Brenda Blethyn, Simon Callow and Penelope Keith on DVD
The late Philip Madoc was a fantastically talented actor who specialized in playing dark and brooding characters. A familiar face on British TV, Madoc appeared in everything from Doctor Who to Dad’s Army but he saved his best performances for the crime drama A Mind to Kill. Two versions of the series were made with one being in English and the other in Madoc’s native Welsh tongue.
Madoc’s character was Detective Chief Inspector Noel Bain – an old-school detective who unhappily faces up to the fact that the world is a darker and scarier place than it was when he first walked his beat. Much to his chagrin, his daughter Hannah, (Ffion Wilkins) eventually decides to follow in his footsteps and become a police officer. The duo have a difficult relationship away from the office and the situation doesn’t get any better when they have to work alongside each other. Like so many TV detectives, Bain is single (a widower) but he has filled the void in his heart by throwing himself headlong into his work. However, memories of his late wife resurface from time-to-time and cause Bain to go into a psychological tail-spin as he attempts to control his feelings of rage towards the drunk-driver who caused her death.
While Bain’s personal life is a key component of the series, this is no soap opera and each stand-alone murder mystery is worthy of attention. The majority of the 21 episodes deal with murders – many of them gruesome. Detective show fans will be pleased to hear that the mysteries are full of twists, turns, dark revelations and one or two surprises. Additionally, the show’s producers were able to attract a whole host of big name actors to take on supporting roles in the show. Familiar faces include John Rhys-Jones (Indiana Jones), Sian Phillips (I Claudius) and Ioan Gruffud (Fantastic Four).
A Mind to Kill Complete Collection will be released by Acorn Media in the U.S. on Tuesday 19 March. The 34 hour, 11 disc set costs just $79.99. In case you’re wondering, this is the English version of the show although it does include a brief snippet of the Welsh language version. (More reviews below)
If you are looking for some lighter fare this Spring you should look no further than Acorn’s March 19 release of ITV’s hit sitcom No Job For A Lady: The Complete Collection. Penelope Keith (To The Manor Born) stars as Jean Price – a Glenda Jackson style left-winger who narrowly wins a parliamentary seat in what proved to be the last days of Thatcher inspired British politics.
Price’s main rival is the pompous house veteran Sir Godfrey Eagan who is played by Bulgarian actor George Baker (Yes the Inspector Wexford actor really was Bulgarian despite his name and accent). The humor is clearly tied to issues that were front page news in early 90s Britain but the overriding themes are still very much alive today in parliament, Congress and the Vatican. It is rich versus poor, rights versus restrictions, aristocrat versus working class and it’s very funny because fun is poked at people on both sides of the political spectrum.
The supporting cast are mostly men which makes sense because much of the humor revolves around the fact that being a politician is “no job for a lady.” I was amused to see Michael Cochrane in the cast because this is the fourth time in little over a year that I have reviewed a show about politics in early 90s Britain in which he has been cast as a Tory MP. Based on his performances in shows like this and The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher I am thinking Cochrane missed out on his true vocation.
No Job For A Lady was shown on PBS in the nineties but this is the first time the show is being released on DVD in the U.S. The 18 episodes boxset extends to 432 minutes of classic British comedy and it will set you back just $59.99. (Continued below)
The last, and arguably best of Acorn Media’s March 19 DVD releases is the 1980s slapstick Britcom Chance in a Million: Compete Collection. The show ran for three years between 1984 and 1986 and it was one of the newly launched Channel 4’s first big hits. Four Weddings and Funeral star Simon Callow plays the title character Tom Chance. His love interest comes in the form of Alison Little who’s played by Vera’s Brenda Blethyn.
Tom Chance is a kind of upper-class version of Frank Spencer. He is uncannily accident prone and for the most part he is completely oblivious to the things going on around him. Chance’s biggest problem is that he always seems to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and more often that not the wrong place is a crime scene. Consequently, many of the episodes end up with the police raiding his home only to find out that he’s nothing more than an unfortunate bystander. Bill Pertwee (Dad’s Army) is very good as Sergeant Gough – a local policeman who quickly realizes that every investigation is somehow going to involve Chance as a red herring. Other strong performers in the cast include Graham Crowden (Waiting for God) as a suitably over-the-top vicar and a very young look Adrian Rawlins (Harry Potter).
Fans of Vera may be surprised to see Brenda Blethyn as the flighty mini-skirt wearing Alison but she is the perfect foil for the more manic Simon Callow. For his part, Callow handles the awkward dialogue very well – Chance talks in a 1984 style “New Speak” in which unnecessary link words are avoided at all costs. At the time, Chance seemed like an odd ball but he wouldn’t be as out of place today in the world of Twitter and texting in which conversations are often abrupt and to-the-point.
As a TV show, Chance in a Million is a laugh-a-minute, fast paced pantomime style comedy that you either love or loathe. Personally, I enjoy a bit of mindless fun so for me this is a DVD worth buying. The boxset is available for $59.99 and includes three discs and 18 episodes. Once you’ve watched it in its entirety you can watch it again with a rather amusing commentary provided by Callow and the show’s writers.