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HomeFilm'The Queen of Spades' Blu-ray review

‘The Queen of Spades’ Blu-ray review

A new title in Studiocanal’s ‘Vintage Classics’ range is the 1949 tale of the supernatural ‘The Queen of Spades’, which had a limited cinematic release last month and now enjoys availability on Blu-ray and DVD. The celebrated post-war film is based on the 1833 Alexander Pushkin story which is a favourite in Russian literature. This film was its first English-language adaptation.

This production translates its literary source material faithfully, and is set in the early part of the Nineteenth Century. The snowy St Petersburg of Pushkin’s story is stunningly recreated in Welwyn Studios and effectively shot by renowned cinematographer Otto Heller. The design is one of the stand-out triumphs of the film. The story deals with human greed and unhealthy obsession. Suvorin (Anton Walbrook) is a Captain in the army, but he is resentful that his humble origins prevent him from joining the officer class, the status from which would allow him to accrue a vast personal fortune. He hears tell of an elderly Countess (Edith Evans) who sold her soul to the devil in order that she might win a fortune at cards, but she has sworn to take her secret to the grave. The unscrupulous Suvorin feigns a romance with the Countess’s ward, Lizavyeta (Yvonne Mitchell), so that he might win the elderly woman’s confidence and eventually force her to expose her secret.

The Queen of Spades
Credit: Studiocanal

Entwined within the straightforward tale of a man’s ruthless ambition that will hurt anyone who stands in his way is a supernatural twist. Atmospherically, the film is at its most effective when Suvorin pursues the truth behind the cards, later inviting an encounter with the spirit world. Director Thorold Dickinson’s ingenious idea is to show nothing and allow the audience’s imagination, spurred on by Anton Walbrook’s horrified face, to decide for itself what the anti-hero sees. Many directors have since followed suit.

The Queen of Spades
Credit: Studiocanal

The performances sell the film as a melodrama. Anton Walbrook bravely doesn’t even attempt to make Suvorin likeable. His character is always set apart from others, including his fellow soldiers. The romance between Suvorin and Lizavyeta is unsettling in its coldness, and Yvonne Mitchell is equal to the task of ensuring the audience’s sympathy is firmly with her. Yet the climax in which a clammy-faced Suvorin clutches at a deck of cards is a masterclass in mad obsession. Dame Edith Evans is wonderful as the ailing Countess Ranevskaya. Old enough to have helped to launch the career of Laurence Olivier, Evans had become a stage star in her younger years. She only branched out into cinematic roles much later in her life and career. She would have been in her early sixties when she landed her first major screen role in ‘The Queen of Spades’. The make-up job helps to age her yet further, whilst also giving her a spectral appearance. The final result is a memorable and commanding performance.

The Queen of Spades
Credit: Studiocanal

This new Blu-ray release comes packed with a number of extra features that illustrate the historical significance of the film and the regard with which it is held. An audio Commentary by journalist and film historian Nick Pinkerton offers a guide to its making, which also comes with an introduction by celebrated director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver). There is a lengthy two-part interview with Thorold Dickinson on Saturday Night at the Movies. The director speaks from his home in the English countryside and appears shy and modest, but he explains about the challenges he had to overcome in making ‘The Queen of Spades’. Film critic Anna Bogutskaya pays homage to the movie. Literary critic Professor Philip Horne is also on hand to discuss the film’s success in capturing the essence of Pushkin’s story.

The story of ‘The Queen of Spades’ unfolds in a fairly predictable way, certainly for modern audiences used to morality tales of this nature. The heightened reality of melodrama won’t prove to everybody’s taste. Overall, ‘The Queen of Spades’ is a brilliant adaptation of a classic Russian story. It is especially memorable for stunning design work and committed leading performances. If you enjoy classic British films and ghost stories, this is one to seek out.

The Queen of Spades
Credit: Studiocanal

Cast: Anton Walbrook, Yvonne Mitchell, Edith Evans, Ronald Howard Director: Thorold Dickinson Writers: Alexander Pushkin (story), Rodney Ackland Arthur Boys Certificate: PG Duration: 95 mins Released by: Studiocanal Release date: 23rd January 2023 Buy ‘The Queen of Spades’

Greg Jameson
Greg Jamesonhttp://www.gregoryjameson.com
Book editor, with an interest in cult TV.

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A new title in Studiocanal's 'Vintage Classics' range is the 1949 tale of the supernatural 'The Queen of Spades', which had a limited cinematic release last month and now enjoys availability on Blu-ray and DVD. The celebrated post-war film is based on the 1833...'The Queen of Spades' Blu-ray review