Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution (2007)

This 2007 film is another one that is not so much a gem but more a should-be-more-widely-known. Because even as this period piece is not exactly a cinematic treasure, it is still superior to others of that kind – like The Boat That Rocked, for example, which is undeservedly better known and equally undeservedly higher rated on imdb.

Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution recounts the (mis)adventures of a late 1960s English working class family who, through the blind zeal of its activist father, ends up moving to East Germany to help building a socialist Utopia. While his wife immediately realises the deceitfulness of their adopted country and all the snares surrounding them, it takes Mister Ratcliffe much longer. The elder daughter is too much of a diva to ever be able to adapt to a do-as-you-are-told society, but her younger sister is completely brainwashed. Plot and premise are simple: will and can the family adapt to life in East Germany, and if not, what are the alternatives and their consequences.

While the film as a whole might not work as well as it should, and the ending is a bit ludicrous, the film’s strength lies in the performances of some of its actors, and in the writing of some of its scenes. So, while the film is not always good at keeping its narrative flow and pace, it is rather good at depicting life in East Germany and its absurdities (in an exaggerated way, of course) and at creating the atmosphere that comes with it.
Moreover, this film should be noted for what it tried to do culturally and commercially: it tried to combine two of Europe’s most successful (and perhaps most interesting) genres of the previous decade: the “socially-conscious” British comedy drama (Brassed Off, The Full Monty, etc.) and the historical comedy drama trying to sketch Germany’s most recent dictatorship (Good Bye Lenin!, Sonnenallee, etc.).
In doing so, it also tried to work with a bi-national cast, combining many talents from both Germany and Britain – for reasons of authenticity, I suppose, but also to ensure success at the box office in both German and English speaking countries.

Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution stars veteran comedian Catherine Tate and Iain Glen of Game of Thrones fame. On the “German” side of the cast, you have two of the country’s most renowned actresses: Heike Makatsch (probably best known to international audiences through Love Actually) and Katharina Thalbach (in an outrageous performance as the neighbour from hell….).

As it would turn out, box office success eluded this film. It is difficult to say exactly why, but as I have speculated in other entries in this blog, I guess the time for this kind of socially-conscious comedy had simply passed. But maybe it was the political dimension and historical significance of this film that drove people off as they assumed the film to be “heavy” or difficult to understand? It is neither, by the way, although references to mines and spring guns employed by East German border guards illustrate that the absurdity of East German society did have deadly consequences.
A look at Rotten Tomatoes reveals an interesting fact: most critics liked this film (80% rating), while it failed to make a connection with its audience (53% rating). This mirrors the box office failure, but also shows you that there is enough in this film to find interesting and worthwhile, otherwise the critics’ rating would not be nearly as high.

There seems to be no Region Code 1 release for this film. If you buy a Region 2 DVD, keep in mind that this is not the kind of film one should spend more than 5 or 6 Euros on……

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