This Is Jinsy – Series Two. Simply Media DVD Review

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Welcome to the island of Jinsy (population 791).  From their vantage point in the Great Tower, the vain and incompetent Arbiter Maven (Justin Chubb) and his long-suffering assistant Sporrall (Chris Bran) attempt to keep island life running as smoothly as possible. This is made easier by a handy gadget – the tessellator. It’s a multi-function device which not only monitors the residents at all times, but also has a handy nozzle to download products, a slot to pay fines and a screen which displays adverts, entertainment and propaganda.

Although the pilot was broadcast on BBC3 in 2010, when This Is Jinsy was picked up as a series (two runs were broadcast in 2011 and 2014) it went to Sky Atlantic. The fact it was hidden away on a pay television channel could explain why the show never became mainstream, although even if it had appeared on a terrestrial channel it might just as easily have remained a cult curiosity.

Given its surreal nature, there were inevitable comparisons made to Monty Python, although The Prisoner seems a much closer fit (an isolated community under observation at all times, with a mysterious never-seen overlord – here it’s the Great He). It also has a touch of The League of Gentlemen, although This Is Jinsy’s world is warmer and far less cruel.

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Justin Chubb & Chris Bran

What impresses about the series is the list of top-drawer names who guest star across the run of episodes (continuing the trend set in series one). Particular highlights include Stephen Fry as Dr. Bevelspepp, who has to tangle with Maven’s wig when it develops a mind of its own, and Derek Jacobi as Robunce Barnatty, the oldest resident on the island. Elsewhere, Eileen Atkins, Rob Brydon, Olivia Coleman, Phil Davis and KT Tunstall are amongst the other familiar faces who pop up whilst Jennifer Saunders can be heard, but not seen, as the Voice of Miss Reason – dispensing words of wisdom from the depths of the tessellator.

Although each episode tells a self-contained story, the tessellator is a handy device which allows the narrative to be interrupted for public service messages or songs.  And it’s the songs which are This Is Jinsy’s trump card – annoyingly catchy, once they’ve embedded themselves into your brain it’s almost impossible to remove them. Below is one such example, Vegetable Tricks.

The songs and other skits allow Chubb and Bran to dress up (often as women) but occasionally they’ll step aside to let someone else take centre-stage. Rob Brydon, crooning Female Badger, is a definite highlight, as is the appearance of KT Tunstall (who also appeared in series one). In series two she entertains with the song Mittens.

Let’s take a quick trot through the eight episodes which make up series two.

Intelligent Hair finds Stephen Fry on fine form as Dr. Bevelspepp.  The central theme – a historic wig used in an arcane Arbiter’s ceremony takes on a life of its own and grows to enormous size – should give you a clue about precisely what sort of series this is.

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Stephen Fry

Maven is anxious to get his accounts sorted in Acco! The problem is that all the island’s accountants have gone feral – little better than animals – and this tricky situation isn’t helped when he refers to them as Accos, a slang word which is also a terrible insult. Luckily Maven is able to strike a deal with the Chief Accountant (Ben Miller) but unluckily it involves the Chief Accountant’s daughter Berpetta (also played by Ben Miller).

Katy Brand guests in Double Duck as Madame Astrasline, a psychic who obtains her readings from a basketful of rats. When she foretells Maven’s assassination, he needs to find a dead-ringer to take his place (fortunately there’s one close at hand). Elsewhere, the tessellator keeps us up to date about a nasty outbreak of femininity in the lower parishes. But luckily for the male residents this can be rectified with a dose of Rob’s Burly Water (“now available in beefcake and butch”).

In Penny’s Pendant, Maven and Sporrall tangle with Miss Penny (Eileen Atkins), the island’s imposing etiquette teacher. Atkins is splendid as the sinister Miss Penny (her chat with Cecil, a giant mute rabbit, is another of those unique Jinsy moments).

Nightly Bye. The island celebrates the forbidden festival of Nacken – but Maven is kept in the dark about it. This episode is simply an excuse to have many more silly songs than usual, but that’s fine by me. Amongst the delights is Rob Brydon as Rex Camalbeeter, a man who likes nothing better than dressing up as a female badger and then singing about it.

In The Speckled Pom-Pom, Maven is convinced that a group of islanders are sending covert messages to each other, via ‘textile messaging’.  He has a ready-made suspect, Mr Lovely (Stephen Mangan), and encourages a reluctant Sporrall to assist him in his crusade. There’s another edition of Sandy’s choice (“a talent competition judged by a dog”). KT Tunstall joins in with a touching song all about mittens, but what will Sandy think of it? Will it be a “Woof” or an “Enoof”?

The population on Jinsy is strictly controlled, so when – in Population 791 – it exceeds the required number, Maven is ordered by The Great He to dispose of the island’s oldest resident, Robunce Barnatty (Derek Jacobi).

In the final episode, The Golden Woggle, Maven, after taking tea with a former Arbiter, Jenkins (Phil Davis) and his wife Joan (Olivia Coleman), is dismayed to learn that Jenkins never handed back the official woggle after his reign came to an end, meaning that all this time Maven has been making do with a make-shift one.  He vows to retrieve his rightful woggle from Jenkins, but he’ll have to brave Joan and an awkward parrot first.

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Alice Lowe and Chris Bran

Although This Is Jinsy doesn’t lack for star quality, series creators and writers Justin Chubb and Chris Bran more than hold their own.  The relationship between the pompous Maven and weary second-in-command Sporrall is a familiar sitcom one (think Mainwairing and Wilson in Dad’s Army) which works to good effect here.

