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The Singing Detective: Volume 1 [VHS] [1986]

Michael Gambon , Patrick Malahide    Suitable for 15 years and over   VHS Tape
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Actors: Michael Gambon, Patrick Malahide, Joanne Whalley, David Ryall, Gerard Horan
  • Language: English
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: BBC
  • VHS Release Date: 24 Jan 2000
  • Run Time: 194 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004CP1T
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,765 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description


The late Dennis Potter was a master at mining the popular songs of the 1930s and '40s for dramatic effect, but he never did it better than in this mini-series starring the inestimable Michael Gambon. Gambon plays a mystery writer named Philip E. Marlow, who is suffering a torturous bout of psoriatic arthritis in hospital, where he is a victim of both his disease and the national health service. Unable to move without pain, he escapes into his imagination, plotting out a murder tale in which he is both a big-band singer and a private eye. But Potter and director Jon Amiel also mix in flashbacks of Marlow's youth and his unhappy marriage to explain how the real Marlow reached this sorry pass. Flawlessly, intricately, kaleidoscopically assembled, the six one-hour episodes fly by like some fantastic fever dream. --Marshall Fine

Product Description

Episodes 1-3 of this popular, award-winning Dennis Potter series: a mixture of fantasy, reality and hit songs from the 1940s. Michael Gambon stars as the unsuccessful writer who, whilst lying in a hospital bed suffering from a very bad case of psoriasis, escapes from his misery by 'dreaming' about one of his own pulp thrillers along with some of his childhood memories.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Drama 19 Mar 2004
The Singing Detective is an absolutely cracking piece of drama, and it is wonderful to see it superbly transferred to DVD by the BBC. The last time I saw this was on VHS tape, when the picture was murky and dull; now we have a clear sharp image-as good as we can expect from a programme 20 years old.
Good drama depends on three factors: script, acting and production/direction. Dennis Potter's script is one of the finest he produced. Whilst a crime writer, with a horrible skin condition, lies in hospital, his thoughts turn to one of his books. He looks back on some incidents from his childhood. He imagines hospital staff dancing to 1930's popular songs (some memorable scenes here). One moment there is laughter, the next, pathos. And gradually the threads are brought together leading to a surprisingly upbeat ending. Michael Gambon's performance as the writer Marlow is stunning, yet this is one of those series where everyone's is a fine performance. Production is excellent: those crazy dance scenes must have taken some work.
The extras are considerable, including excerpts from 'Points of View' (I never did understand what all the fuss about the 'sex' scene was about) , and a Close Up documentary I had never seen before, with some interesting and relevant observations on Potter's life and works.
At just fifteen pounds for the set-3 discs-this is astonishing value and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skin, Deep 18 Mar 2004
This is the greatest achievement of Dennis Potter's wildly uneven career. For every original masterpiece like Blue Remembered Hills or Brimstone and Treacle, there was a self-indulgent stinker like Blackeyes or Cold Lazarus. But there is only one Singing Detective. I watched all six-and-a-half hours in two days: it's magical and gripping.
Everything about this series just *sings*, from the towering performance by Michael Gambon, spitting with one breath and simpering with the next, to the production values which hold up remarkably well in a digital age (with the exception of the contemporary scenes outside the hospital, all big hair and red earrings, monochrome decor and 5-inch floppy disks - if you can remember those - but we can put those to one side and just think of it as a period piece within a period piece). But what holds it together is Dennis Potter's zinging way with words and images, which can mix clever Kubrickian cut-shots (Marlow the singing detective waving to his audience / Jim Carter as Philip's dad waving his train away silently, in the saddest scene in the whole series - which also shows that Potter knew when to drop the words) and the ability to make a two-minute word-association game knuckle-whiteningly gripping.
The themes and elements are ripe and raw - sex and spies, goons and whores, suicide and adultery - but it's rarely explicit (as the content rating on the box shows: "Sex/Nudity: Infrequent, mild": sorry, guys). This makes it all the more astonishing that the show should have been greeted in 1986 not only as anything other than a transforming masterpiece, but as a piece of filth by 'Dirty Den,' as campaigners and newspapers had it. (The DVD includes extracts from Points of View giving these barbarians the permanent shame they deserve.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A drama classic 6 Oct 2000
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
The sick mind of a sick man. Doesn't sound like a very promising premise for a TV mini-series, does it? Yet Dennis Potter's multilayered masterpiece is quite extraordinary to watch, to re-watch and to enjoy.
A hospitalised Michael Gambon is a pulp author enduring painful and embarrassing treatment while musing on the past, skirting round dreadful, unspeakable events, mingling his reminiscences with dreams of his fictional alter-ego, the Singing Detective.
Paranoia mingles with fantasy as you and he gradually draw closer to the truth - and it's not what you expect.
Intense, moving, uproariously funny, disconcerting and bewildering, it's all held together by Michael Gambon's extraordinary performance.
You could surely never sell this series from the plot precis alone, but within half an hour of the first episode, it's selling itself. Nothing like this has been made since.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very very real 15 July 2007
When this was first aired I was in about the same dermatalogical state as the central character: bedbound, in agony, hallucinating, and unable to move enough to do anything but think for the best part of a year. This is the most brilliant depiction of what it is like to go through that. I may have been only twelve years old at the time, and a girl, but it was still like someone had made a movie of my mind.

