Harold Pinter on DVD and Blu-ray: A Guide
When looking for DVD or Blu-ray copies of Harold Pinter’s work on screen, a simple rule generally applies – if it was made for television it is unlikely to have been commercially released, whereas if it was a film it almost certainly has (but it might well now be deleted). This article is intended to serve as a simple guide to what has been made available and (where it applies) which edition is worth getting. I’ve divided the list up into four categories; Pinter’s original plays on television, films of Pinter’s original plays, Pinter’s screenplay adaptations and documentaries about Pinter.
Pinter’s original plays on television
- Armchair Theatre: A Night Out (ITV/ ABC 1960, d. Philip Saville). A Night Out was a play that blazed a trail across three different media in 1960, with radio, TV and stage productions following from each other in quick succession. This is the earliest surviving television production of Pinter, and still leaves a strong impression of the excitement which his early plays generated in their audiences. Available on the Network DVD Armchair Theatre: Volume 3 collection, which also includes 11 other Armchair Theatre dramas from 1957-67, including plays by J. B Priestley, Alun Owen, Robert Muller and Fay Weldon.
- Laurence Olivier Presents: The Collection (ITV/ Granada 1976, d. Michael Apted). The original 1961 Associated-Rediffusion Television Playhouse no longer survives. This 1976 version is a starry and chic affair, featuring Alan Bates, Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell from a prestige anthology series created to showcase the talents of Laurence Olivier. Available in two versions, as The Collection (supported by a 1998 South Bank Show Pinter profile) and with five other classic 20th century plays on Laurence Olivier Presents.
Films of Pinter’s original plays
- The Caretaker (1964, d. Clive Donner). The Caretaker is available in an excellent 2002 BFI edition, which includes a commentary from Alan Bates, Clive Donner and producer Michael Birkett (all three of whom are no longer alive), introduction by Michael Billington, location feature and booklet.
- The Birthday Party (1970, d. William Friedkin). The 2001 Fremantle edition of The Birthday Party (featuring little in the way of extras) has subsequently been deleted and second-hand copies are not particularly cheap. An American Blu-ray edition is planned, though no plans have been announced for a British version.
- The Homecoming (1973, d. Peter Hall). The 3dd version of The Homecoming (available as a double-pack with the 2009 documentary Pinter’s Progress) is a repackaging of the old American Film Theatre Collection addition, which is supported by a few extra interviews, most notably with Peter Hall.
- Betrayal (1983, d. David Jones). Remarkably, Betrayal has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, making it the most glaring omission among commercial releases of Pinter films. It had twice been released on VHS in the last century, the most recent edition being in 1998.
Pinter’s screenplay adaptations
- The Servant (1963, from Robin Maugham d. Joseph Losey). Studiocanal released a special edition of The Servant, including many interviews and archive material, to mark the film’s fiftieth anniversary in 2003. Unfortunately the Blu-ray of this title was a limited edition and is now hard to find. Spanish (El Sirviente) and Italian (Il Servo) editions of the Blu-ray are easier to come by, and much cheaper.
- The Pumpkin Eater (1964, from Penelope Mortimer d. Jack Clayton). The bare bones DVD of The Pumpkin Eater released by Sony in 2010 is now deleted.
- The Quiller Memorandum (1966, from Adam Hall d. Michael Anderson). The Quiller Memorandum is available on both DVD and Blu-ray by Network, as part of their ‘The British Film’ series. Includes some contemporary location interviews with the stars of the film.
- Accident (1967, from Nicholas Mosley d. Joseph Losey). Studiocanal have released a high-quality edition of Accident on DVD and Blu-ray, including a documentary, and a host of interviews, including a 1967 conversation with Pinter and Joseph Losey.
- The Go-Between (1971, from L. P. Hartley d. Joseph Losey). The Go-Between is another high-quality release on DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal, including an archive audio interview with Losey from 1973.
- Butley (1974, w. Simon Gray d. Harold Pinter). Pinter’s only film as director was released in 2004 in the American Film Theatre Collection series, but is now deleted. An American Blu-ray edition has been announced.