Maven and Sporrall have two other regular characters – Trince (Geoffrey McGivern) and Soosan Noop (Alice Lowe) – to bounce off.   Trince is a dry academic, played to perfection by McGivern (the original Ford Prefect) whilst Soosan is the third member of a curious love triangle (she’s besotted with Maven, he ignores her, whilst Sporrall pines for her).  The likes of Greg Davies and Janine Duvitski in small but regular roles are further plusses, as is the strong cast of Jinsy Players who tackle different parts from show to show.

Originally released on DVD by Delta in 2014, This Is Jinsy – Series Two has been brought back into print by Simply Media.  It’s essentially the same as the previous edition (four episodes of around 23 minutes duration per disc, no subtitles, two of the briefest special features you’re ever likely to see and a short photo gallery) so if you have the Delta DVD there’s no particular reason to upgrade.  But if you don’t want to buy a second-hand copy of Delta’s OOP version, then this new pressing should be most welcome.

Possibly we’ve seen the last of the residents of Jinsy.  I hope not though and maybe this re-release might spark a little more interest in this unforgettable, idiosyncratic and very, very silly comedy gem.  Nightly Bye.

This Is Jinsy – Series 2 is released by Simply Media on the 15th of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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1990 – Series 2. Simply Media DVD Review

Broadcast between February and April 1978, series two of 1990 continued to chronicle Jim Kyle’s (Edward Woodward) fight against the all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). My thoughts on series one can be found here.

Several key cast changes had been made since the conclusion of the first series. Although Robert Lang returned as PCD supremo Herbert Skardon, Clifton Jones and Barbara Kellerman (who played deputy PCD controllers Henry Tasker and Delly Lomas during S1) didn’t. It’s fairly easy to understand why Jones might have been dropped (Tasker was by far the least developed of the three and therefore often seemed to be surplus to requirements) but Kellerman’s absence was more perplexing.

The relationship between Kyle and Delly provided the first series with dramatic impetus (especially the “will they, won’t they” conundrum) and the introduction of the new deputy PCD controller, Lynn Blake (Lisa Harrow), could be seen as an attempt to replicate a similar relationship. Kyle and Lynn have a history – they used to be lovers – which instantly creates a source of tension, since her new job will inevitably bring her into direct conflict with Kyle.

Lisa Harrow & Edward Woodward

It’s possible that Lynn’s character was a hastily written replacement for Delly Lomas (maybe because Kellerman was unavailable for S2) otherwise it rather stretches credibility that Delly’s replacement was also someone whose relationship with Kyle had the same uneasy mix of business and pleasure.

Home Secretary Dan Mellor (John Savident) is another absentee, with Kate Smith (Yvonne Mitchell) taking his place. 1990 was Mitchell’s final television role (she died in 1979, aged 63). Although primarily a stage actress, she had notched up some notable film and television credits during her career – for example, Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four in which she played Julia opposite Peter Cushing’s Winston Smith.

Series two kicked off with Wilfred Greatorex’s Pentagons. Kyle is now a member of Pentagon, one of a growing number of dissident groups. But whilst he favours non-violent action (“words have won more batttles than bullets”) others, such as Thomson (John Nolan), are more keen to fight fire with fire ….

Nolan (probably best known for his semi-regular role in Doomwatch) is one of a number of familar faces who pop up in this one – Barry Lowe, Oscar James and Edward de Souza also feature. Lisa Harrow, debuting as Lynn, makes an immediate impression. Harrow and Woodward share a series of strong two-handed scenes which form the core of the episode (Lynn has been tasked to discover the identity of the PCD mole who has been passing sensitive material to Kyle). Juggling several plotlines – including the complex relationship between Kyle and Lynn – Pentagons is a solid season opener.

Lisa Harrow & Robert Lang

As with the first series, the second run of 1990 used a small pool of writers. Creator Wilfred Greatorex penned four episodes, Edmund Ward contributed three whilst the remaining episode was provided by Jim Hawkins (his sole contribution to the series).

Edmund Ward’s three episodes – Trapline, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope and Hire and Fire – were broadcast third, fourth and fifth and therefore form the heart of the second series.

In Trapline, Commissioner Hallam (John Paul) seeks Kyle’s assistance. Hallam may be a senior officer in the civil police, but he bitterly tells Kyle that it’s “the second-class police force. The street sweepers that clear up after the politicals”. Private security firms such as Careguard, run by William Grainger (John Carson), are where the real power lies, thanks to their links to the PCD.

It’s always a pleasure to see John Paul (Doomwatch‘s Spencer Quist) as well as John Carson (one of the most dependable and watchable character actors of his generation). The episode explores how the authorities (both Hallam and the new Home Secretary, Kate Smith) have grown increasingly concerned about the unregulated power wielded by the PCD and Careguard. The fact they want Kyle to help them is an irony which amuses him greatly.

Edward Woodward & John Paul

The verbal fencing between Skardon and Smith, as both jostle for supremacy, is highly entertaining as is the interaction between Kyle and Smith, who become unlikely allies. When Kyle calls her “love” (a rather Callan-like touch) watch how Yvonne Mitchell moves from mild disapproval to amusement in a heartbeat.

Robert Lang is well served by this one. Not only has Skardon gained a girlfriend, the very attractive Barbara Fairlie (Sandra Payne), but he’s also given some killer lines. When informed that the Home Secretary is beating a path to his door, he replies on the intercom that he’s preparing to genuflect. Smith overhears this, leading Skardon to respond that on reflection he can’t. “Injury sustained in youth. Choirboy’s knee”!

In the intriguingly-tiled Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope, Skardon puts his latest plan into action – Authorised Systematic Harassment (ASH). Described as “an authorised version of the Chinese water torture” it uses the most deadly weapon of all – bureaucracy.

