Tribute to Network: Five British films

To the great sadness of genuine lovers of British film and television, the DVD and blu-ray company, Network, closed for business early in 2023. Over a period of 25 years, it had released (and supported with superb documentation) a vast array of vintage shows, dramas and films, some familiar, some relatively unknown. In so doing, it fostered a vital re-evaluation of British film and television culture. For this, and for the countless hours of entertainment it provided, researchers, scholars and ordinary viewers will be forever in its debt.

I had the pleasure of contributing booklet notes to around 30 Network releases. They were always a joy to do, not least because of the unfailing support, enthusiasm and knowledge of the Commissioning Editor, Steve Rogers. I can honestly say that none of the films disappointed. Some of them were comparatively well known but, in some cases, deserved to be better appreciated; others were barely known at all and warranted discovery. It became a labour of love.

The five films in the following collection came too late to be released but they seem to me representative of what Network habitually offered: an early vintage Michael Powell (The Phantom Light); a young Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson making their theatrical skills sparkle on screen (The Divorce of Lady X); a virtually unknown UK/Swiss co-production (The Village) which could scarcely seem more urgently relevant in its look at the plight of refugees and war orphans; an exceptional film from those legends of cut-price film-making, the Danziger brothers (Tarnished Heroes); and Peter O’Toole as Robinson Crusoe in Jack Gold’s imaginative rendering of Adrian Mitchell’s revisionist take on the Defoe original (Man Friday). An eclectic bunch certainly, but, in one way or another, all interesting, and all adding to our knowledge and appreciation of British film in sometimes unexpected ways. In other words, typical offbeat, provocative and stimulating Network projects. It will be sorely missed.

Neil Sinyard

Read Neil’s essays on these five British films here:
The Phantom Light (1935): read Powell before Pressburger: The Phantom Light (1935)
The Divorce of Lady X (1938): read “The anguish of humiliation”: The Divorce of Lady X (1938)
The Village (1953): read Orphans of war: The Village (1953)
Tarnished Heroes (1961): read Strictly Danziger: Tarnished Heroes (1961)
Man Friday (1975): read “I stood like one thunderstruck”: some reflections on Man Friday (1975)

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