<p>Fortunes of War (DVD)</p><p>The Baltics, 1939. British professor Guy Pringle (Kenneth Branagh) arrives in Romania with his new bride, Harriet (Emma Thompson) and becomes enmeshed in the politics of anti-fascism. Despite Harriet's serious misgivings, Guy's social circle soon includes members of the British Secret Service who want to involve him in dangerous missions, and a downtrodden prince who zeroes in on Guy's generous nature and winds up living with the Pringles. Thus the stage is set for this mesmerizing story of marriage tested by accidental betrayal, callous insensitivity, and a world in upheaval. Based upon the autobiographical novels of best-selling author Olivia Manning, and set in places as far-flung as Bucharest, Athens andCairo, <i>Fortunes of War</i> is majestic in both its scope and its vision.</p>
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"Wherever we are, that will always be the center of things." So professor Guy Pringle reassures his new wife, Harriet. Unfortunately, where they are is Bucharest in 1939, with the Nazis gathering on the border, and fascism casting longer, darker shadows. Thus begins this epic 1987 miniseries based on Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant trilogies that was originally broadcast in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre. For most Americans, it was an auspicious first look at England's glamorous former First Thespian couple, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, who, as one character notes of Harriet, "lightens the darkness." Fortunes of War suggests what Casablanca might have been like had it followed Victor and Ilsa instead of Rick, who famously didn't want to stick his neck out for anybody. Not Guy. "I want to do something more dramatic than lecturing," he proclaims. "It is our duty to shine a little light to hope someone notices." His activities are enough to put him on a Nazi death list, forcing Guy and Harriet to Greece and Egypt. "It isn't a lark," Guy tells Harriet early on, "but it is an adventure." Fortunes of War is populated by colorful characters, most notably the pitiable and decidedly untrustworthy Prince Yakimov (Ronald Pickup), and the dashing young soldier Simon Boulderstone (Rupert Graves of The Forsythe Saga and A Room with a View). There is plenty of intrigue, betrayals, domestic melodrama, and emotional separations and reunions to propel this nearly seven-hour production to its powerful conclusion. Readers of Manning's books and Branagh and Thompson fans will find the release of War good fortune indeed. --Donald Liebenson
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