The unfortunate targets – Kyle’s editor Tom Doran (Clive Swift) and his family – find themselves under close surveillance, but that’s only the beginning. When the state bailiff moves to evict them from their home and into a slum area then the pressure really begins to tell. As a way of breaking somebody’s spirit, mindless officialdom can be more effective than kicks and blows.

Skardon succinctly sums it up. “The slow and noiseless steamroller of the state, the daily brown envelope dropping on the mat”. Doran used to be a fighter like Kyle, but now he’s older and more frightened of making waves, which makes this persecution even crueller. It’s all been arranged in order to put pressure on Kyle, but Lynn argues that by targeting Kyle’s friends they’ll simply turn him into an even more implacable enemy …

Because it’s so horribly plausable and shockingly bleak, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope is one of the most memorable S2 episodes. Woodward, as usual, is electrifying.

A vicious protection racket, centered around a state factory, is the theme of Hire and Fire. Another first-rate cast – Colin Douglas, Joseph Brady, Simon Cadell – power a story which sees Kyle and the PCD (in the shape of Lynn) form an uneasy alliance for the common good. Skardon is less than impressed when he learns that Kyle has been brought in – which leads to an entertaining confrontation between them (Woodward once again in sparkling form). Also amusing is Kyle’s luncheon with Lynn and the Home Secretary, where he likens himself to “a rose between two thorns”.

Robert Lang & Yvonne Mitchell

Skardon’s pursuit of Kyle continues across the remaining episodes, with matters coming to a head in the series finale, What Pleasess The Prince. Will Kyle and his friends emerge victorious or can the beleaguered PCD fight back?

As with the first series, Edward Woodward shines. Kyle may be more of a thinker than a man of action like Callan, but their core characteristics (a disdain for authority and a highly developed conscience) aren’t too dissimilar. Robert Lang, Lisa Harrow and Yvonne Mitchell are all strong enough actors to hold their own against Woodward in full flight whilst Tony Doyle impresses again as Dave Brett, one of Kyle’s staunchest allies.

Even after all these years, it’s interesting to see how 1990 can be fashioned into a political weapon.  This article from Conservative Woman makes great play of the fact that the government in 1990 was left-wing, although it has to be said that series rarely made party political points (if 1990‘s government had been of the opposite persuasion there would have been little need for any serious redrafting of the scripts – it’s easy to see a fascistic right-wing police state operating in pretty much the same way).

But whatever your political leanings, 1990‘s dystopian future continues to resonate.  At the time of its original broadcast the show was tapping into contemporary concerns about the state of the country (numerous other examples can be found across many different series – Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy, feverishly planning for the day when “the balloon goes up”, is just one example).  Forty years on, 1990 still raises talking points and stimulates the imagination – the year 1990 may be behind us, but many of the issues encountered by Jim Kyle and the others remain.

Tightly scripted and well cast, the second series of 1990 offers another eight episodes of thought-provoking, character-based drama. Both this and series one come highly recommended.

1990 Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 1st of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

Praying Mantis – Simply Media DVD Review

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Vera Canova (Carmen Du Sautoy) has hatched a cold-blooded plan to dispose of her husband, Professor Paul Canova (Pinkas Braun).  The Professor’s assistant, Christian Magny (Jonathan Pryce), is an integral part of her plot, as is Christian’s new wife, Beatrice (Cheri Lunghi), who has just been engaged as the Professor’s secretary.

Vera intends that Professor Canova and Beatrice should be placed in a compromising position, which would give Christian (Vera’s besotted accomplice) an excuse to shoot them both. And since crime passionnels are viewed by the courts more leniently than cold blooded murder, there’s a good chance he would be aquitted. But when Beatrice (known as Bea) discovers their plans, events take an unexpected turn ….

Praying Mantis was based on the award-winning novel by French author Hubert Monteilhet, originally published in 1960. Philip Mackie’s 1983 adaptation managed to keep the feel of the original, although this wasn’t straightforward since Monteilhet’s novel was constructed in the epistolary form (with the story unfolding through a series of letters, newspaper reports and diary entries).

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Cheri Lunghi & Pinkaus Braun

It’s always surprised me that Mackie (1918 – 1985) isn’t better known or appreciated, considering the body of work he assembled between the mid fifties and the mid eighties (Praying Mantis was his final screenplay).  He was skilled as an adapter of other people’s work – apart from Praying Mantis he also worked on Raffles, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes and adapted The Naked Civil Servant from Quentin Crisp’s memoirs – but he also authored some notable television series.  The Caesars (1969), The Organization (1972), An Englishman’s Castle (1978) and The Cleopatras (1983) have to rate amongst his career highlights.  Three of these four are currently available on DVD, so hopefully someone will take up the challenge and release The Cleopatras in the near future.

Praying Mantis opens with a voice-over which sets the scene.  “The praying mantis is a creature who devours her mate during the act of love.”

The first episode is a slow-burn which sets up the principal characters and their intertwined relationships.  Vera is seen to be cold and manipulative and once we discover the Professor is a wealthy man it seems fairly obvious that she wishes to remove him.  But the revelation that Christian is her partner in crime comes out of the blue –  previously it was stated that he had little interest in women, although the fact we later hear his vigorous love-making to Vera (via a tape-recording secretly made by Bea) suggests otherwise.

Bea herself also seems to be somewhat manipulative – before Christian’s marriage proposal she’s quite content to conduct an affair with the Professor under Vera’s nose (although this is something which would have fitted in nicely with Vera’s plans).  And after she discovers that her new husband plans to murder her, there’s no hysterics – instead she begins to wage a war of nerves against him (replaying the taped conversations between Vera and Christian whilst pretending not to hear them).  And her plans don’t end there ….

