialogue. It captures Katherine Hepburn in a less-mannered performance than usual, and Laurence Olivier also gives a more natural performance than he often did. This was the first and only time these old friends had acted together - for that reason alone, and for the direct, unsensational direction by George Cukor, this has undeniable historical value.
The 1975 television film isn't brilliant, but colours are good and there are no obviously disruptive flaws, wear or artefacts. The image is slightly fuzzy throughout; it's fine for close-ups, but long-shots really bring home the lack of fine resolution.
It's technically adequate, but not in any way an outstanding example of DVD technology. It simply does the job of bringing us an historically interesting production in reasonable viewing condition. I wouldn't recommend it for large projection-viewing.
If you want to see the pairing of two now-legendary actors, Larry and Kate, then rent this MRA DVD. Except for dedicated fans of either of the actors, I think neither the drama, nor the technical quality of the DVD itself, warrants purchase.