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The tagline for 2003 drama Wondrous Oblivion reads “a wide-eyed boy in a narrow-minded world”. While the cultural diversity of today’s society means that things aren’t as narrow-minded as they once were, the concept of a wide-eyed young man learning infinite lessons about society remains universal despite the time period. Tackling issues such as anti-Semitism with cricket is a novel idea, but thankfully things pan out quite well for writer/director Paul Morrison and his competent cast.

Wondrous Oblivion
Movie
The film is set in post-war England around the mid-fifties, nudging the early sixties. In this climate immigrants and black people aren’t generally all that welcome, but the former can be tolerated purely because they’re the right colour. Such is the case with the Wiseman’s, a family of Jews driven out by Hitler. Central to the story is young David, a passionate cricket lover with absolutely no physical talent for the game whatsoever, which quickly earns him the place as team scorer at school.

Things all change when a West Indian family move in next door. Mrs.Wiseman soon sees the plus side, remarking that the racist heat has changed families for once. But the problem is the rest of the upturned noses in the street put her in charge of driving them away, a situation she feels severely uncomfortable with. And things only become inflamed when Jamaican-born Dennis Samuels and his daughters erect a cricket pitch and net in their backyard. Before long David is receiving lessons from Dennis and strikes up a friendship with their eldest daughter. Mrs.Wiseman, on the other hand, struggles with the pressure bestowed upon her by the neighbours as well as her deep-seated feelings that have been repressed for all these years.

It is an accomplished script by Morrison, carrying on the trend of innocent but highly entertaining British stories in the mould of Billy Elliot and Bend It Like Beckham. Mind you, there is no benefit in having a prior knowledge of how cricket is played purely because it is not the main focus of the story, rather a nifty tool in which to twist all the characters together. The issues may not be as intricate as the brilliant Far From Heaven, yet you get the sense that the relatively untried Morrison didn’t want to bite off more than he could chew.

The small cast are largely to thank for the film’s success. British youngster Sam Smith tackles the adorably naïve David with aplomb, mixing just enough boyish innocence with the usual youthful energy. Experienced actor Delroy Lindo slots perfectly in place beside him as the powerful presence of Dennis Samuels. Despite not being given much of a back story in which to develop as a character, Lindo’s pitch perfect portrayal of a well-grounded Jamaican immigrant with a delicate balance between compassion and responsibility is a real highlight. Emily Woof is the other key player in the mix during the film. While Ruth’s character arc is somewhat hastened by the need to focus on David’s exploits throughout the film, Woof’s deft handling of a character with suppressed feelings boiling straight to the surface is spot on.

Wondrous Oblivion
Using the game of cricket as the tie that binds issues such as racism, lust and sheer will together is definitely an interesting ploy. The fact that it never becomes a gimmick or turns the film into a fanciful sporting flick is testament to the writing talent of Paul Morrison. While the film may lose its way slightly during the third and final act, there is enough charm and substance in the finale (albeit a rather “safe” ending, admittedly) to leave you feeling satisfied when the credits roll. Despite a few sexual undertones here and there you can rest assured the whole family can enjoy this one, something which is becoming rarer by the day when you count out the safe options from the animation houses. In all, there’s a lot to like about this flick so seek it out at your local quick smart.

Video
The 1.78:1 transfer included on this disc comes up quite well, despite the use of archival footage looking noticeably (and not surprisingly) worse off than the rest of the film. The colours are quite vibrant throughout though the level of sharpness isn’t quite up to some of the other recent releases of the time. It may well have been an aesthetic decision to soften the image to fit in with the tone of the film, but that’s open to speculation. Black levels are solid, and you’ll find only a little bit of aliasing here and there. The archival footage of cricket matches and 1960s England is a bit of a contrast with the rest of the film but that’s only a minor complaint. Overall, not a bad looking transfer for this release.

Audio
For a dramatic film such as this one it’s not terribly important to have a cracking audio mix. However, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack included here is actually quite solid. Dialogue is naturally clear at all times despite the variety of accents on display, while there are some subtle uses of the surrounds which really do add to the feel surrounding the film. Listen to the voices of the cricketers wishing David good luck in the final act as they come from everywhere around the sound stage.

Music becomes a vital part of the movie in that it helps establish the time period and the different styles of music enjoyed by the various cultures. Those into genres such as SKA will revel in the tracks provided here, such as the charity dance sequence which becomes such a highlight of the film for various reasons. Then there’s the rather bizarre cricketing montage with David and Dennis set to Mickey Katz’s musical pastiche of Figaro. It probably sounds much odder than it actually is, but with this soundtrack it’s great to hear the music in all its glory.

Wondrous Oblivion
Extras
Only a small selection of extras have been provided here, starting with an audio commentary from director Paul Morrison. He often gets stuck (by his own admission) revelling in his handiwork which leads to a few pauses here and there but on the whole this is still an interesting track. Morrison doesn’t impart many anecdotes about the actual making of the film, more the structure and character developments that are going on underneath the surface.

Also included on the disc is a small featurette on the making of the film, running for just under ten minutes in total. There are interviews with all the major cast members as well as director Morrison and what looks like the editor on the film (we get to textual introductions). In all this is merely a fluff piece which probably ran on commercial TV or cable before the film’s theatrical release.

The only other extra included is the theatrical trailer, one that is quite different to the promo that ran in Australian cinemas. This trailer captures the essence of the story quite well, combining the friendly cricketing element with the darker tones of the film without giving too much away. It’s a shame we aren’t privy to longer interviews with the cast members or a possible collection of deleted scenes for this release. So far there has been no release in the US and the UK version is apparently a rental, so this is the best retail version you’ll get at the minute.

Wondrous Oblivion
Overall
It’s a shame this film wasn’t pushed harder in cinemas than it was, because what we’ve got here is a little gem that might well be overlooked by the majority of viewers it should attract. The film is family friendly for the most part and never gets too ambitious for its own good, thanks especially to measured performances from the key cast members. The video and audio presentations are quite solid while the extras turn out to be a little disappointing. Nevertheless, it’s the film that should have you seeking this one out in a hurry.


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