As might be expected from the title, it’s the two female characters – Vera and Bea – who dominate the action, leaving Christian and Professor Canova as somewhat hapless pawns totally at their mercy.  But there’s several twists and turns along the way which serve to alter the balance of fortune.

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Jonathan Pyrce & Carmen Du Sautoy

It’s an interesting – and obviously intentional – touch that the title was changed from Monteilhet’s The Praying Mantises, to just the singular version for this adaptation.  This ensures that we’re left in some doubt as to who will turn out to be the deadliest (the uneasy detente between Bea and Vera during the concluding episode is absorbing).

Lunghi and Du Sautoy both sparkle with deadly intent throughout.  Bea starts off as the audience identification figure – we see the early action unfold from her viewpoint, which ensures that the audience is automatically placed on her side (although later events reveal a quite different side to her character). Du Sautoy instantly exudes more of an air of obvious menace whilst Pryce is characteristically good at capturing Christian’s sense of creeping, conflicted panic. Braun has the least developed role out of the four, but he’s still skilled at generating gravitas and weight as Professor Canova.

Although Praying Mantis retains the French locations of the original novel, given the British nature of most of the cast this either seems to suggest there’s a great many ex-pats in the area or they’re simply playing French, but without the accents.  If it’s the latter then it was probably a wise move, since adopting foreign accents can be a little distracting.

If the French locations populated with British actors is a little quirky, then so is Carl Davis’ score.  Davis’ credits are many and impressive, but I’m afraid that Praying Mantis can’t really be classed as one of his best.  The piano is the dominant instrument, with a slightly discordant melody recurring regularly throughout the two episodes – frequently popping up between scenes or when there’s no dialogue.  This does become slightly tiresome, even more so since Simply have opted to use it on the DVD menu screen.  This is one time when hitting play as quickly as possible is most desirable!

Praying Mantis boasts strong, multi-layered performances from all four main cast-members with a host of familiar faces (Sarah Berger, Kevin McNally, David Schofield, Derek Smith, Douglas Wilmer, Joby Blanshard, Clive Swift and Peter Blake) making welcome appearances in supporting roles.  Apparently shot on 35mm (a rarity for this era of television – most film productions tended to be made on 16mm) it looks in reasonable shape, considering that the materials are nearly thirty five years old.

Featuring a clever, twisting plot which moves in several unexpected directions, Praying Mantis never flags during the course of its 152 minutes (divided into two episodes of 76 minutes each).  Apart from the slightly intrusive music there’s little else to fault here, with Cheri Lunghi especially impressive.

Praying Mantis is released by Simply Media on the 17th of April 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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Cheri Lunghi

Star Maidens – Simply Media DVD Review

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The planet Medusa is a world run by women where men are very much second-class citizens, only fit for menial domestic tasks (as well as pleasuring their mistresses of course).  But after Medusa is blown out of its solar system (don’t ask) and drifts close to Earth, two worms, Adam (Pierre Brice) and Shem (Gareth Thomas), decide to turn.  They steal a space-yacht and head for our world – a paradise where men are free to be men.

Star Maidens is a bizarre British/German co-production from the mid seventies.  It’s been suggested that the series’ odd tone was a consequence of cultural differences – the Germans wanted to create a sex comedy whilst the British were more interested in crafting serious(ish) science fiction. These two different styles meet head on, with varying degrees of success …..

The fact that Star Maidens wasn’t networked indicates that ITV had little love for it.  The show limped out at different days and times from region to region (a Sunday afternoon slot on Granada, a 5:15 pm weekday slot on both HTV and Anglia, etc) whilst some areas don’t appear to have shown it at all.

It certainly didn’t lack for talent though, both in-front of and behind the camera.  It was created by Eric Paice, co-writer of the Pathfinders series with Malcolm Hulke (which had been a clear influence on the creation of Doctor Who).  Several Doctor Who writers – Ian Stuart Black and John Lucarotti – contributed scripts whilst Freddie Francis, a respected director and cinematographer, directed five episodes.  Another notable behind-the-scenes name lending his expertise to the series was Alan Hume, who worked as the director of photography on a score of major films (including multiple James Bonds and Return of the Jedi).

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Gareth Thomas

Three years before playing Roj Blake, Gareth Thomas had his first taste of the weird world of television science-fiction when he played Shem.  Shem’s a rather subservient character, as not only is he in thrall to his female mistresses but he also plays second fiddle to Adam, who’s clearly marked as the alpha-male right from the start.  In the first episode Shem is given several lines (“it’s a woman’s world”, “men’s liberation”) which hammers the point home that Medusa is a planet totally dominated by women.  Subtlety is not a hallmark of this series.

French-born Pierre Brice might have been an unknown quantity for British audiences, but since he was a big star in Germany at the time it explains why he was drafted in to take one of the leading male roles.  Adam’s decision to flee to Earth annoys his mistress Fulvia (Judy Geeson) whilst security chief Octavia (Christine Kruger) vows to get them back by any means necessary.

The Medusans kidnap two Earth scientists, Rudi (Christian Quadfleig) and Liz (Lisa Harrow), and as might be expected there’s a certain amount of irony and comedy to be mined out of their situation. Both are taken back to Medusa and suffer different fates – Rudi is assigned to a work-party whilst Liz is treated like a princess.

The guest casts feature familiar players such as Graham Crowden, Terence Alexander, Anna Carteret, Ronald Fraser and Alfie Bass.  Those who enjoy picking out background faces might spot David Ellison playing a policeman (a few years later, along with Anna Carteret, he’d be a regular in Juliet Bravo) whilst any fans of Delta and the Bannermen may want to look out for Belinda Mayne in episode seven, Test for Love.

