February DVD Reviews: She Wolves and Above Suspicion

Dr Helen Castor in She Wolves
Dr Helen Castor in She Wolves

Kieran Kinsella

As a self-confessed history buff I was excited to hear that Athena’s February line-up would include the BBC documentary series She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens. This critically acclaimed show is hosted by Cambridge historian Dr Helen Castor and the content is largely drawn from her book on the same subject. As you might have guessed, the term “she-wolves” was conjured up by an anonymous misogynist hundreds of years ago to describe the powerful women who once dominated the British Isles. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that Castor portrays the women in question as helpless victims in a man’s world. She is quick to draw attention to their character flaws whilst explaining the obstacles powerful women once faced in a male dominated society.

Most of us are pretty familiar with Elizabeth I, “Bloody Mary,” and Lady Jane Grey. Things get a bit sketchy when it comes to Eleanor of Aquitaine and poor old Queen Matilda was all but forgotten until she made a cameo appearance in the Starz drama Pillars of the Earth. Therefore, I was intrigued to hear about some of these lesser known royals and Dr Castor does a rather better job of bringing these stories to life than the average high school history teacher. Unlike the History Channel, the BBC don’t like to use actors in documentaries but they do add some color to the narrative with shots of ancient castles, flags and some menacing looking statues. The show is very similar to David Starkey’s recently aired series on the Tudor monarchs and Castor is just as energetic as Starkey when it comes to her subject matter.

The She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens DVD box set costs $34.99 and hits stores in the U.S. on 5 February. Each episode is about an hour long and the total running time is 185 minutes. I’d happily pay the asking price just for the onscreen action but for all you bargain hunters out there, the box set also includes a viewer’s guide featuring a biography of castor and articles related to the series.

Above Suspicion 2. Acorn Media
Above Suspicion 2. Acorn Media

Lynda La Plante is fast becoming one of the staples of Acorn Media’s monthly DVD releases and it’s no wonder considering that she is regarded as the queen of modern crime dramas. Last month, purchasers of all things Acorn got to see La Plante in action as an actress in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime. This month, she is wearing her writer’s hat as the creative mastermind behind Above Suspicion Set 2.

The three-part story in this box set – Deadly Intent – aired in the UK during 2011. It has never been broadcast in the U.S. although it made its debut on Acorn’s British TV streaming service late last year. The action begins in Mexico where an unnamed man is under going a rather painful looking facial reconstruction surgery. That storyline is then put on hold as the action switches to the other side of the Atlantic where one of DCS Langton’s old police chums has been found murdered. As Langton and Travis begin to investigate the killing, it quickly becomes apparent that the dead cop was involved in a vast world wide web of drug smuggling and skullduggery of many kinds.

U.S. fans of British TV will recognize Rome actor Ciaran Hinds as the hard-nosed Langton. Less well known but equally talented is Kelly Reilly who plays the real star of the show – DI Travis. If you’ve seen Prime Suspect then you know what to expect from a La Plante drama. If you haven’t then be prepared for something that is harrowingly realistic and at times quite gruesome. This 138 minute, 3 disc set also hits stores on 5 February and can be yours for the low price of $29.99

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