Midsomer Murders

Set 19

 

Midsomer Murders ~ Set 19

Based on the books by Caroline Graham

Adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz

Written by Michael Aitkens & Peter Hammond

Four feature length episodes

Director of Photography: Colin Munn

Music by Jim Parker

Produced by Brian True-May

Directed by Renny Rye, Richard Holthouse, Peter Smith

Original air dates: Feb, May, July, Aug 2010

 

Cast:

John Nettles as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby

Jason Hughes as Detective Sergeant Ben Jones

Jane Wymark as Joyce Barnaby

Barry Jackson as Doctor Bullard

Kirsty Dillon as DC Gail Stephens

 

The Sword of Guillaume supporting cast:

Neil Dudgeon as John Barnaby

Janet Suzman as Lady Mathilda

Lucy Coho as Jenny Russell

Brian Capron as Dave Hicks

Mark Gatiss as Rev Giles Shawcross

Saskia Reeves as Marcia Macintyre

Tim McInnerny as Hugh Dalgleish

 

The Made-to-Measure Murders supporting cast:

Maureen Beattie as Sonia Woodley

Philip Bretherton as Matthew Woodley

Karl Davies as Luke Woodley

James Wilby as Edward Milton

Sonya Cassidy as Beatrice Daniels

Richard Cordery as Morris Bingham

Gwyneth Strong as Katie Soper

 

Blood on the Saddle supporting cast:

Caroline Langrishe as Susan Fincher

David Rintoul as Jack Fincher

Richard Harrington as Leo Fincher

Justin Avoth as Dan Malko

Kenneth Cranham as Jude Landham

Daniel Ryan as Adam Burbage

Rip Torrens as Fergal Jenner

Malcolm Storry as Silas Burbage

 

The Silent Land supporting cast:

Laura Howard as Cully Barnaby

Danny Webb as Jeff Bowmaker

Aden Gillett as Ian Kent

Emma Fielding as Faith Kent

Rupert Holliday-Evans as Adam Peach

Susannnah Fielding as Jessica Peach

Jack Roth as Liam Peach

 

Production:

Television: Bentley Productions for ITV

Video: Acorn Media

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080i

Codec: AVC

Region: A

Disc Size: BD25 + BD25

Feature size: 10.5/11.8/10.5/11.7 GB

Runtime: 89 / 89 / 89 / 88.5 minutes

Episodes: 4

Chapters: 12 per episode

 

Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo

 

Subtitles: English SDH

 

Extras: Photo Gallery for Blood on the Saddle (1:40)

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case w/ slipcover: BD25 x 2

Street Date: February 28, 2012



Product Description:

If you haven’t heard, Acorn Media is the premier video purveyor of British and Canadian dramatic and comedy television for the North American Market.  For a number of years they have invested heavily in DVD presentations from Cadfael to Fortysomething, Doc Martin and Slings & Arrows, to the classics Rumpole of the Bailey and Upstairs Downstairs.  Last year they published their first dramas on Blu-ray, starting with what was then the most current season of the George Gently mystery series.  For the first months of 2012, Acorn will continue this trend with the opening series of George Gently and coming February 28: the 19th “set” of Midsomer Murders.


    


Midsomer Murders is an ongoing television series of detective fiction based on the Inspector Barnaby novels of Caroline Graham.  Ms Graham’s first such book appeared in 1988 - that one and the next four novels formed the basis of the first five episodes of Midsomer Murders. How’s that for economy! The television series was created in 1997 by Anthony Horowitz.  Ring a bell?  He’s the same man who would later bring us the award-winning Foyle’s War.  As of this writing 89 episodes have been aired along with two Christmas specials.  Unlike what is usual in the U.S., the episodes within each of its 14 series are often aired many months apart.


What constitutes a “series” or, for that matter, a “set” is a little vague in my mind.  It certainly isn’t the same as what we in the States think of a season, since the show will be on its 20th set after 15 years.  I can’t explain it.  It’s a mystery.  My guess is that Acorn has simply compiled every four episodes into a “set” without regard to its air date or “series” - which makes a certain sense considering their irregularity.


    

 

The Movie: 5/7/6/7

Midsomer Murders ~ Set 19 comprises four Inspector Barnaby mystery episodes from Season (or “Series”) 13, all of which feature John Nettles as Inspector Tom Barnaby, as he has done from the start.  (I should note that Nettles/Barnaby retires in the following season, with Neil Dudgeon taking over the reins as DCI John Barnaby, Tom’s cousin, who makes his first appearance in the present set in The Sword of Guillaume.)  The episodes, presented by Acorn out of order in respect to their air dates, and a description of their set-up are as follows:


    

 

The Made-to-Measure Murders

Original Air Date – 12 May 2010

On her way to confession, Milton Cross resident Sonia Woodley gets stabbed to death in the churchyard. As Barnaby and Jones investigate the gruesome case, they uncover new information about the death of her husband two years prior. While the detectives ponder what Sonia was so eager to confess, another villager is killed—and the coroner makes a curious discovery about the murder weapon.


