Color, 1988, 87m.
Directed by Derek Jarman
Starring Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry, Jonny Phillips, "Spring" Mark Adley, Spencer Leigh
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Second Sight (UK R2 PAL), Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

The Last of EnglandThe title really sums it all up in The Last of England, a fiery experimental film from the twilight of Margaret Thatcher's controversial tenure as Prime Minister in England. The film is also the high point of this middle period in Jarman's career, which found him dispensing with narrative almost entirely to focusThe Last of England instead on poetic but visceral tone films like The Angelic Conversation, War Requiem, and The Garden. Here his fondness for incorporating home movies and other found footage results in a deliberately raw and almost alien experience, with 8mm film blown up and treated to look like everything from oversaturated color to sickly monochrome, all set to an unsettling soundtrack rumbling with industrial effects and a plaintive score from his most regular composer, Simon Fisher-Turner.

Two of Jarman's stars from one of his most acclaimed films, Caravaggio, return here in a very different capacity; Nigel Terry (Excalibur) handles narration duties, while future Oscar winner Tilda Swinton dominates the most indelible sequence of the film, a third-act vignette in which she goes from a summery wedding to a smoky backdrop of urban waste on a beach. Other images are just as powerful: hordes of oppressed poor in front of a hellish sunset, jackbooted soldiers carrying guns (and even trysting with a naked actor on a Union Jack), women in funereal garb standing emotionless at a grave. The cumulative effect is still extremely powerful, and given the continuing strain of the economic climate in England and abroad, its message of avoiding an icy future still carries an undeniable charge.

The fact that Jarman was also busy directing music videos and concert video backdrops for bands like The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys isn't a coincidence here; the editing patterns and free associative visuals The Last of Englandwouldn't be entirely out of place on MTV in its original state, though the deliberately grotesque context of some images (chewed-up food, shaggy beggars foraging in garbage, and all-around despair) don't exactly scream pop charts. Jarman also penned a book to be released along with the film, though the print version just baThe Last of Englandrely illuminates its film counterpart as it analyzes the lives of the British people before and during World War II (including his fighter pilot father) compared to the downward spiral and destructive political practices seen in the following decades.

Several home video editions of The Last of England have been released since the late '80s, including a wide VHS release from International Film Circuit and a remastered 2005 DVD from Image Entertainment (containing a Swinton spoken tribute to Jarman also included on their DVD of his Edward II). The 2012 version from Kino Lorber (which was following swiftly by Blu-Ray and DVD releases of Jarman's Sebastiane and The Tempest) presents a new HD master that does about as much as one can do with the source material; bear in mind that, as mentioned, much of it was taken from 8mm sources and blown up to 35mm, with a few other slightly sharper bits containing what looks like a patchwork of 16mm and video. It's often a deliberately hazy and muddy-looking film by design, but the Blu-Ray in particular does a fine job of both showing off its rich but unsettling color schemes and filling the speakers with a DTS-HD stereo rendition of the complex, eerie soundtrack. The 1.66:1 anamorphic framing appears to be correct, showing slightly more on the sides than the VHS version and more on the top and bottom than the 1.78:1 framing of the Image one.

Reviewed on September 18, 2012.