"George Gently: Series 2," a first-rate television series of British mysteries/police procedurals debuted in the United Kingdom on BBC1 in May 2009. It has never been broadcast in the United States. The series is set in Northeast Britain, Geordie country, amid the upheavals and excesses of 1960's Britain. It stars respected, award-winning actor Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed : Pilot & Complete BBC Series 1  [DVD
]), as Commander George Gently, and is based on the popular long-running series of detective novels by Alan Hunter. The entertainment comes in a boxed four DVD set that includes four feature-length episodes, running approximately 88 minutes each, for a total of 356 min.; a text interview with, and biography of its star, Martin Shaw; and, thank goodness, subtitles, as Geordie-speak falls hard upon American ears, and perhaps presents some British ears with difficulty. The episodes can stand alone, but you are missing some of the flavor if you haven't seen the first series.
Gently is an inconveniently incorruptible top cop, disliked almost as much by his colleagues as by criminal elements, and, therefore, bounced from Scotland Yard to Northumbria. There he finds an unexpected ally in ambitious young Sergeant John Bacchus, an overeager, opinionated young man who tends to play fast and loose with police procedures, a part played by Lee Ingleby (Nicholas Nickleby [DVD] [2003
]). Guest stars include Tim McInnerney (Blackadder - The Complete Collection [DVD
]); Nicholas Jones (Kavanagh Q.C. - The Complete Collection - Series 1 To 5 [DVD] [1995
]); Mark Williams (the Harry Potter series), and Andrew Lee Potts (Primeval : Series 1 [DVD] [2007
The well-written, stylishly directed, absorbing mysteries unfold against a beautiful backdrop we're meant to think is rural Britain, though as the series was partly financed by the Irish Film Board, I wonder if we aren't looking at beautiful rural Ireland. No matter, the entertainment does have lovely backdrops, and is nicely filmed. The BBC has clearly thrown money at the screen - there are excellent supporting casts, extras aplenty, and the characters' clothing and cars are appropriate to the era, when Britain was beginning shake off its post-war deprivation and depression, and London was beginning to swing a bit.
The mysteries are:
"Gently with the Innocents." When local real estate developer Cora Davidson shows up at a newly-purchased property slated for demolition, she finds the unhappy seller butchered in his backyard. Suspicion falls on a mute gardener. A strong, and emotionally involving production.
"Gently in the Night." A pretty young woman clothed and shod a la mod, in go-go boots, turns up murdered, laid out on the altar of a Newcastle church. Investigation reveals she worked at Rake's, a Playboy Club clone that is drawing unwanted attention from religious protesters. Another strong, emotionally involving production.
"Gently in the Blood." Another lovely young woman found murdered, shortly after giving birth to a child that starts questions; the theft of expired U.K. passports; potentially violent ethnic hatreds in a seaside town; the victim's boyfriend involved with a gang of Arab toughs. This powerful episode actually reduced me to tears, a rare happening for a mystery series.
"Gently Through the Mill." Patrick Fuller, mill manager, found hanged from the rafters of his workplace. Suicide or murder? Investigation uncovers adultery, embezzlement, corruption, further deaths.
These are substantial, complex plots, driven by vivid characters, and strong women, and I found them quite gripping. Shaw plays the title character as a man of gravitas, and an insightful detective. I found the 60's setting more recognizable in this second series than the first: Bacchus has a Beatles haircut, and the girls wear white go-go boots; I suppose what we think of as the 60's didn't really get smoking until 1964. Of course, the quality of the film still makes obvious that this is a contemporary work: we need to see brief scenes of people smoking where they ought not to today, or of capital punishment (several of those) or hear prices quoted in the old money, pounds, shillings and pence to be occasionally reminded of the historic setting.
Initially, I'd wondered how much of the Swinging Sixties actually went north, until the setting of the second episode, in a Playboy-club like venue in Newcastle, reminded me that two of the greatest British films noir of the twentieth century were set in contemporaneous Newcastle, and they sure serve to illuminate the contemporary vices. You've got Get Carter  [DVD
], apparently based on a true life case, starring Michael Caine, who's always played a great gangster, with a stellar supporting cast behind him. And then there's Stormy Monday [DVD
], that was apparently filmed in Newcastle as an homage to "Get Carter;" it starred Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones, and Melanie Griffith. So we can rest assured; the once-quiet northeast corner of England, far from London, got to experience the social, sexual, and political changes that characterized the 1960s as we knew them.