The first episode – Escape to Paradise – sets up the premise of the series with a very hard info-dump during the opening few minutes.  This explains that Medusa (Space 1999 like) has somehow gained the ability to drift around the universe, eventually ending up not too far from Earth.  There’s some nice modelwork on show, although unfortunately the models do rather look like models. That’s something of a hallmark of the series.

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The next episode, Nemesis, sees Adam and Shem, newly arrived on Earth, forced to go on the run (it features the immortal line “there are two funny men stealing our apples”!).  Following that, we have another Earth-based instalment, The Nightmare Cannon, notable for the eponymous device which causes the faces of Octavia and Fulvia to be seen by Adam and Shem everywhere. The moment when two suits of armour come lumbering towards Shem and raise their visors to display the features of Octavia and Fulvia (a not terribly convincing optical effect) is just one of many classic moments scattered thoughtout the series. Gareth Thomas certainly gives his all during this scene.

Terence Alexander has a good guest role in the fifth episode, Kidnap – he plays a smoothie with designs on Fulvia.  Gregori (Alexander) plies Fulvia with champagne as a prelude to strapping her into a human thought transference machine. Alexander plays drunk amusingly, whilst decent actors like Philip Stone and Stanley Lebor lurk in a menacing manner.

One of the interesting things about the series is the fact that it features stories set both on Earth (featuring the misadventures of Adam, Shem and Fulvia) as well as Medusa (where Rudi and Liz find themselves to be fishes out of water). By centering the action around newcomers to both civilizations, there’s scope for drama and humour as they all come to terms with a new world which differs dramatically from their own. Although it’s something of a weakness that the first half of the series is dominated by Earth stories (a bit more variety at this point would have been welcome).

Test for Love finds us back on Medusa with Liz facing a terrible ordeal – she has to undergo a computer test in order to establish whether her claims that she doesn’t find Medusan men attractive is true (this mainly involves watching bare-chested men on a viewing screen).  Lisa Harrow, who during her career has tackled many major roles at the RSC, admirably manages to keep a straight face. Quite what the lunchtime and early evening audiences made of this back in the seventies is anyone’s guess ….

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Dawn Addams & Lisa Harrow

The Perfect Couple is a series highlight.  Adam and Fulvia, still stranded on Earth, decide to set up home together.  But things don’t go smoothly as Fulvia becomes annoyed that househusband Adam’s coffee mornings are spent entertaining attractive housewives! Meanwhile, Fulvia’s story of life on Medusa has inspired the local women to rise up and take control. Today suburbia, tomorrow the world.  Although it’s as unsubtle as the rest of the series, this one is genuinely funny (as well as featuring a nice guest-turn from Ronald Fraser).

Gareth Thomas gets a chance to shine in Hideout.  Shem, like Adam, is still on the Earth and remains a hunted fugitive.  He’s befriended by Rose (Conny Collins) but with the police closing in there’s danger all around.  Thomas and Collins both work well and even though they don’t spend a great deal of time together, their relationship still feels real.

The second half of the series concentrates more on Medusan stories, with both The End of Time and Creatures of the Mind being of particular interest. In The End of Time, Earth scientist Professor Evans (Derek Farr – a strong presence throughout the series) is brought to Medusa by Octavia, but they arrive to find a city in crisis with the President (Dawn Addams) apparently dead. There’s an eerie tone to this one, which contrasts well with some of the broad comedy seen elsewhere.

Creatures of the Mind finds Liz under attack from a group of whispering robots. Scripted by Ian Stuart Black, it puts Lisa Harrow centre-stage and gives her some good material to work with. It’s just a pity that the twenty five minute format results in everything feeling a little rushed (although since the thought of some of the slighter episodes bulked out to fifty minutes is a terrifying one, maybe the shorter running time was the best option overall).

The series finale, The Enemy, sees Adam eventually make his way back to Medusa, which means he’s on hand to save the day as the planet comes under attack from a mysterious alien craft. This feat even impresses the hard-bitten Octavia (although how long she stayed impressed we’ll never know, as it was decided not to renew the show for a second series).

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Pierre Brice, Gareth Thomas & Judy Geeson

Originally released by Delta in 2005 but OOP for several years, Star Maidens has now been brought back into print by Simply. Simply’s release looks to be pretty much the same as Delta’s, with identical menu screens and picture quality. The PQ is reasonable, athough had new prints been struck from the negatives then things could have looked a good deal better. But apart from the expense, that supposes the original negatives still exist – which due to the age of the series isn’t certain.

There’s a bonus feature on disc two – an interview with Gareth Thomas. Running for 35 minutes, it offers a highly entertaining trot through the series, as well as briefly touching on other parts of his career.  Thomas was always an affable and unpretentious interviewee, which becomes clear over the course of this feature.  It’s easy to imagine that many actors would be reluctant to revisit such an undistinguished and faintly embarrassing part of their career, but Thomas had no such qualms and was happy to speak at length about the production.

There isn’t another series like Star Maidens. It’s fusion of gender politics, mild titillation (the eye-catching female guards, decked out in hotpants and crop tops) and sci-fi themes all combine to produce a heady brew. And although it’s no classic, it possesses a certain wonky charm (even if there are times when it’s impossible not to react with slack-jawed incredulity at the events unfolding on the screen).

Hand on heart, some of the acting isn’t great, the music is of its time (that’s the kindest thing I can say about it) and the extensive redubbing tends to increase the unreal air of the stories. But I still find it a fascinating and entertaining time capsule of the period and whilst it won’t be to everybody’s tastes, I’m glad that it’s available once again.

Star Maidens is released by Simply Media on the 17th of April 2017.  The series is comprised of thirteen 25 minute episodes and has an RRP of £19.99.