- The Last Tycoon (1977, from F. Scott Fitzgerald d. Elia Kazan). The bare bones 2007 DVD release of The Last Tycoon is now deleted, but is not hard to find. Purchasers should take care to ensure that they are not buying the 2012 Chinese gangster film of the same title, which is unrelated.
- Langrishe, Go Down (BBC 1978, from Aidan Higgins d. David Jones). A BBC television film, Langrishe, Go Down has never been released in the UK. However, the film was revived theatrically in the United States in 2012, and (briefly) released on DVD. An Australian edition appears to still be available.
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981, from John Fowles d. Karel Reisz). Thanks to Meryl Streep’s famous performance and abiding interest in John Fowles’ novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman may well be Pinter’s most popular film. It is the only one to have thus far received the honour of a Criterion Collection canonisation (the Arden Editions of film releases) on DVD and Blu-ray. A particularly valuable bonus of this edition is the inclusion of a 1981 South Bank Show about the making of the film. Unfortunately, this has not been made available in Europe, and viewers without multi-region players must make do with a very basic edition. There is a French Blu-ray version (La Maîtresse du Lieutenant Français).
- Turtle Diary (1985, from Russell Hoban d. John Irvin). Turtle Diary has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, and the original 1980s VHS release of the film is hard to find.
- The Heat of the Day (ITV/ Granada 1989, from Elizabeth Bowen d. Christopher Morahan). Buried in the 1989 post-Christmas ITV schedule, The Heat of the Day is one of Pinter’s least-known adaptations, and has never been commercially released in the UK. It has been released in the USA by Acorn, and is most easily found on Wartime Britain, an intriguing collection that also includes Victoria Wood’s excellent Housewife, 49 (and the rather less-excellent WWII Channel Islands resistance serial Island at War).
- The Handmaid’s Tale (1990, from Margaret Attwood d. Volker Schlondorff). One might think that the tremendous excitement created by the 2017 MGM television serialization of The Handmaid’s Tale would have revived interest in the novel’s earlier film adaptation, but to date it has never been released on DVD in the UK. The interest is clearly building, though. I was going to suggest buying the Spanish edition (El Cuento De La Doncella), but in the week since looking it up and writing this piece, the price of a copy has shot up from £17 to £400!
- Reunion (1990, from Fred Uhlman d. Jerry Schatzberg). This film has not yet been released in the UK, but has been in France on both DVD and Blu-ray.
- The Comfort of Strangers (1990, from Ian McEwan d. Paul Schrader). A basic MGM edition of Schrader’s film is still available. There is also a German Blu-ray edition (Der Trost von Fremden).
- The Trial (BBC 1993, from Franz Kafka d. David Jones). A bare bones edition of The Trial was released in 2002. It is probably the cheapest Pinter film on the market.
- Sleuth (2007, from Anthony Shaffer d. Kenneth Branagh). Sleuth is the only Pinter film to have been theatrically released in the age of the DVD, and the commercial release includes some interesting documentary footage of Kenneth Branagh filming in the studio. Not released on Blu-ray in the UK, but there is a Spanish edition (La Huella).
Documentaries about Pinter
- Tempo: Harold Pinter (ITV/ ABC 1965, d. Jim Goddard). This fascinating short film includes some priceless footage of the original cast of The Homecoming. Part of the highly-recommended Network Tempo: Volume 1 collection of 1960s ITV Arts documentaries, which also includes studies of Orson Welles, Jaques Tati, Danny La Rue and others.
- The South Bank Show: Harold Pinter (ITV/ LWT 1998, d. David Thomas). This Melvyn Bragg interview with Pinter is included on the Network release of Laurence Olivier Presents: The Collection. Nine minutes of the programme has been cut for rights reasons.
- Harold Pinter: Art, Truth & Politics (2006). The film of Pinter’s remarkable 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
- Working With Pinter (2007, d. Harry Burton). A 2005 masterclass in Pinter performance, including contributions from the playwright. The DVD also includes interviews with Pinter.
- Pinter’s Progress (2009, d. Philip Saville). Saville’s documentary (released in a double-pack with The Homecoming) is taken from interviews and conversations with a diverse range of Pinter’s collaborators from across his life.