Heavenly Pursuits [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (14th June 2024).
The Film

"Heavenly Pursuits" (1986)

Vic Mathews (played by Tom Conti) is a remedial teacher at a Catholic school in Glasgow, helping young kids. His style is unconventional as he uses humor to connect with the students who otherwise have trouble with standard strict styles of teaching at the school. He is smitten by the new music teacher Ruth Chancellor (played by Helen Mirren), but she brushes off his awkward advances and interactions. But then, a few unexplained miracles seem to occur at the school, each dealing with Vic. The school is looking for actual accounted miracles for their school to be recognized by the Vatican, but Vic is not exactly the model teacher they are looking to represent them.

"Heavenly Pursuits" is a quaint comedy-drama that looks at beliefs, faith, and awkwardness through male and female, children and adults, and the importance of positive thinking. Conti's performance during his teaching scenes are full of joy and smiles, as he never looks to his pupils downward, but as equals. If one makes a joke, he will counter it with something better. When asking for countries and languages and a kid starts to name motorbike manufacturers instead, he takes the opportunity to start naming makers as well for a fun challenge. There have been a number of films featuring teacher-student relations and how certain teachers could reach out and open the hearts and minds to those who are troubled. From "To Sir, with Love", "Mr. Holland's Opus" to "Dead Poets Society" there is magic to the genre. But the magic here is not exactly just to the students, as it is only one of the focal points.

When Vic suddenly faints at a bus stop for seemingly no apparent reason, doctors find that he has an incurable and fatal brain tumor. It is from here that life as he had known it would change, but not immediately as he is not told about the tumor, so he leads his life the way it was. Unlike "Ikiru" or the British remake "Living" where the protagonist's learning about his life being drawn short due to inoperable cancer and changing his life for the better, Vic is as optimistic as he ever was, looking to connect with his students which other teachers have found to be seemingly impossible, as well as trying to woo Ruth unsuccessfully. But then his tumor mysteriously disappears. He takes a fall from a building while trying to rescue the student Eddie (played by Ronnie McCann) who was stuck on a rooftop, but while Eddie fell and broke both his legs, Vic is barely with a scratch on him. His pupil Charlie Deans (played by a very young Ewen Bremner) is showing incredible signs of progress academically. There is also young student Alice McKenzie who is crippled and cannot walk, suddenly starting to see improvements. Is some higher power guiding over Vic? He is not a particularly religious man himself and sees the happenings as logic or luck rather than anything holy. But when more unusual happenings surround him further, he starts to believe there may be something, and some of his actions to demonstrate are sometimes flat out crazy.

The writer and director of "Heavenly Pursuits" Charles Gormley worked with fellow Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth on a number of productions, from industrial documentaries in the 1970s, and was a screenwriter for television and film, not just in the United Kingdom, but also for a number of softcore Dutch features. His first feature as a director, "Living Apart Together" from 1982 was a music based Scottish film which was unfortunately considered lost for a number of years, until it was miraculously rediscovered and restored with a DVD release in 2013, which was a differing kind of miracle in comparison to what his second film as director "Heavenly Pursuits" would showcase.

The film is mostly focused on Vic and his doings, but there are also moments with the school's headmaster and others that are concerned about the sainthood status of the late Edith Semple, who their school is named after, and there are the interactions with the other teachers at the school and their deeds. But Vic is certainly the main draw, and while Conti does an admirable job as the well-spirited teacher, it doesn't give too much time with the other performers. Mirren is very good but her part does feel underwritten altogether, even though she is the female lead. It is fun to see the scenes with Vic and his students, but many of them are not given much character apart from a select few. Even for a film that is an hour an a half in length, it is underwritten and slowly paced, which is not necessarily a bad point, but it doesn't feel as polished in characters as it could have. It still has its charms, and the film has had a positive reputation over the years with Scottish cinema with its accessibility and positivity. Gormley would later write and direct some productions for television, but "Heavenly Pursuits" would be his last theatrically released film. He passed away on September 22nd, 2005 from cancer at the age of 67. The film won one award at Sicily's Taormina International Film Festival with an acting win for Conti while Gormley was nominated for direction.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from an HD master by Channel Four/Film Four. The picture is quite good, with fine detail throughout in lighter colored daytime sequences, as well as the darker nighttime sequences. Colors seem to be accurately displayed, and there is a healthy amount of film grain visible for a filmic look. Damage marks are basically non-existent for a clean and sharp image throughout. A great restoration and a great transfer is presented here.

