Film Reviews

Full Circle: The Haunting of Julia (1977) – 4K UHD Review

Marketed as a BFI Flipside release, Full Circle (released in the United States under the alternate title The Haunting of Julia and released here under both names) is a relatively little-known 1977 British film, directed by Richard Loncraine (best known for his later work on Band of Brothers, and the 2004 Paul Bettany film Wimbledon) and starring Mia Farrow, in a performance that has a distinct overlap with her role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby some eight years before. Until now Full Circle has not been available on any home format, and much of this release discusses a six-year struggle to get the film out there for the public to view.

As for the film itself, Mia plays Julia, a young American housewife living in London with her husband Magnus (2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Keir Dullea), with their twelve-year-old daughter, Kate (Sophie Ward). At breakfast one morning Kate begins choking on an apple and, in trying to help her, Julia botches a tracheotomy and Kate passes away.

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In her trauma, she ends her marriages and rents a large house in Holland Park. With the property fully furnished, she finds a room full of a child’s toys. From here, she starts getting visions of a young girl she believes to be her deceased daughter, but turns out to be another deceased girl named Olivia, whose story she will comes to learn. As the visions intensify, fatal accidents begin to befall those close to her (including a young Tom Conti as Mark, a friend of hers), and she begins to uncover a disturbing tale of childhood violence from the past.

The film is based on the Peter Straub novel Julia, and many of the bonus features will discuss how the changes from that novel have led to parts of the plot making less sense than they should. The film is not quite sure what it wants to be, a horror film or a ghost story; it pulls in both directions and is weaker for this. That said, it has that attractive, slightly over-exposed dreamlike quality that we got in The Omen. It has a decent stereo sound mix and is led by a Farrow performance that is as ethereal as ever. There is always something not quite of this world about her, something untouchable. This is a film that is consistently fascinating, and should find some new fans with this release, but it cannot be confused for a great film as it is a little too muddled.

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Bonus features kick-off with a newly recorded audio commentary with director Richard Loncraine and film historian Simon Fitzjohn. They have worked together for six years restoring the film in readiness for this release. Both question whether the film is too slow for modern audiences (it truly is not) and whether it will find viewers on this release. There was, evidently, a lot of stress on the set, as filming began in November 1976 and had to complete by Christmas for accounting purposes. Loncraine feels that, at 30, he was not experienced enough to be able to make it enjoyable for everyone.

Fitzjohn actually explains some things about the film to Loncraine, and it is amusing to hear the director admitting that he struggles to understand it, as he followed odd ideas from his cast in places, and he still finds it confusing. This is the refreshing lack of ego that comes with age, and it makes for a fine commentary track, with a good mix of technical details, old stories and two friends talking.

‘A Holland Park Haunting’ is a newly recorded talking head interview with Richard Loncraine. He comes across as likeable, as he is in the commentary, and it is nice to put a face to him. There is some overlap in the stories, particularly about the tension with the studio over what type of film being made, but it is a nice feature. ‘What’s That Noise?’ is a newly recorded interview with composer Colin Towns. This is followed by ‘The Fear of Growing Up’, as Samantha Gates revisits her work as a child actor, playing Olivia, in Full Circle

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‘A Haunting Retrospective’ is a new video essay by author and critic Kim Newman. As usual, he puts the film into historical context, name-checking Don’t Look Now, Rosemary’s Baby and The Changeling. He is familiar with the source novel, its structure and ideas, and we learn of the biggest negative change from the book, that would have added many layers to the film’s end result. This is fine feature, and the single element through which we learn the most about what this film could have been.

In ‘Park Life’, film historian and Full Circle expert Simon Fitzjohn takes a walk around London in search of locations from the film. This does exactly what it says on the tin, but his passion for this film is infectious. ‘Coming Full Circle’ sees actor Tom Conti recall his early career and time on this film. He rates Loncraine as one of the best directors he has ever worked with, and notes that this film was probably spoiled by the release of The Omen. Again, this is a freshly shot feature, demonstrating the love in the curation of this product. This is followed by ‘Joining the Circle’, an archival interview with associate producer Hugh Harlow. ‘Images of a Haunting’ is a selection of rare materials related to the film and collected over many years, presented along with an audio commentary by their owner Simon Fitzjohn. 

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All of this comes with an illustrated booklet, which runs to 25 pages, and is very much reminiscent of offerings from Eureka Entertainment‘s Masters of Cinema range. It features an introduction by Richard Loncraine, plus new writing on the film by Simon Fitzjohn, telling us how the film was made and why he feels it made so little a mark. There’s also a piece on ‘Richard Loncraine: A Career by Design’ by the BFI’s Dr Josephine Botting.

This is a very creditable release for a well-made, little-known film that, whilst no classic, certainly deserves a wider audience than it has had for the last 46 years.

Full Circle: The Haunting of Julia is out now on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and Digital from the BFI.

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