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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky [Blu-ray]


(Simon Curtis, 2005)





Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: BBC

Video: BBC 2entertain



Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:34:25

Disc Size: 23,542,306,088 bytes

Feature Size: 23,298,127,872 bytes

Average Bitrate: 17.39 Mbps

Chapters: 24

Case: Thicker (UK) Blu-ray case

Release date: November 12th, 2007



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080i

Video codec: VC-1 Video






LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit



English, none



• None



The Movie : 8

If you fancy stories about misguided, obsessive and unrequited love, you might just take to Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, an adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's trilogy of novellas, faithfully adapted and evocatively staged for BBC television by Kevin Elyot and Simon Curtis.  Hamilton, for those who don't recognize the name, is a highly respected British writer of novels and dramas, including "Gaslight" "Rope" and "Hangover Square." 


Set between the two great wars, three young people in overlapping stories meet or work separately and together at a London Soho pub.  Bob and Ella have separate rooms above the pub where Bob is a waiter and Ella, a barmaid.  Ella (Sally Hawkins), a sweet and loving, but rather homely girl, pines for Bob (Bryan Dick), a charmer who, in turn, has his eye on Jenny, a local prostitute.  Each story (or "episode" as the IMDb puts it carelessly) focuses on each of the three "lovers" in turn (if the IMDb can do it, why not I?) 


In "The Midnight Bell," despite Jenny's repeated broken promises to meet him at an arranged time or to give up walking the streets in favor finding a "real" job, Bob doles out what money he has saved.  He has little to show for his efforts except a dwindling bank account.  Jenny, for her part, never leads Bob on, without first reminding him of what she is.  What she is and how she got that way is heartbreakingly told in her story "The Siege of Pleasure" (which has to be one of the great titles in literature).  In "The Plains of Cement" Ella is surprised to be pursued by a dapper, elderly gentleman (Philip Davis) of means.


It may be that seventy or eighty years later, we may have become cynical and desensitized to innocence led astray, especially in that these stories offer few surprises.  The writing has a certain fatalistic poetry about it, however, with repeating stanzas that ring like the bell for which the opening story is named (actually, it's the name of the pub itself).  The acting is always first rate, as we have come to expect from BBC television.  In addition to the principals, there are perfectly realized performances from Neil Stuke as the man who leads unsuspecting Jenny into one glass of port too many; Philip Davis as Mr. Eccles, a rapidly cycling Hyde and Jekyll; and Susan Wooldridge (Daphne Manners in The Jewel in the Crown) as Ella's abused mother.  In a few lines and as many seconds of screen time these pros conjure up a complete persona for our protagonists to try to make their way.


Image: 8/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.


Despite its 1080i resolution at a lowish bitrate, its two and a half hours complete on a single layered disc, this BBC 2/entertain pleases, even if it fails to define the medium.  The image is on the soft side, contrast is intentionally squashed, noise is minimal, but transfer issues are not distressing.  I suspect an increase of 60-70% in the bit rate might have made for a denser image, which would have been appreciated.  Color is reminiscent of hand painted photographs of the period, with a light rosiness to flesh tones that suggests the artifice of life, rather than its fulfillment. 
















Audio & Music : 6/8

The LCPM stereo mix is probably all that is needed to render the low-key drama in a naturalistic manner.  There is no attempt to punch up dynamics or create a surround where one did not exist in the original [production – though in the various pubs especially I messed a sense of ambience. Dialogue is properly sized and positioned and clear enough to not require subtitles, except for clarifying the slang.  I wonder if the frequent use of original period pop music was a deciding factor in not enhancing the mix.


Operations : 5

As if to confirm the notion of "episodes," full credits are played at the end of each story, plus a brief recap that precedes parts two and three.  This makes a certain sense if the stories are to be viewed on different nights as they might have been in their original airing (sorry, I wasn't able to find out), but for home video, it would have more sense to have its Play All function shown seamlessly, with full credits at the end of the last.  The fact that each part is only fifty minutes almost demands it.



Extras : 0

Only a small uninteresting photo gallery – not even a little piece on Patrick Hamilton.



Recommendation : 7

Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky isn't going to blow anyone away with obscure, profound insights about the human condition.  On the contrary, the three stories function more as fables, each revealing familiar foibles that most, if not all of us have fallen into at one time or another.  Performances and production are all very good. The art direction, costumes and photography with its desaturated lighting evoke the period and the relatively hopeless lives of its inhabitants.  The 1080i image and LPCM audio are adequate but, alas, there are no extras – and there should have been. is practically giving this title away just now for 6.48!  Recommended.


Leonard Norwitz
March 5th, 2009





About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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