    


The Sword of Guillaume

Original Air Date – 10 February 2010

Visiting Brighton with the Causton Chamber of Commerce, Barnaby becomes embroiled in a case of dubious real-estate deals and ancient family history. When Barnaby grows suspicious of the town’s shady mayor’s motives for traveling to the seaside, he enlists the help of his cousin, Brighton’s DCI John Barnaby. The detectives’ investigation begins with a series of threatening letters that quickly escalates to murder, and murder, and murder.


    

 

Blood on the Saddle

Original Air Date – 27 July 2010

Ford Florey’s Wild West show becomes a grisly crime scene after a woman is shot and killed while working in the dunk tank. Barnaby and Jones discover that the victim’s lover was Jack Fincher, an unpopular farmer involved in a longstanding dispute over a patch of land called “the Swamp.” As the fight over the property intensifies, the killer claims another victim, while the detectives race to uncover the Swamp’s true owner.


    

 

The Silent Land

Original Air Date – 3 August 2010

Joyce believes that she hit someone with her car in March Magna— but no body is found. When the local librarian, Gerald Ebbs, is discovered dead in a graveyard, Joyce is convinced that she’s responsible. Barnaby and Jones investigate the librarian’s peculiar fixation with the cemetery and uncover the town’s ghastly history of murder, haunted inns, and cursed sanatoriums.


    

 

LensView:

As it happened I reviewed Acorn’s George Gently Series One and Midsomer Murders Set 19 back to back and, having seen neither previously in any incarnation, I felt in a unique position to compare them.  Broadly speaking, Gently is character-driven, while Midsomer is plot driven.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that Midsomer makes for better mysteries in the formal sense, or that Gently will have more interesting characters.  But I suspect that what attracts a viewer to either series is likely to be prejudiced in one direction accordingly.  For me, it’s writing, first; character, second, and plot, last.  Given my “rules” at least as far these two seasons are concerned I came down soundly in favor of George Gently.


Watching these shows back to back clarified something about George Gently that I am a little embarrassed to say was less evident in my earlier comparison to Foyle’s War. Simply put, Gently and Foyle are dramas about real people, enhanced just enough to make for compelling television.  Midsomer, on the other hand, has more in common with Poirot: both are entertainments in the form of puzzles where chess pieces that look and talk like real people, but are clearly not, are contrived for our amusement.   Gently and Foyle want to say something about social context; Midsomer and Poirot do not allow themselves be distracted by such indelicacies.


    


I suppose we have Agatha Christie to thank for the popularity of this style of mystery: where the audience is teased with a host of equally likely suspects amounting to more or less the entire cast aside from the investigators, where murders pile up to further titillate the audience, and where the detective presents a solution to the audience, often with information we don’t have.


Midsomer Murders enjoys the unusual position of being placed in current times, which makes the contrast between the relative sanity of the police and the craziness and/or stupidity of the perpetrators that much more startling.  There’s something about setting a mystery in the recent remote past that permits our acceptance of the implausible that doesn’t quite work - or work quite as well - when events are current.  I suppose it helps when the presumably by-the-book police ignore the obvious: for example we rarely see Barnaby or Jones question witnesses (here I’m thinking of the boy sitting at the bottom of stairs of the only entrance to the small building where the killer is believed to have shot his victim in Blood on the Saddle.)


    


Referring to the current package of Midsomer Murders (and understanding that the show was entirely unknown to me before this) there isn’t a single episode whose murders can be plausibly deconstructed even after DCI Barnaby holds forth with his brilliant synopses of the various crimes.  No human being would behave in the ways that the writer would have us believe, unless they are crazy or stupid, which, I suggest, all of them are. A mystery that puts forward a crazy killer is, in my opinion, the kiss of death.  For if the killer is crazy, then motive and method are up for grabs, leaving the audience to, well, guess - and what’s the point of that?


Acorn has been keeping up with Midsomer Murders on DVD, lagging a bit behind their UK broadcast.  Set 19 is the show’s first Blu-ray presentation and that alone might bring in a new audience.  I had the advantage - or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it - of never having seen this series before on TV or DVD.  It is obvious that the Barnabys have been household friends of their fans for many years, and no attempt is made to bring a new audience along.  Even so, I did not feel at a disadvantage, so clearly do Nettles and Wymark make themselves a familiar couple for me.


    


I couldn’t say the same for Barnaby and Detective Sergeant Jones, who seemed a little put upon from time to time; but isn’t that the way it is with partners where one is clearly the junior?  Jones strikes me as an entirely expendable character.  If not this Detective Sergeant, then another.  So different are Gently and Bacchus, even in their third season.  There is a sparkling tension between them that feels thoroughly non-generic - and what goes on between them drives the plot, which it doesn’t, purposefully, in Midsomer.  Jason Hughes had played DS Jones for only five years by this time, while Nettles had made himself comfortable with Barnaby for thirteen.  Perhaps too comfortable.  He seems tired, even a little bored - in The Made-to-Measure Murders anyway. Nettles fails to motivate Jones, and in that respect he fails to keep me interested.  They work together in the much the same way as the police do on a show like Law and Order, which Midsomer Murders has been likened to.  It’s more like parallel play than a partnership.