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The Brothers – Series Five. Simply Media DVD Review

The beginning of series five finds The Brothers in something of a transitional phase.  Two key cast members (Gabrielle Drake and Hilary Tindall) had left the show at the end of the previous run, although fresh blood (most notably in the shape of Kate O’Mara as Jane Maxwell) would shortly arrive to shake things up.

The departures of both Drake (Jill Hammond) and Tindall (Ann Hammond) were used to good dramatic effect though.  Ann and Brian had gone through the relationship mill during the previous series and even though their union was now at an end, Brian continues to suffer.  But his broken marriage is just one reason why he goes severely off the rails in the early episodes.

Although Tindall was gone, her character was still alive and therefore a return was always possible (and  indeed Ann did make a fleeting reappearance in a handful of episodes at the start of the seventh and final series).  But Drake wasn’t so fortunate, as Jill is dispatched in the time-honoured way of dealing with soap actors who either can’t or won’t carry on (an off-screen accident).  Talking about this decades later in The Cult of The Brothers documentary, it seems that Drake was a little taken aback at just how ruthlessly Jill was dealt with.

Another character, Martin Farrell, had also left, which results in both personal and professional consequences.  Professionally, it means that the position of chairman is vacant – which seems tailor-made for the ambitious Paul Merroney.

And on a more personal note, it was plain that Edward Hammond’s nose was put out of joint last series by the interest Farrell had been taking in Jennifer Kingsley.  So with Farrell out of the picture, Edward rekindles his own relationship with her.  Lest we forget, Jennifer carried on a lengthy and clandestine affair with Edward’s late father.  Unsurprisingly this meant she has always been viewed with great disfavour by Edward’s mother – the indomitable matriarch Mary Hammond – but it seems that Edward has eventually summoned up the courage to defy his mother and make an honest woman out of Jennifer.  Although I’m sure there’s still going to be a few bumps ahead before they can enjoy a lifetime of wedded bliss.

The series opener, the aptly titled Life Goes On, finds Brian in a pretty poor state. This concerns the bank – they don’t want to see their investment in Hammonds put at risk because the new managing director is feeling flaky – but Paul Merroney has put plans in motion to protect their money ….

Although Merroney was a rather peripheral character during the last series, here he really starts to make his mark. For one thing, he’s gained an assistant – Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam). Apart from signifying Merroney’s increasing significance, Clare also emerges as a character in her own right – becoming close to David, for example.

Baker’s good value in these early episodes as Merroney begins his manoeuvres. Surprisingly, only the bluff Bill Riley realises that Merroney has his eye on the chairman’s job – which doesn’t say much for the business acumen of the others! There’s a delicious sense of duplicity on show from Merroney as he puts the blame for the recent ousting of Edward as managing director firmly on the shoulders of the departed (and innocent) Farrell.

The way the audience learns about Jill’s death is done in a very interesting way which makes a positive out of the fact that Gabrielle Drake was no longer a member of the cast.  Jill isn’t mentioned during most of the first episode, although that wasn’t unusual (she was absent from the first few episodes of series four).  It’s only right at the end of Life Goes On, when David runs into a friend who’s been out of town for several months that we find out Jill is dead.  This is an incredibly jolting moment which provides us with a strong hook into the next episode where her fate is discussed in detail.

The dynamic between the three brothers – Edward, Brian and David – has been the motor which has powered the series to date.  Whilst series five continues to play on their conflicts, the emergence of Paul Merroney as a major player refreshes this somewhat – as an outsider he has quite a different set of loyalties.

But the brothers still dominate the storylines especially, in the early episodes, Brian.  In many ways he’s now got everything he wished for – he’s become managing director of Hammonds, ousting Edward.  Or has he?  We’d seen in previous series that it was Ann who was the ambitious one, constantly pushing him forward.  So the fact that he’s gained in business but lost out in his personal life must come as a bitter irony to him.

Richard Easton continues to impress as Brian, especially when he starts to lose the plot (the episode title Breakdown makes it fairly obvious what’s going to happen).  As his drinking increases, Brian is encouraged to seek psychiatric help.  And always around is Merroney, plotting to oust Brian at one point and then (so the others fear) attempting to buy Brian’s shares so he can gain overall control of the company. But as we’ll see, Merroney is no cardboard villain – he may be mainly motivated by self interest but he’s also not without compassion for the stricken Brian.

As Brian, ensconced in a nursing home, retreats into the background, so other plotlines begin to develop.  The long-running will they/won’t they relationship between Edward and Jennifer is now very much back in “they will” territory and moves forward at a rate of knots.  The problem with Mary (Jean Alexander, as good as always) still has to be overcome though, as the icy disdain she feels towards the woman who conducted a long-term affair with her late husband continues to be a fruitful source of drama.  Even when Mary and Jennifer appear to be on civil terms there’s always the sense that at any moment things could change ….

Although the departure of both Hilary Tindall and Gabrielle Drake left something of a hole, two new female characters filled the gap nicely.  Clare’s divided loyalties (between David and Merroney) generate a good source of drama which plays out as the series progresses whilst Kate O’Mara makes an immediate impression as Jane Maxwell.  Debuting in episode six, Flight of Fancy, Jane is the hard-headed director of an air-freight business which Hammonds have an interest in.  As a proactive business woman she’s something of a rarity in the world of The Brothers (Jennifer might be a board member of Hammonds, but she’s a much more passive character).

Also appearing for the first time in this episode is Mike Pratt as Don Stacey, a hard-drinking pilot.  This would be Pratt’s final television role before his death in 1976 at the age of just 45.  Don would appear throughout the remainder of series five and the first half of series six. Whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Pratt, it’s rather tempered by how ill and haggard he looks.

