The Singing Detective 1986

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Dennis Potter's award-winning series. 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. A mixture of fantasy, reality and hit songs from the 1940s.

Starring:
Janet Suzman, Patrick Malahide
Rental Formats:
DVD

Product Details

Discs
  • Singing Detective, The - Disc One ages_15_and_over
  • Singing Detective, The - Disc Two ages_15_and_over
  • Singing Detective, The - Disc Three ages_15_and_over
Runtime 6 hours 32 minutes
Starring Janet Suzman, Patrick Malahide, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Michael Gambon
Director Jon Amiel
Genres Drama
Studio BBC WORLDWIDE PUBLISHING
Rental release 8 March 2004
Main languages English
Hearing impaired subtitles English

Other Formats

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Steve TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Mar 2004
Format: DVD
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 By John Self on 18 Mar 2004
Format: DVD
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 By A Customer on 6 Oct 2000
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 By Predictably Unpredictable on 15 July 2007
Format: DVD
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 By Bruce Kendall on 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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