Having already reviewed Peter Watkins' 1967 debut feature Privilege on this site (here), and considering a fairly like-minded opinion was also filed by Gary Couzens not long ago (here), I'm content in finding little need to repeat myself. My view that Privilege is a film that deserves, even needs, to be seen despite it ultimately succumbing to its various flaws, most of which drag things down especially in the second half, remains unchanged after another watch.
The BFI included Privilege in its Flipside strand earlier this year but was only able to release a DVD version at the time. A dual-layered Blu-ray, locked to play only on Region B machines per contractual obligation, now arrives alongside the most recent spine numbers in the Flipside series. For fans of the film looking forward to experiencing it in high definition, the result should prove worth the few extra months of waiting. That said, a blunder like the "A film by Pete Walker" credit that's prominently found on the back of the case is perhaps even more embarrassing given the delayed nature of the release.
The enclosed booklet indicates that Privilege was "transferred and restored in High Definition from the original 35mm negative elements by Universal Pictures and the master was supplied by Hollywood Classics." That seems to indicate that the BFI was given the transfer by Universal, further meaning that any digital imperfections (rather than issues inherent to the elements) derive from the studio's work. Such blemishes are nonetheless minor at worst, with some light edge enhancement seemingly popping up at times. Colors tend to be rich though not especially crisp and detail has been slightly elevated from the standard definition version. Actually, this looks a lot like the Project X disc I reviewed before but now with the increased clarity that should come with high definition. Damage is never an issue as the image appears almost pristine throughout the film. A particularly harsh judgment might be that there's not a whole lot to rave about, though it is still a clear, if modest, improvement over the DVD, but there's also little to find major fault with here. It's presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Audio emits via an English PCM mono track. The two-channel lossless freak-out lets the already impressive musical diversions sound even better than they did in standard Dolby Digital. It's a nice showcase for the eclectic and catchy collection of songs found in the film. Dialogue comes through cleanly and without incident. Volume levels are strong and consistent. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are optional, white in color.
Two Peter Watkins-directed short films, now in HD, can be found on the disc. "The Diary of an Unknown Soldier" (17:03) is a 1959 short that uses Watkins' own narration against images that look to have been left over from a WWI newsreel but were actually shot by the director. In both "Diary" and 1961's "The Forgotten Faces" (18:53) Watkins rejects any captured audio or dialogue and instead invents an immediacy that comes with such seemingly reliable images. This technique has become a signature of Watkins' career, but it almost feels more raw in these early attempts. "The Forgotten Faces" takes on a 1956 Hungarian rebellion with what almost anyone watching would swear was a documentary-type authenticity. It's a remarkable style of fiction, at once far more manipulative than the falseness Watkins was presumably responding to in movies but still undeniably more powerful to view. The earlier short was transferred and is presented at its correct 16fps running speed. The quality is, in a word, limited to look at and littered with damage. "The Forgotten Faces" appears much sharper, though still with some damage, and displays superb levels of detail.
An original trailer (2:54) for Privilege, also in high definition, completes the extras on the disc.
Much more lies ahead by way of the BFI's included 32-page booklet, another gorgeous effort from one of the few companies so devoted to providing written material as supplements. It contains an essay on the film by Robert Murphy that runs for 7 pages of text. William Fowler contributes a 6-page biography of Watkins and there's another pair of pages written by Vic Pratt on star Paul Jones. Four more pages are devoted to the short films by Watkins in an informative write-up done by John Cook. Generous stills and further details like a cast and crew list and technical notes on the transfer help to pad out the booklet.