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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ring of Bright Water (Blu-ray)
Ring of Bright Water (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // G // May 21, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted June 18, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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Unexpectedly mesmerizing, Ring of Bright Water (1969), about a man and his pet otter (of all things), is not at all the film one might reasonably expect it to be. Though directed by "True Life Adventure" veteran Jack Couffer, it resembles those Disney nature films not at all, nor is it much like Born Free, the hit but shmaltzy 1966 film featuring Elsa the Lioness and her cubs, despite the presence of that film's stars, actors-turned-animal activists Bill Travers and his wife, Virginia McKenna.

Rather, it's a much subtler, lower-key film of the type no one would dare make anymore, and that's our loss. It's intelligent and at times quite moving, but not sentimental and cloying, and its animal star never behaves other than what it is, a somewhat domesticated otter. The filmmakers wisely don't give it human qualities. It's among the very best films of its type.

The movie is a moderately fictionalized adaptation (co-written by its star, Bill Travers), of Gavin Maxwell's same-named 1960 non-fiction book. Travers, who co-wrote the film, had with wife McKenna starred in the wildly popular Born Free, in which they had played real-life Kenyan wildlife conservationists George and Joy Adamson, who met tragic ends. The couple separated not long after the release of the film, and both were murdered in separate incidents, he by Somali bandits in 1989, she by a former discharged employee in 1980.

In a peculiar coincidence, Maxwell and poet-scholar Kathleen Raine, the female counterpart to McKenna's doctor character in Ring of Bright Water, likewise met unhappy ends. Raine was in love with Maxwell, despite the fact that he was homosexual. The otter of the book, Mijbil, died while in her care soon after she cursed her would-be lover. She blamed herself for both the otter's death and Maxwell's eventual cancer that claimed him in 1969, nine months after the movie's release.

The movie, fortunately, omits all this real-life sadness, while retaining its adult edge. In the movie, Graham Merrill (Travers) works as a kind of pension analyst in London, unhappy with the increasingly impersonal, technology-driven nature of his job. To and from work he passes a pet shop and becomes fascinated with an otter featured in its window display. Eventually he buys it, naming him Mij, but his small flat is clearly inadequate and Mij's mischievousness soon gets Graham evicted.

He quits his job and moves to the remote west coast of Scotland, buying a small, dilapidated cottage a short hike from the small village below. While Mij adjusts to his new freedoms, Graham meets the town doctor, Mary (McKenna) and her dog, Johnny. There's a hint of romantic attraction, but Mij's latest crisis keeps them busy: the freshwater eels in the pond Mij feeds on are disappearing as autumn approaches, and Graham has to figure out a way to keep his beloved pet from starving over the winter.

Older children will likely find Ring of Bright Water a refreshing change of pace from high-concept superhero movies (or perhaps not), but the film seems to have been made for an adult audience as much as children. Graham's move to the remote Scottish coast offers both breathtakingly beautiful scenery and a vicarious escape to a much simpler life. Graham fashions, for instance, most of his furniture out of old fish shipping crates he finds while beachcombing, and when he's in need of a freezer he finds an old, broken down one in the village and figures out how to repair it himself. His natural resourcefulness provides enormous freedom and he needs hardly any income to maintain his modest but envious lifestyle.

Though Graham intends on writing a book about his adventures in Iraq, most of his time is occupied caring for Mij, solving basic problems like keeping him fed while keeping him out of trouble. While there are a few near-Disneyesque moments, such as when Mij disrupts Graham's efforts to whitewash his new cottage, even here Mij always behaves like an ordinary otter. There's no funny musical accompaniment, and throughout the film its makers treat its audience with respect, allowing moments to pass without much comment, musical or otherwise.

Mij does love to frolic and play in the water especially, and the film subtly draws parallels between the otter and its human caregiver, who with or without Mij realizes that he's a much happier human being in faraway Scotland than London. Near the end of the story he has to go back there for a week, and likens it to being sent to prison. By this point, the audience would surely agree.

Video & Audio

Though released in the U.S. by Cinerama Releasing Corp., Kino's Ring of Bright Water sources a Rank-distributed source and the original 35mm camera negative for its 4K remastering. The gorgeous Scottish locations greatly benefit from the HD encoding, which offers very rich color and sharpness throughout. The DTS-HD Master Audio is mono but good for what it is, and optional English subtitles are provided. Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include an audio commentary track with film historian Lee Gambin and a trailer in very poor condition.

Parting Thoughts

A total surprise, Ring of Bright Water is a real charmer, a title I suspect I'll be spinning again and again in the coming years. Highly Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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