Of course I agree with all the plaudits of other fans, but I thought you might like a different perspective! ;-)
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many More Stars Deserved Here 21 Feb 2003
Format:VHS Tape
This is indeed one of the finest television productions ever filmed. I see that it is the property of Fox, so one would hope that a DVD is on the way, as the price for the taped set is exorbitant. Michael Gambon achieved deserved praise and fame for his brilliant, tour-de-force performance as Philip Marlowe (yes, that's rather an obvious pun, but the humor and wealth of ideas on display in this work in no way fall into that category). Director Potter had one of the truly eccentric, surreal and comic imaginations of the past 50 years. This masterpiece definitely falls under the heading, "MUST VIEWING." Hopefully, it will be far more accessible to the viewing public in the near future. In fact, since this review was first written, I've learned that a DVD will be released shortly in the states. Not certain about UK plans.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An old favourite still exciting
I studied this in 6th form English and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed watching it even more 16 years later with a friend who is much better behaved than a class full of rowdy kids. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amanda Leone
5.0 out of 5 stars The Singing Detective
Perfect condition. Prompt arrival. Good packaging. Good to remember watching it on TV with my parents when I was in twentiees on visits. A delightful recording to cherish.
Published 1 month ago by W M Stevenson
5.0 out of 5 stars Another strange but clever film
I had seen this film many years ago on TV and wanted to see it again.It takes some " getting into " but once in hard to stop watching. A definite must.
Published 2 months ago by Marion Armstrong
5.0 out of 5 stars Great series
Great series with a bit of every thing .I saw it many years ago on TV and loved it then and still do now.
Published 2 months ago by spook 52
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect thankyou
fit for purpose great product, excellent service, thank you, I will shop again and add to my favourites list Great
Published 4 months ago by Steve Gattrell
4.0 out of 5 stars Good series
Quite black comedy, lots of flashbacks to the past. Murder mystery running through it too. Good portrayal by Michael Gambon of living with bad skin condition, very realistic make... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Alison
4.0 out of 5 stars Great classic progrmmame, so well shot.
Great author, great production, great tv can't see there's much on current tv like this any more. Very much recommended..
Published 6 months ago by John
5.0 out of 5 stars Still as stunning.
I will never tire of watching this fantastic bit of storytelling. This is a classic and an absolute must see.
Published 7 months ago by Sphinx
5.0 out of 5 stars best detective series
it`s riveting from start to finish and the music is haunting and unforgetable it will keep you entertained great stuff
Published 8 months ago by CLIVE THE DRIVE
4.0 out of 5 stars dvd
I was reasonably happy watching this cult TV series again. Michael Gambon is a brilliant actor and it was also good to see an emerging Joanne Whalley playing her part.
Published 9 months ago by Terence M. Dorrington
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