Maigret, Miss Jean Brodie and Garrow’s Law on DVD
Acorn Media’s February 26 line-up begins with a value box set of the BBC’s most popular courtroom drama – Garrow’s Law. Acorn have previously released some of the 18th century barrister’s stories in the U.S. but this 6 disc set is Garrow’s Law: The Complete Collection. Aside from the twelve episodes that aired during the show’s three year run, you also get an hour of extras that includes a feature on the real life William Garrow and some behind-the-scenes footage.
The real William Garrow was something of a social reformer who did his best to defend the poor and the uneducated at a time when “justice” was often swift and harsh. Andrew Buchan (The Sinking of the Laconia) takes on the title role. He looks a little like Ross Poldark and the whole show is based in the same era as that other popular PBS classic. It looks and feels very authentic and like any good courtroom drama it is based around a series of stand-alone cases that are linked together by story arcs that span each season. Garrow’s personal and professional relationships with his love-interest Lady Hill (Lyndsey Marshal), mentor John (Alun Armstrong) and rival Sir Arthur (Rupert Graves) are a major component of the series. The show is as much about Garrow the man as it is about Garrow the barrister.
The second season of Garrow’s Law had the highest TV ratings and the episodes from that season are the pick of the bunch on this DVD set as Garrow’s daliance with Lady Sarah ends up in a thrilling courtroom battle. Fans in the UK were less than happy when the BBC pulled the plug on the show. I felt much the same way after watching the 12 episodes in this set although I won’t be surprised if Garrow like Maigret has an eventual TV resurrection. This 700 minute box set costs $79.99.
He may be best known for his recent performances in Harry Potter but Michael Gambon’s greatest role was arguably Maigret. It was something of a gamble when ITV decided to bring the French detective back to TV in 1991, as the BBC’s earlier version of the show had become something of a cult hit. However, fortune favors the brave and ITV chiefs were rewarded for their courage when Michael Gambon quickly usurped Rupert Davies and became not only the best Maigret, but also one of British TV’s most popular detectives.
Maigret’s creator – Georges Simenon – was a Belgian writer with a taste for the . . . saucier things in life. A philanderer and artisan, Simenon was well acquainted with some of the most notorious strippers and prostitutes of 1920s Paris. His own experiences influenced his writing and Maigret’s mysteries are littered with working women, mistresses and other morally questionable characters. The detective – unlike his creator – is a straight shooter who is happily married and seemingly incorruptible. One thing Maigret and Simenon do share in common is an open-minded willingness to assess a situation without passing judgement on the people involved. Maigret isn’t exactly a liberal but he is most certainly not a conservative.
Maigret The Complete Collection contains the 12 episodes that aired during the show’s all too brief return to British TV in the early 90s. Gambon is ably assisted by cast regulars including Geoffrey Hutchings (Benidorm) and Jack Galloway (The Paradise Club) as well as some now familiar faces who were barely known when the show aired such as Michael Sheen (Tron: Legacy) and Minnie Driver. The rest of the cast is made up of little known Hungarian actors and their selection is due to the fact that the show was filmed in Budapest rather than Paris. The logic being that Soviet era Budapest was more like 1930s Paris than the McDonalds infested modern day version of the French capital. In fairness, the producers probably made a wise selection.
This 4 disc set hits stores Stateside on 26 February. It costs $59.99 and for that price you get over 600 minutes of high quality mystery drama. My personal favorites are Maigret Goes to School, and Maigret Sets a Trap. In my mind, it’s a must have DVD much like Poldark and I Claudius. If you only want to buy one British TV box set this month then Maigret is your man.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1978 TV dramatization of the Muriel Sparks short story of the same name. The title character is a anti-establishment, romantic with questionable morals and fascist tendencies. Suffice to say, Brodie is a bit of a handful for the headmistress that she answers to in her capacity as a school teacher in 1930s Scotland.
While you may have seen the 1969 big screen version of Brodie, Muriel Sparks preferred this one. The movie starred Downton Abbey’s Maggie Smith while this version features Marple’s Geraldine McEwan – an actress with plenty of her own “star power”. McEwan as Brodie is less glamorous and far more eccentric than Maggie Smith’s Brodie. She is a peculiar character who develops an almost cult-like grip on her students. As portrayed by McEwan, Brodie is a charismatic in a quirky sort of way. She is one of those odd-ball characters who walk the line between genius and lunacy. A lesser actress would fall into the trap of exaggerating some of Brodie’s personality traits but McEwan’s portrayal is more subtle and thoroughly believable.
Mcewan apart, the cast includes a number of actors whose faces are familiar even if their names are not. Lynsey Baxter, Amanda Kirby, John Castle and Vivien Ross are all British TV veterans who frequently popped up in soaps, sitcoms and dramas between the 70s and 90s.
The drama extends to 366 minutes, seven episodes and three discs. Think “epic” in the mold of the Forsyte Saga or Our Friends in the North. This production is comparable to the aforementioned in terms of both structure and production values. For just less than $50 it also represents pretty good value for money.