Appropriately enough for this time of year, Acorn Media’s latest batch of DVD releases includes The Fall. It’s a Belfast based psychological crime drama in which DSI Stella Gibson attempts to hunt down a sadistic serial killer who seems to delight in deviousness. Somewhat unusually for a crime drama, the killer is identified fairly early on as Paul Spector. Thereafter, Spector and Gibson become embroiled in a game of cat and mouse that lasts through five suspensful episodes. The relationship between Spector and Gibson is similar to the one involving Hannibal Lector and Clarice except for the fact that Lector was banged up while Spector is on the loose.
X-Files actress Gillian Anderson takes on the role of Gibson and she seems quite at home on British TV these days having enjoyed success in recent hits such as Great Expectations. Her nemesis is the rather less well known but equally talented Jamie Dornan. Other familiar faces among the cast include Laura Donnelly (Merlin), and Michael McElhatton (Game of Thrones) but make no mistake — The Fall is all about Spector and Gibson.
The dialogue is compelling and the twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat. You would expect nothing less from a show created by TV veteran Allan Cubitt whose past work includes Murphy’s Law and The Hanging Gale. Writing words is one thing, bringing them to life is another and that task fell to Jakob Verbruggen. He may not be a household name in the UK or US but he’s well regarded in Europe where he enjoyed huge success as the director of the Belgian crime series Code 37. To that end, he is currently working on a US version of the same show. The combination of the experienced writer and the up-and-coming director works surprisingly well although it helps when you have a stellar cast.
Like most modern-day psychological crime dramas, The Fall has its fair share of blood, guts and sexual situations. The urban Belfast setting also helps to give it a gritty appeal. It’s adult crime drama rather than family viewing. The 306 minute, DVD boxset costs $39.99 and hits stores on 15 October.
There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to Victorian era costume dramas. On October 15, Acorn Media are dusting off one of the BBC’s best loved period titles: The Pallisers. The commemorative boxset is being released to mark the 40th anniversary of the show’s original airing on the BBC and PBS. Dollar for dollar, it’s one of the best value DVD releases this year as you get 22 hours of drama for just $99.
The Pallisers series is actually based on a series of novels by Anthony Trollope. The central characters are the high society duo of Plantagenet Palliser (Philip Latham) and Lady Glencora (Susan Hampshire) who are engaged to be married. One problem, she only has eyes for the dashing but altogether poorer Burgo Fitzgerald. After her new husband takes her on a whirlwind tour of Europe, Lady Glencora decides to forget all about poor old Burgo and to focus on supporting Plantagenet’s flourishing political career. The content couple would have lived happily ever after were it not for a series of scandals and various types of intrigue involving their friends, associates and political foes.
Like Poldark and I Claudius, The Pallisers is a 70s era production that more than stands the test of time. Not only that but it also boasts a cast that is brimming with top talent. As the action unfolds it’s like watching a whose who of 70s and 80s era British TV. We get to see Penelope Keith (To The Manor Born), June Whitfield (Ab Fab), Anthony Ainley (The Master — Doctor Who), Anna Massey (Rebecca), Peter Sallis (last of the Summer Wine), Edward Hardwicke (Sherlock Homes) and Martin Jarvis (Forsyte Saga). Not to mention Derek Jacobi and Jeremy Irons! (Continued Below)
Over the years, the Dark Ages have earned a bit of a reputation as an era in human history when art, craft and technological developments were put on hold as ignorance, squalor and pestilence rose to the fore. In The Dark Ages: An Age of Light, Waldemar Januszczak attempts to recharacterize the era as an age of progress.
The Dark Ages began when the Barbarians of Central and Eastern Europe decided to overthrow their Roman masters and run amok in the Eternal city. Paganism had been on the wane for a few hundred years by the time the Vandals arrived but the newbies helped to clear the way for Christianity to increase its hold on Europe and the Middle East. As Januszczak points out, the Christian artists of this era were forced to come up with new icons and statues to illustrate the life of Christ. The Vandals were vandals (naturally) but they were also quite artistic as were the Huns. Around this time, the Muslims were developing a cultural identity of their own that can be seen even today in mosques and artwork. In fact, Januszczak even goes on to demonstrate how those savage old Heathens from the North — the Vikings — made an immense contribution to culture with their jewelry and Rune stones.
I enjoy history shows but I am often disappointed by the half-baked programs that the history channel churns out. In contrast, The Dark Ages: An Age of Light is a quality piece of well-reasoned documentary TV at its best. The BBC4 series is yours to own through Athena Learning on 15 October. The four episode, two-disc set costs $49.99. (Continued below)
Within the UK, Dr David Starkey is best known as a controversial panelist on the political talk show Question Time. Politics apart, history is his first love and he has made a bit of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with his recent documentaries that have largely focused on the Tudors and Stuarts. In Music and The Monarchy, Starkey expands his horizons and documents musical milestones from the era of Henry V right up until the present time. Every featured piece of music is somehow connected to the reigning Monarch. With Starkey’s energetic assistance, we get to see how musical masterpieces were inspired by rebellions, marriages and other major political events.
I will admit that I am not a huge fan of Tallis but I am interested to see how he attempted to navigate the choppy waters of Elizabethan era Britain when Catholics (like Tallis) were an endangered species. In contrast I like Elgar even if I am less interested in hearing about his dealings with Edward VII and his successors. Personal preferences aside, it was a very interesting show. Starkey may not be everyone’s cup of tea as a political pundit but as a presenter and TV historian he is in a class of his own. Music and the Monarchy is being released on 15 October and costs $49.99