The film's runtime is 90:43


English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented uncompressed. The dialogue is well balanced against the music and effects and is always clear. There are no issues of hiss, pops, dropout, or other problems for a clean sounding audio track. It is not the heaviest audio track out there, but it gets the job done and there are no faults to be heard.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed and easy to read and without errors.


"A Magic Touch" 2024 interview with Tom Conti (20:12)
This new and exclusive interview with Conti has him recalling the production, which was originally titled "Just Another Miracle" according to him. He discusses the school environment, working with Mirren and the other actors, the director's methods, behind the scenes information, and more. He also recalls the stunt scenes such as the driving and the jump while watching the stunt people as he wasn't the one jumping to and from the building.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"The Mirocle" 1976 short (13:04)
This animated short by Jack Daniel was influenced by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee with earthy tones and abstractions, showcases a man's introspection through a mysterious mirror. The image has its share of speckles and the dialogue free audio is a bit flat with the mono music, but looks and sounds fair overall.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33.1, Music LPCM 2.0 mono

"The Science of Miracles" shorts (with Play All) (17:39)
- "The X-Rays" (1897) (0:44)
- "X-Ray Images" (1910) (0:30)
- "The Miracle of X-Rays!" (1928) (1:21)
- "Scientific Tit-Bits" (1917) (5:06)
- "Mass Radiography" (1943) (9:56)

Presented here are five shorts that deal with X-rays. The first and earliest is a comical short directed by pioneering English filmmaker George Albert Smith with a couple suddenly having their inner skeletons revealed through an X-Ray camera. It is not done for real, but instead with editing trickery and costume designs. Next is simply "X-Ray Images" from 1910 showing a series of X-ray photos of people. This is followed by a Topical Budget short newsreel featuring X-ray photos. "Scientific Tit-Bits" is a compilation short of science based shorts with intertitle explanations. The final short is the only one with sound, and it is "Mass Radiography" from 1943. This information short is narrated by Lionel Gamlin showed the power of X-ray photography in the fight against Tuberculosis and what the public should do for taking tests. "Scientific Tit-Bits" is tinted with yellow and blue for differing sequences, while the other silent shorts and the sound short are in black and white. Image quality differs from short to short, with each having differing damage marks, but they all look fairly good, with the silent shorts having music tracks accompany them. The sound short's audio is a bit flat, but is in fair shape and the narration is intelligible. "The X-Rays", "X-Ray Images", "The Miracle of X-Rays!", "Scientific Tit-Bits", and "Mass Radiography" are all available to watch for free on the BFI Player. "The X-Rays" has been embedded below, courtesy of the BFI.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0 stereo with English intertitles for silent shorts / in English LPCM 2.0 mono without subtitles for “Mass Radiography”

Trailer (1:41)
The original UK Film Four trailer is presented here in fairly good condition. It has also been embedded below, courtesy of Film Four.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

A 24 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay "The Age of Miracles Not Yet Past?" by film critic Philip Kemp on Gormley's life and career. Next are written biographies on Mirren and Conti by Ellen Cheshire. There are also full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

Conti's interview is interesting and the animated short is also fascinating. The X-ray themed shorts bundled together here is a bit questionable. Yes, the doctors find Vic's tumor through X-ray photos, but it seems archival shorts based on miracles, schools, or faith could have been more suitable or have had in addition. Or some new interviews with Mirren or Bremner would have been interesting to hear.

Other notable clips:

A "Then & Now" featurette for locations seen in "Heavenly Pursuits" from Astonishing Glasgow

Trailer with the US title "The Gospel According to Vic"


"Heavenly Pursuits" may not have broken new ground in filmmaking, but it is an optimistic and quirky little faith-based Scottish comedy with a great performance by Conti in the lead. The BFI Blu-ray has a great transfer for video and audio, with a good but not so great selection of extras included.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+


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