Yet again, things conclude in the boardroom (episode thirteen, Warpath) as Merroney continues to scheme although it’s possible that in Jane he’s finally met his match (a decade or so later Baker and O’Mara would once again lock horns, this time in Doctor Who).  With Edward under pressure and Brian’s fate still uncertain, things are left nicely poised for the following series to pick up where this one left off.

By now, The Brothers had become a well-oiled machine and series five not only manages to develop the existing characters in a variety of ways but it also develops intriguing new ones as well.  It continues to be highly addictive stuff, especially as the Hammonds, Merroney and Jane jostle for power and superiority.  But there’s time for more personal stories as well (Jennifer’s longing for another child) which ensures that the series isn’t completely boardroom and business based.

The Brothers – Series Five is released by Simply Media on the 27th of March 2017.  RRP £29.99.

1990 – Series One. Simply Media DVD Review

1990, which ran for two seasons during 1977 and 1978, was set in a Britain tyrannised by the Public Control Department (PCD), a Home Office organisation dedicated to crushing free speech and any other signs of dissent.  Given the parlous state of Britain during the 1970’s, it wasn’t surprising to find a series which posited what might happen if the economy finally and irrevocably disintegrated.  And given the way things are today, many of 1990‘s themes seem eerily topical  ….

Some background to the collapse is teased out as the series progresses.  We learn that the country went bankrupt in 1983, which led to a series of swingeing restrictions from the newly-formed PCD.  These included strict rationing – not only of food, but also of housing and other essential services.  Virtually everything has been nationalised, meaning that the government has almost complete control.  Dissidents are harshly dealt with – via Adult Rehabilitation Centres – where they are treated with electro-convulsive therapy.

1990 is a grim place then, but there are still a few people attempting to resist the state.  One is Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward), a journalist on The Star, one of the last independent newspapers. The PCD, in the form of Controller Herbert Skardon (Robert Lang) and his two deputies, Delly Lomas (Barbara Kellerman) and Henry Tasker (Clifton Jones), keep him under close surveillance, which leads to a tense battle of nerves.

Robert Lang, Barbara Kellerman and Clifton Jones

Series creator Wilfred Greatorex (1922–2002) started his career writing for Probation Officer (1962) and quickly moved onto The Plane Makers (1963 – 1965) and its sequel The Power Game (1966 – 1969) where he acted as the script-editor.  Character conflict was key to both The Plane Makers and The Power Game and it’s plain to see that a similar format was carried over to 1990.  The heart of the series is concerned with the way the main characters (especially Kyle, Skardon and Lomas) interact.

Edward Woodward (1930 – 2009) had been acting since the mid 1950’s but it was Callan (1967 – 1972) which really established him as a household name.  His success as the world-weary state-sponsored killer allowed him to diversify (pursing his love of singing in The Edward Woodward Hour, for example) whilst cult films like The Wicker Man (1973) enhanced his profile even more.  Woodward was a quality actor and his central performance is one of the reasons why 1990 works as well as it does.

The series opened with Greatorex’s Creed of Slaves (“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves” – William Pitt the Younger).  Kyle is penning a piece for his newspaper on the Adult Rehabilitation Centres (ARCs) which causes Skardon considerable irritation.  But that’s merely the tip of the iceberg as Kyle is also part of an organisation dedicated to smuggling people out of the country ….

There’s more than a little touch of 1984 about the series of course (Greatorex referred to it as 1984 plus six).   This is particularly evident in the opening few minutes as we observe how the PCD are able to monitor everybody, both visually and aurally, although wise old hands like Kyle are able to give them the slip with embarrassing ease.  The relationship between Kyle and the members of the PCD is already well established before the episode begins and it’s his interaction with Delly Lomas which particularly intrigues.  Since Skardon mentions that Kyle likes her cooking, it’s plain that, despite the fact they’re on different sides, there appears to be some sort of spark between them.  Or are both simply playing games? At one point Kyle directs this comment to her. “How do you look like you do and do the job that you do?”

Edward Woodward & Barbara Kellerman

The next episode, When Did You Last See Your Father?, continues one of the plotlines from episode one, concerning Dr Vickers (Donald Gee), a man who is keen to take his wife and family out of the UK. This proves to be impossible via official means, as exit visas are severely restricted.

The banality of evil runs throughout the series. On the one hand, Skardon, Lomas and Tasker are simply bureaucrats doing a job (in their minds they no doubt see themselves on the side of law and order). It’s this blurring between “good” and “evil” which is so compelling – the PCD may be oppressive, but their public face can appear to be reasonable. This is key – if you can keep the nastiness buried then maybe you stand a chance of fooling most of the people.

The first non-Greateorex script, Health Farm, stars the imposing Welsh actor Ray Smith as union leader Charles Wainwright.  Following a disastrous trip to America in which he gave a speech littered with criticisms of the British government, Wainwright is sent to an ARC for “correction”.  The shocking change in him (from the firebrand we first meet to an adjusted patient keen to toe the party line) brings home the true horror of the ARCs.

Strong guest stars continue to appear throughout the remainder of series one, such as Graham Crowden as Sondeberg in Decoy and Richard Hurndall as Avery in Voice from the Past.

The last two episodes – Witness and Non-Citizen ramp up the conflict between Kyle and the PCD. Dr Vickers, who escaped from the UK in episode two with Kyle’s help, is persuaded to return in order to testify in a show-trial against Kyle – if he does then his family will be granted exit visas.  Prior to the trial (featuring John Bennett as the prosecutor) Kyle’s office and home are targeted by PCD thugs, which causes distress to his wife Maggie (Patricia Garwood) and children.  Woodward gives a typically powerful performance, especially when Kyle finds his family are under threat.

