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North Country Mysteries,
This review is from: Inspector George Gently: Series Five [DVD] (DVD)
Previews of this series don't do justice to Martin Shaw's masterful, powerful acting, or the show's high-production values. Happily, although Series 1-2 were filmed in Ireland, all the subsequent collections are actually filmed in England's North Country, in Northumberland and the beautiful old city of Durham. So those of you who enjoy Vera Series 1-2 are in for a treat. In the late 1960s, Inspector George Gently (Shaw), who had witnessed his lovely Italian wife's murder via a hit & run (Series One), is as honest and stalwart as they come. Martin Shaw is superb as DCI Gently, as is his sidekick, Lee Ingleby, as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus. You may recall the fine Ingleby from his inimitable turn in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as the conductor of the Knight Bus, Stan Shunpike. Blessed with abundant talent and a memorable voice, Lee Ingleby is also pitch-perfect as the menacing Vic Tyler in the highly regarded 1970s police/time-travel hit Life on Mars. Another constant is PC Taylor (Simon Hubbard), who grumblingly serves many a cuppa of PG Tips tea with plates of biscuits. World War II veteran George Gently mentors young John Bacchus, a young man desperately in need of guidance, adrift in the swirling social turmoil of the 1960s. Before moving on to Series Five, you don't want to miss evocative earlier episodes, such as "Gently in the Blood " in Series Two. It features another fine British actor, Andrew Lee-Potts (great in Primeval, should be next Doctor Who).
Series Five ends on a disturbing note, cliffhanger, where the fate of our main characters is unsure. But rest assured, another four episodes are in the works. There are English subtitles, for those of us who do not want to miss one word. The run time is 354 minutes, plus a 3 minute bonus "Behind the Scenes" featurette; for a three-dimensional taste experience, you may want to indulge in some Northumberland style bangers & mash, with classic Newcastle Nut Brown Ale (a favorite of Bacchus') to top it off. Enjoy!
Episode 1, "Gently Northern Soul"
Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. Later that month, in Northumberland, 1968, the shadow of racist tension lurks, although young people are keen to get into a dance club where they can thrill to imported soul music. When a beautiful young black girl, Dolores Kenny (Pippa Bennett-Warner), is murdered after a night out, DCI George Gently (Martin Shaw) and Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) discover not only "racialism" within the police force, but strong anti-immigrant feelings. Bacchus winds up falling for Delores' friend Carol Morford (the wonderful Lenora Crichlow, Being Human). Delores' father, Ambrose Kenny (Eamon Walker), is a WWII vet, now bus-driver, who has valiantly fought racism all his life, his son Joseph (Gary Carr) is less patient than his father. Yet beneath these tensions, other motivations may have been responsible for the murder. Gently and Bacchus fight to untangle a web of violence, while in one scene, a telly broadcasts the notorious "Rivers of Blood" speech. Weaving history and mystery, the Race Relations Act 1968, immanent in 1968, this is a topical, courageous story, with classic soul music.
Episode 2, "Gently with Class"
British drama and mystery series often delve into frank discussions about "class." In this story, also set in Northumberland, 1968, a blue Austin A40 Farina, registered to local aristocrat, Hector Blackstone (the wonderful Richard Lloyd Pack, in "Doc Martin" and The Vicar of Dibley), turns up crashed in a river. In the passenger seat is a drowned, beautiful young woman, and no driver is found. It seems that a local girl was abandoned to drown in the river alone, with no help from her date. It turns out that the victim was gifted musician and free-spirit Ellen Mallam (Ebony Buckle). Against the will of Hector's second wife, Countess Alethea Blackstone, Ellen had been involved with the Countess' son and heir-apparent, Lord James Blackstone. Ellen's father (wonderfully played by Christopher Fairbank), dying of throat cancer, is suspected when James is in hospital. Gently is furious when he discovers that Bacchus crossed a line due to his dislike for the Blackstone's snobbery and obstruction. Meanwhile, Gently, like Hector Blackstone, is haunted by the loss of his wife, plagued by dreams of drowning.
