Blu-ray Review: An Accidental Studio

STUDIO: RLJ Entertainment | DIRECTOR: Kim Leggatt, Bill Jones, Ben Timlett
RELEASE DATE: July 28, 2020 | PRICE: DVD $9.99, Blu-ray $9.99
BONUSES: Premiere Q&A filmed live, featuring Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Ray Cooper
SPECS: NR | 94 min. | Documentary |  1.78:1 | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

Thanks to the efforts (and money) of former member of The Beatles George Harrison, HandMade Films mad its mark by producing some of the most ambitious, eclectic films of the late 1970s and 1980s, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, Time Bandits and Withnail and I among them.

How did “the quiet Beatle” become a big-time film executive, and what went wrong? Those are the key questions answered in An Accidental Studio, a smart, deliciously entertaining chronicle of the studio’s artistic and financial ups and downs in the high-risk world of commercial filmmaking.

Bob Hoskins and George Harrison in The Accidental Studio.

Boasting new interviews with Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, Michael Palin and others and a truckload of terrific, rarely seen archival footage that fills in the blanks, An Accidental Studio is a first-class Hollywood doc about the movie business that’s actually far from Hollywood.

According to the film, HandMade was conceived as a place to push the artistic envelope, recharge the British movie industry and give Harrison a sense of community among other artists that he sorely missed since The Beatles’ demise in the early 1970s. According to directors Ben Timlett, Bill Jones and Kim Leggatt, the studio pushed the envelope right out of the gate, producing the 1979’s scathing religious satire Monty Python’s Life of Brian after other places considered it too hot to handle.

Denis O’Brien, an American who ran the studio on a day-to-day basis, had a background in law and banking, was introduced to the former Fab Four member by Peter Sellers. O’Brien is still around (Harrison passed away in 2001), but is seen only in archival footage and it’s easy to see why: He is clearly the villain of the piece, arguing commerce over art and tussling (and eventually going to court) with Harrison and others. As explained here, their shaky relationship played a major part in the enterprise’s demise along with poor American distribution and investing in such ill-fated projects as the big budget Sean Penn-Madonna disaster Shanghai Surprise and many smaller efforts that didn’t show a profit.

Others offering their voices to this fascinating saga are long-time Elton John percussionist Ray Cooper, who helped produce some of the company’s films; Mona Lisa star Cathy Tyson; and such directors as Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I), Jonathan Wacks (Powwow Highway) and Jonathan Lynn (Nuns on the Run), all offering reminisces that are often funny and bittersweet.

An Accidental Studio may seem like an inside industry story, but fans of The Beatles, Monty Python and the HandMade stable of offbeat, challenging films should show plenty of keen interest in the title.

Buy or Rent An Accidental Studio

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.