By Kieran Kinsella
British TV specialists Acorn Media have decided to capitalize on the wintery weather by releasing the critically acclaimed 2003 version of Boris Pasternak’s snow swept epic Dr Zhivago. This 2 disc set is for mature audiences only and includes the unedited UK version of the 225 minute revolutionary drama. Additionally, the box set includes 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage including cast interviews, and you also get a mini-biography of Pasternak.
As an avid fan of the 1965 film version of this same book, I was a little bit skeptical when I first heard about the small screen version. However, my fears were without foundation as this ITV production is just as enthralling as David Lean’s version and many people would argue that it is also closer to Pasternak’s book. That being said, BBC veteran writer Andrew Davies does a very good job of converting the wordy dialogue into a format that suits the small screen.
On the production side, Keira Knightley takes on the iconic role of Lara. Unlike her big screen counterpart Julie Christie, Knightley actually looks as if she is revolutionary era Russian woman. Hans Matheson of The Tudors isn’t a household name like Omar Sharif but in some respects that’s a good thing because you can readily accept him as the title character rather than identifying with the actor himself. The cast also includes another Tudors veteran in the form of Jurassic Park star Sam Neill. I’ll admit I am not Neill’s biggest fan but in Dr Zhivago he is actually very good. He is clearly a villain but he is sufficiently suave to convince you that he could evoke a modicum of interest from an impressionable young girl like Lara. Fans of Best British TV will also recognize Downton Abbey’s High Bonneville as Andrei Zhivago, and Calendar Girls actress Celia Imrie. Oh and I have to give a quick mention to Citizen Khan’s Kris Marshall who is brilliant as the deranged Strelnikov.
Acorn Media did release Dr Zhivago once before in 2003 but if you missed out on it last time around then you’ll regret passing up this opportunity to get your hands on it. The DVD set costs just $29.99 and hits stores on 1 January.
The Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of this world create a big enough sensation today when details of their personal lives are plastered across the front pages of the tabloids. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine just how scandalous it must have seemed to the Victorian era guardians of morality when dance hall actress Lillie Langtry decided to embark on a series of very public affairs with some of the best known married men of London. Her lovers included none other than the Prince of Wales who went to become King Edward VII.
Langtry was regarded as a woman of remarkable beauty in her day. Rather wisely, the producers of Lillie decided to cast Francesca Annis – an actress as well known for her good looks as her talent – in the title role.
While Annis’ undoubted charm and some saucy sub plots probably would have been enough to carry the show, the directors went further and produced a program that is widely regarded as one of the best British TV dramas of the last 40 years. Annis is a top notch actress and she is more than adequately supported by acting luminaries such as Dennis Lill (The Survivors), Peter Egan (Downton Abbey) and Anton Rogers (French Fields). Annis won a BAFTA for her portrayal of Lillie and the show as a whole received no less than eight BAFTA nominations. It’s quality is comparable with I Claudius and Brideshead Revisited and frankly there aren’t many other shows that you could really compare it to in terms of excellence.
The Lillie DVD box set includes 4 discs, comprised of 13 episodes and no less than 672 minutes of love, intrigue, salaciousness and a healthy dose of rudimentary women’s lib. The set also includes an essay about Langtry and cast biographies. If you’re a fan of costume drama then you’ll regard it as a good investment if you take the plunge and pay $49.99 when it hits stores on 1 January. (Continued below)
Trial and Retribution Set Six concludes Acorn Media’s impressive 1 January line up. This box set includes six episodes of the ITV crime drama that aired in the UK during 2008/09 but have never been broadcast in the U.S. The series was created by Lynda La Plante who came to prominence after the success of her award winning drama Prime Suspect. As with most of her shows, it is gripping, intelligent and at times graphic but her storylines and characters are always very real.
Set six is comprised of four two part stories beginning with a murder mystery set in a quarry called Tracks. Sirens is the second story in the set and it revolves around the hijacking of an ambulance and the eventual murder of both a paramedic and a patient. As the investigation begins, the team soon discover that one of the gunmen’s victims was a drug smuggler who happened to be dating a well-known socialite. The third story in the set is called Ghost Train and it involves a death at a fairground that may or may not have been accidental. Shooter is the last and arguably the best story in this box set. It involves an armed robbery at a jewelry store that casts light on gangland killings and the underworld of crime.
The principal stars of Trial and Retribution are David Hayman (DCSI Mike Walker) and Victoria Smurfit (DCI Roisin Connor). Fans of all things British may recognize the latter from Hugh Grant’s About a Boy while TV veteran Hayman is best known for his role in The Paradise. As is often the case, the supporting cast for this crime drama is mainly comprised of talented newcomers rather than household names. That being said, U.S. based viewers may recognize Benjamin Whitrow (Pride and Prejudice) and Sally Dexter (Goodnight Sweetheart).
Trial and Retribution Set 6 will be available for $49.99 from Acorn Online and major retailers. For that price you get 361 minutes of action and a half hour behind-the-scenes documentary. It’s a bit more gritty than Midsomer Murders and darker than Sherlock but like those shows it’s also a great example of quality British TV drama.