DVD Review: George Gently: Series 1
I don't normally watch what are known as police procedurals, television shows which involve a crime being committed that follow the police officers through the lengthy process of uncovering who done it. Truth be told I don't usually watch television, as although I own one, it's not hooked up to either cable, satellite, or even an old fashioned antenna. Instead its sole purpose is to act as a video monitor so my wife and I can watch DVDs. So on the occasions that I end up reviewing the box set of a television series, I don't have much that I can use as a basis for comparison save for memories of what television was like in the 1970's and 80's or other material that I've watched in the same format.
In the past couple of years I've taken advantage a few times of some of the box sets offered by Acorn Media of the higher end of British police procedurals; Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren, Cracker with Robbie Coltrane, and Rebus with Ken Stott as the irascible Scottish detective created by Ian Rankin. Each of these series were distinguished not only by superlative writing but by the performances of their lead actors. The problem is of course that material like this tends to spoil you for most of what's on offer, and it's going to take a pretty special show to match up to any of the above programs.
You wouldn't think to read the description, disillusioned police officer transfers from London's Scotland Yard to the North East of England to fight crime among the pig farmers and fishermen in the early 1960's, that George Gently would stand up in toe to toe competition with any of the heavyweights mentioned above. I mean, it sounds like a cross between Green Acres and All Creatures Great And Small more than anything else, let alone a show that could generate any of the intensity or suspense that makes a good cop show work.
Well, if the three episodes that are included in the box set George Gently: Series 1 distributed by the good folks at Acorn Media are anything to go by, this series is every bit as good as its more established brethren. Not only are the scripts intelligent, and the plots intriguing enough to be interesting without be convoluted to the point of incomprehension, the show's main character is every bit as fascinating as any cop whose appeared on the small screen.
Commander George Gently, played by Martin Shaw, is an incorruptible officer in surrounded by officers at all levels who are on the take. When he starts pushing his investigations into the rot in London's police force a little harder than he should someone sends him a warning: his wife is killed by a hit and run driver right in front of him. When the man he suspects of having been behind that murder is spotted at the funeral of a young man who died under suspicious circumstances in the North East of England, Durham County, he asks for the chance to take over the case.
One of the nice touches in this first episode, "Gently Go Man", was that instead of us meeting George's new colleagues when he arrives at his new assignment, we travel on ahead of him and are introduced to both some of the locals who are involved with the crime and the police officers who are investigating it. So we get to form our own impressions of Detective Sergeant (DS) John Bacchus, Lee Ingleby, who ends up assisting Gently on this first case. Young, ambitious, and a little slick, he drives a MG, it appears that Bacchus is more than likely to get on the wrong side of Gently who is decidedly old school. Yet, at the same time we see that he is a good cop, and really cares about what he does, even if he's not too concerned about the how's, just the results.
Each of the three episodes, "The Burning Man" and "Bomber's Moon" are two and three respectively, check in at just under ninety minutes, which allows plenty of time to not only develop plot, but establish the characters who will be appearing in them. In "Go Gently Man" they take full advantage of the time to not only establish the characters and develop the plot, but to also set the atmosphere of the times. England in 1964 was going through a social upheaval, and there was a real changing of the guard happening. Those who were born during the war are just starting to come of age and aren't content to be like the generation before them - those who fought in the war.
Yet, while Gently is a veteran of WW2 and Bacchus has only vague memories of it, the writers don't play up the obvious areas of conflict. In fact Bacchus' decision to join the police makes him something of an anomaly among his peers as it's seen as being very conformist. At the same time he's enough a product of his generation that he's considered a bit unconventional for a police officer. While this makes his character that much more interesting, we discover as the episodes continue, and we get to know both characters better, that Gently is actually the more liberal and more forgiving of the two. He can understand someone making a mistake, and is willing to overlook minor transgressions in most cases. That the writers resisted going for the obvious, and cliched, approach to the characters is just one example of what marks this series as special.
However, as we learn in "The Burning Man", when a Special Branch agent (sort of like Homeland Security) shows up and starts throwing his weight around and interfering in Gently's investigation, he has no tolerance for people in authority who abuse their power. "We're supposed to be different from them" he says at one point, referring to those who use violence to get their way, Of course that's sorely put to the test for him when he confronts the man who ordered his wife's death, or when he comes into contact with evidence of police corruption. While he's able to resist the call of vengeance in some occasions, there are others when he does let his anger get the best of him.
While the second episode, "The Burning Man", involves gun running and the I.R.A. making it a bit more sensational then the normal police murder, each of the cases are solved through the boring process of a slow investigation. Every so often Gently has to reign in his younger colleague, but together they make a good team. In fact the relationship between the two characters, and the way each actor plays them, makes for some very funny as well as tense moments. They don't instantly become buddy buddy, and even after three episodes they are still getting on each nerves, but that only serves to make what's being depicted all the more realistic.
There's not much in the way of special features included with the three discs of George Gently: Series 1, but what there is are interesting. They've included text interviews with both Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby where they both talk about what appealed to them about the script and analyse their characters. The text is easy to read, which is a nice change, and both men offer some interesting insights, so they are worth reading. As this is a current television series, the second and third episodes aired last spring in England, the sound quality is very good, Dolby Digital, and the widescreen picture is of the best quality.
George Gently: Series 1 contains the first three episodes of what looks to be another great police procedural series from England. I know they are filmming more episodes and I'm interested to see how the characters continue to develop, and what other interesting plot lines the writers can come up with. One thing I'm sure of, if they continue to produce episodes of the same quality that came in this box set, it will be the equal of any that have come out of England before it.