Episode 3, "The Lost Child"
Camera gently panning a street in Durham, 1968, postwar families enjoy a "lovely life." Children play on sidewalks, mothers walk baby-filled prams, front yards are meticulously maintained, and nary a rose is out of place. This bucolic setting is suddenly disturbed when baby Faith is snatched from her crib, from her "perfect" home. She had been adopted three weeks ago by respectable, middle-class Stephen Groves and his wife Frances (pitch-perfectly played by Helen Baxendale). Suspicion initially falls on the birth mother, Susan Faulkner (luminous with Holly Lucas), whose heart is breaking for her lost daughter whilst she and her other baby, Faith's twin brother Thomas, find refuge by the sea with her friend Hazel Joyce (another gem, Faye Castelow). George Gently and John Bacchus discover that Susan had misgivings about putting her child up for adoption in the first place, and that both Susan and Hazel have reason to dislike the adoption agency's Mrs. Dunwoody (the always excellent Alison Steadman). Further investigation rolls across gorgeous Northumbrian moors, and our George (ex-boxer) makes a delightful threat against a suspect who'd better not try to abscond; a ransom note turns out to be blackmail. The Groves, Faith's well-off adoptive parents, come under suspicion. A mysterious young fellow named Gareth (Jordan Dawes) turns up, to tragic consequences. Meanwhile, George Gently expresses compassion to John Bacchus, who is trying to resolve old tension with his hyper-critical father Peter (the wonderful Tony Haygarth) and balance his relationship with his daughter Leigh Ann (young Katie Anderson is delightful, and Lee Ingleby works beautifully with her). Another fine episode, and clearly, the set designers, from clothes to props, had a ball.
Episode 4, "Gently in the Cathedral"
In Durham, 1968, the forces of evil that tragically disrupted George Gently's life in 1964 re-emerge in this dark season closure. A young, newly married police officer, Gavin Henderson (Lee Armstrong), is murdered, leaving his pregnant wife Bernie (beautifully played by Angelica Penn) in dire straits. The force believes the death was suicide, so she can't rely on a pension or insurance for support. George Gently stands by her and tries to help, whist she moves to Rothbury. Meanwhile, Melvin Rattigan (Ralph Brown), a violent, notorious career criminal, is released from Durham Gaol early, after years of planning his revenge upon DCI Gently. Another criminal is found dead, but was he who he appeared to be, a bad bloke named Rivers? Our George made a number of enemies in his relentless pursuit of truth; he unearthed a myriad of police corruption during his career at the Met in London (and beyond). Foes have now cleared Rattigan on the grounds that any evidence against him was falsely concocted by Gently. Another detective is found murdered, D.S. Bill Denmore, turns out he was working undercover. In Durham, an old colleague, Donald McGhee (Kevin Whately, of Lewis) arrives, and soon after, George is accused of money fraud and murder, his world begins to crumble around him as the Fraud Squad entices DS John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby is also great in a dark, menacing turn in The Street) to provide evidence against his boss. A job at the Met is used to entice his ambition, and Bacchus' loyalty is tested to the limit. At least the tea and biscuit proffering DC Taylor (Simon Hubbard) defies the bullying, as does Bachuss' ex-wife Lisa (played with perfect-pitch by Melanie Clark Pullen). Gently is suspended, left in vulnerable position while he must face the past and fight for his reputation and his life. Ironically, one sanctuary is with Rattigan's defense lawyer, Gitta Bronson (the charismatic Diana Quick, also in Case Histories - Series 2), and her delightful, eccentric butler Tim (Philip Fox). Gently must fight for his life against deep-seated corruption in a classic cliff-hanger episode. Martin Shaw as DCI George Gently delivers some of the most masterful acting you'll ever see. Even the cinematography (by Ulf Brantas) is superb, note the scene towards the denouement, with Gently contemplating the crisis before entering Durham Cathedral. Enjoy!