It’s stating the bloody obvious to say that the English have their own particular way with film. Renowned for remarkably human dramas, comedies and things which plop themselves deftly in-between those two poles, we can all reel off a litany of them - Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Full Monty, Withnail and I, Brassed Off up to the more now-ish with Love Actually, plus the many others we didn’t type because either a: we’ve sunk too much merlot before this writing sesh so couldn't think of them or b: we’re trying to be frugal with space. In an inexplicable feat of cosmic insanity, the utter delight that is Jack and Sarah somehow shot below most everybody’s cinematic radars, an absolute crime because it’s infinitely better than the majority of those flicks listed a mere sentence or two ago.
Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, the plot of Jack and Sarah is not incredibly deep, twisty-turny or convoluted. Basically it’s the tale of the titular Jack (Richard E. Grant), quite the vapid prat who works for a law firm and gets stressed an awful lot. His wife, Sarah, is in the late stage of pregnancy, while he toddles about fighting somewhat somnambulistic tradesmen in an attempt to get their terrace house finished in time, between bouts of acting the dick at birthing classes and generally coping with everything about as well as a Celine Dion fan at a Metallica gig. This carries on to the inevitable trip to hospital, one where the rather light nature of the film takes a turn for the dark as Sarah dies whilst giving birth to a daughter.
The penny drops...
Rather than sucking it up and turning to that thing which is sadly oh so foreign to too many males – responsibility – Jack dives into a drunken, self-pitying stupor and basically f*cks off for weeks. Shunning his gorgeous newborn in favour of hanging out with the transient inhabitant of his skip - William (Ian McKellan) - months quickly go by until finally a little help is dealt by his parents and in-laws, when Jack awakes to find his daughter lying naked next to him. After a prolonged bout of “oh f*ck, oh f*ck, oh f*ck”, instinct finally gets the better of him and he gets his shit together – and realises the delicate balancing act he has ahead of him. Cue one klutzy waitress, Amy (Samantha Mathis), plus the slight stretch of employing her as a nanny and the scene is set for a tale that weaves its way through everything from facing up to reality through familial relationships through parental relationships through that other kind involving a certain “L’ word.
Again, it’s hardly a tale that requires a university degree to get to grips with, but this is where Jack & Sarah’s beauty ultimately lies. A combination of clichéd yet knowing writing and direction from Tim Sullivan, combined with the skill of a magnificently realistically human cast – in particular Grant in a role you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see him in - results in an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when a cheapie release retains its original cinematic ratio, even more so when it comes with anamorphic enhancement. Three cheers for Jack & Sarah then, as it comes with both - oh, perhaps that should have read “two cheers”?
While never being a transfer to compete with the hyper-blockbusters of today which seem to be on DVD before cinemagoers have blinked, that which we’re given offers very little to get all whiny about. There are fleeting specks here and there, grain pops up to say “cheerio what!” on odd occasions and things aren’t always exactly razor sharp, however colour is remarkably un-English (in that there actually is some at times), detail is generally more than acceptable and black levels manage to remain resolutely black from beginning to end.
A simple Dolby Digital stereo mix is all that’s afforded Jack & Sarah’s foray into the world of DVDdom, however it recreates the original soundtrack so there’s little point in getting all bleaty about it. It does what any good soundtrack should do, delivering the dialogue in easily discernable fashion whilst balancing the music – which we’ll discuss in a mo – well without drowning out everything that dares make a peep at the same time.
Ah, the soundtrack. The score-type stuff comes from one Simon Boswell, and is pretty much typical English drama cum comedy fair. A selection of pop tracks which make it decidedly obvious that this is a Polygram film are dotted about proceedings, from the remarkably dated such as East 17 to “adult” staples such as Del Amitri, The Lighthouse Family, Gabrielle, Brand New Heavies and, heaven help us, Simply Red – not once but at least three times. Still, such crimes against the aurally sane are made up for somewhat by the appearance of Massive Attack’s mind-numbingly beautiful Unfinished Sympathy and Annie Lennox’s Precious, so we’ll call it a draw.
Bugger. It seems all the extras were somehow flung into the skip outside and subsequently trucked off to the tip.
This is easy. Anybody who enjoys that enviable British knack for combining drama with comedy should rush out and snap this fabulous budget release up. It won’t disappoint, although it may help to keep Kleenex in business.
"Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... " - Amy Flower