Tony Palmer’s epic film was made in 1982/3 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wagner’s death. Filmed in 200 locations throughout Europe, many where the actual historical events took place, with a team from 19 different countries, the entire production was completed in less than a year. Sadly Wagner was to be Richard Burton’s last major role, but the stellar cast – including Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, László Gállfi, Gemma Craven, Ekkehardt Schall, Richard Pasco, Marthe Keller, Gabriel Byrne, Franco Nero, Ronald Pickup, Corin Redgrave, Cyril Cusack, Prunella Scales, Andrew Cruickshank, Joan Greenwood, Liza Goddard, Bill Fraser, Arthur Lowe, Joan Plowright, with composer Sir William Walton in a cameo role – assembled partly because of him.
Only now is the film being released on DVD as its director Tony Palmer wishes it to be viewed. Previously it’s been seen in badly edited versions and been made available on DVD (reproduced from poor-quality VHSs) with sub-standard pictures and sound. Finally, here is the restored presentation as it was originally edited by Tony Palmer in its complete 7 hours 46 minutes duration, issued in wide-screen, re-mastered in Hi-Definition. The music, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti with singers including Dame Gwyneth Jones and Peter Hofmann, has never sounded better, and the astonishing images of cameramen Vittorio Storaro and Nic Knowland have never looked better.
The script by Charles Wood remains a miracle of historical compression and accuracy, given that Wagner himself was an appalling fantasist and the truth often hard to ascertain.
And Richard Burton, who towers above the production, reminds us what a great actor he was. This is a fitting tribute to his – and to Wagner’s – genius.
Region: 0 (All Regions)
Rating: E (Exempt from Certification)
Duration: 7hrs 46mins
Picture Format: NTSC (all regions), Widescreen, high definition
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese
Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, László Gállfi, Gemma Craven, Ekkehardt Schall, Richard Pasco, Marthe Keller, Gabriel Byrne, Franco Nero, Ronald Pickup, Corin Redgrave, Cyril Cusack, Prunella Scales, Andrew Cruickshank, Joan Greenwood, Liza Goddard, Bill Fraser, Arthur Lowe & Joan Plowright