The former Seizure Patrol and Matador star Brandon J. Dirden (currently gunning for a second place finish in Season 3 of “The Americans”) takes on the role of England’s Leonard Halsey in William Cole’s fine action epic “Midwinter of the War.”
If the scale of the book, originally published in the early 1800s, were a higher percentage of the book (349 pages of luxuriant writing, 650 pp.) on screen, its dramatic implications would seem to be among the most dramatic aspects. Dramatic enough that film producers have often taken various liberties.
In the 1820s, meanwhile, a co-star who many could only describe as “intense” or “battling,” performed hard and fast in the trenches in “The Fall.” In “Lockout,” the movie of his book, James McAvoy falls into this category.
In “Harold,” directed by Thor Freudenthal, however, Dirden delivers, even though he has some moments when the action screeches to a halt in “Daniel” (Cliff Curtis) passing around an assortment of boxes, bottles and other weapons, as part of his work as “Lockout’s” near-destitute surplus agent. As the film began my presence indicated that was exactly what I had most feared.
Ultimately, the film also lacked something I have come to associate with great action films of a decade ago — authentic British acting talent — given that their central role in the story actually occurs in an unidentified part of Africa.
The film – shot entirely on soundstages in Liverpool with an American crew – tries to stay true to the book’s spirit.
This is because the television narrative is essentially the portrayal of what Halsey himself saw up close. That is, his own memory of the events of that period. It’s true the book, for all its talk of contusions, dysentery and gallows humour, had little in common with today’s world. But in Halsey, however, England had at least one real historical figure living.
That noble soldier — at different times a petty aristocrat, a businessman and an army captain – was, in one sense, more vivid than the film’s actors. While actors Curtis and McAvoy certainly did that part justice, during one crucial sequence the sky suddenly fell over the castle where the story is taking place.