    


In all but The Made-to-Measure Murders, which I feel is something of a train wreck of a mystery - I mean, who kills someone to look for a piece of paper, when ransacking their place of work when the victim is not around would be so much safer? - there is a sufficiency of smoke and mirrors to keep us interested, as well as one or two clever bits in each episode (the young woman showing up at the last moment just as the killer is apprehended in The Made-to-Measure Murders, and the quadriplegic’s turn of the head - twice - in The Sword of Guillaume.  Hitchcock would have been proud.)


After 14 years of mysterious deaths, Midsomer has become a hellmouth of murderous activity that has provided its own solution to the population boom.  Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby may be the Hercule Poirot of his generation but he and his colleagues can’t get a grip on what leads the populace down such dark and stormy turns.  I wonder if they ever reflect on the disproportionate number of homicides in their own backyard.


    

 

Image: <6/7

Acorn maintains the original resolution of 1080i, but sacrifices density with bit rates about half those of their own George Gently Blu-rays - this despite the fact the episodes are about the same length: just shy of 90 minutes each.


Perhaps Acorn felt that Super 16 deserved no better. 


One can only speculate as to the reasoning.  To my eye, there is no question that the image quality suffers a little here.  In all fairness George Gently was better to start with, shot, as it were, in HD, while Midsomer Murders was made in Super 16 mm.  This accounts for much but not all of the discrepancy.  Compare Midsomer Murders with the image quality on the Blu-ray for the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, also shot in Super 16.  Clearly Midsomer Murders does not represent what the medium is capable of.


    


The image, while surprisingly sharp, even considering its source, lacks contrast and density - more in The Made-to-Measure Murders than elsewhere for some reason. Overlit close-ups can be a problem.  Maureen Beattie’s light gray eyes gets the worst of it, but no one in this episode looks quite real.  Enlarged to front screen proportions, the picture is flat and uninteresting, even when the lighting ought to make it otherwise.  With smaller displays of 60 inches or less, the picture looks quite good indeed, with nice color, contrast and presentation of texture, such as fabrics.  My OPPO handles the deinterlacing beautifully so that we are only rarely and subtly aware of jagged movement. Edge enhancement is minimal to non-existent.  Noise is evident in the darker scenes but not as much as I would have expected for a blow-up of 16 mm.


    

 

Audio & Music: 6/7

Acorn supplies the original stereo mix in DTS-HD MA, which I applaud; however, I can’t say that I was particularly impressed with dialogue clarity.  Listening to this in Dolby Digital would be a disadvantage.  Curiously, I felt things improved after The Made-to-Measure Murders.  This was especially true for the effects, which are quite good for Blood on the Saddle where gunshots of various types are distinctly and properly heard.  In The Sword of Guillaume, the audio is clear enough for us to make out that the effects team got it wrong when Lady Mathilda’s empty shotgun shell falls to the floor and we hear instead a high power rifle casing.  Ooops.


    

 

Extras: 2

In addition to a handful of unforced Acorn DVD previews in SD, optional “episode summaries” (more correctly: set-ups) accessible from the main menu and Acorn’s excellent SDH subtitles, there is an uninteresting automated behind-the-scenes photo gallery from Blood on the Saddle. That’s it.

 

As with their George Gently Blu-ray sets, Acorn continues to use slipcovers that open from the top and bottom, designed, one must assume, to permit the disc case to slip right through your fingers onto the floor as you take it from the shelf.


    

 

Recommendation: 6

The mystery presented by this Blu-ray release is why it comes on two single layer BD25 discs instead of one dual layer BD50 - or, better yet two BD50s with higher bit rates?  It’s a little unsettling.  My feeling is that Acorn should either give it their best shot or lower the price accordingly.


Of more interest will be yet another season of Midsomer Murders for DCI Barnaby and DS Jones to sink their teeth into, and the last with John Nettles as Barnaby, as he will retire in the coming season to be replaced by Neil Dudgeon who is introduced in this set as his cousin, so get you Nettles while you can.


    


I find these episodes too contrived to imagine myself wanting to watch them a second time, especially as we can’t help but notice how flimsy their plots are. (To take one example of many, consider how the killer was able to find the right place and time to behead poor Dalgleish in The Sword of Guillaume and not be observed.)  On the other hand, Midsomer Murders are nothing if not entertaining.  How else can we explain the delightful idea of superimposing an old-fashioned Hollywood Western over the hills and villages of a lazy English south coast county?

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

January 15, 2012


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