Edward Woodward

Series one concluded with Non-Citizen. Considering how much of a thorn Kyle has been in the PCD’s side, it’s odd they’ve taken so long to decisively deal with him. But here at last they finally seem to have broken him. With his family missing, no money, no job, no home and no status, Kyle is pushed to the limit by a sadistic Skardon. It’s not surprising that Woodward once again excels here.

Although the themes of the first series of 1990 tapped into contemporary fears and neuroses, it’s fascinating how most of it still remains topical some forty years on.  The official face presented in 1990 appears to be fair and reasonable – tribunals are held which claim to offer the public an unbiased hearing and the ARC we visit is located in a palatial country home with well-manicured lawns – but scratch a little beneath the surface and it’s plain there’s something very rotten in this state.  You don’t need jackbooted guards on every street corner to create a true sense of fear, there are far more subtle ways than that ….

The way that language, spin and bureaucracy are all utilised in order to obfuscate the truth is especially instructive.  When you hear a politician complaining that the press, in the shape of Kyle, is spreading disinformation and therefore creating disharmony about the state of the economy (i.e. disseminating fake news) then the parallels to the modern world are perfectly clear.  In many ways 1990 is something of a chess game with all the major players – especially Kyle and Lomas – engaged in a game of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre.

Barbara Kellerman & Edward Woodward

As I’ve said, Edward Woodward is a fine leading man whilst Barbara Kellerman and Robert Lang (who receive second and third billing) offer strong support.  The gravelly-voiced Lang graced many a film and television programme with his presence and is perfect as the harassed mandarin Tasker whilst Kellerman (possibly best known for playing the White Witch in the 1980’s BBC production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) is intriguing as Della, the apparently acceptable face of the PCD.  Kellerman didn’t return for series two, which was a shame, although this did allow the format to be shaken up a little.

Interviewed by the Radio Times prior to the broadcast of the first episode, Woodward said that the series was “either going to create a furore or pass without comment” (Radio Times, 17th September 1977).  Although it didn’t quite go unnoticed, the fact it was tucked away on BBC2 was probably part of the reason why it never became a mainstream hit. But it clearly impressed enough to be renewed for a second series.

Although largely forgotten today, 1990 is a series which deserves to be much better known, especially since its power to disturb and unsettle remains undimmed after forty years.  It’s pleasing to have the first series available on DVD, with the second to follow in May, and for those who appreciate well-crafted British character drama of the seventies it’s certain to appeal.

1990 – Series One is released by Simply Media on the 20th of March 2017.  RRP £19.99.

Shackleton – Simply Media DVD Review

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was a polar explorer who made three eventful expeditions to the Antarctic between 1902 and 1917.  His story has been tackled several times (for example, the 2002 mini-series starring Kenneth Branagh) but this 1983 BBC2 drama-documentary has long been regarded as one of the most authentic retellings of his exploits.

There are several reasons why this production is noteworthy.  Shackleton covered all of his Antarctic expeditions, not just the most well-known one (aboard the ship Endurance).  And since events are allowed to unfold over a number of years, this gives time for his relationships with other characters, such as Scott (Neil Stacey), to be explored in detail.  Also, it doesn’t shy away from the harsher aspects of life in the polar region (the toe amputation scene is authentically grisly).

Screenwriter Christopher Railing (who won an Emmy in 1971 for The Search for the Nile) worked from Shackleton’s journals to craft as accurate a picture as possible.  With location filming in Greenland, shot by BAFTA-award winner David Whitson, no expense was spared.

Although this ensured a visual treat for the audience, some at the BBC were less than impressed.  Will Wyatt, at the time the head of Documentary Features, recalls that “most years there was some sort of crisis. The worst was a four-part drama documentary about the Antarctic explorer Shackleton, shot on location in Greenland, around London, and at the BBC’s Ealing studios. The producer, an experienced drama production manager [John Harris], was unable to say ‘no’ to the director [Martyn Friend]. Shackleton went a disastrous record-breaking 50 per cent over budget. I told the producer he was finished with us and should return to drama, and I abandoned plans for all further drama docs.”

Whilst it’s a pity that this overspend seemed to have put paid to future productions (the same team had previously mounted the well-received Voyages of Charles Darwin) at least the money spent was put up on the screen for the viewers to enjoy.

David Schofield played Shackleton.  He made his television debut in a 1972 episode of Z Cars and worked steadily in television during the remainder of the seventies and early eighties.  After appearing in Shackleton his career continued to grow (later he chalked up appearances in Hollywood films such as Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean).

DAVID SCHOFIELD as Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Schofield is given strong support from an impressive supporting cast, which includes Michael Hayward, David Rodigan, Geoffrey Chater, Robert James, Robert Lang, Victoria Fairbrother, Stephen Tate, Michael Sheard, Kevin Whately and Anthony Bate.

Episode one, A Merchant Navy Man, opens with Scott’s Antarctic expedition of 1902.  Shackleton was a member of his party but due to ill health found himself sent home early.  These opening scenes sets up the tension that always existed between the pair.  Shackleton later discloses to his fiancé Emily (Victoria Fairbrother) that he found Scott to be a “button-up sort of fellow. Never manages to let his hair down.”  Shackleton, on the other hand, was approachable and friendly and seemed to be popular with the other members of Scott’s crew (there are some who contended that this was the real reason why Scott sent him home).

When Shackleton returns to London he’s invited to give several talks on their achievements and it’s here that Schofield really starts to make his mark, as Shackleton paints a vivid picture of life on the ice.  “I cannot leave you tonight without trying to convey to you something of the vast magnificence of the south polar regions. The immense forces of those contending elements – rock. wind, ice and water. The stillness of the Antarctic night. And the comradeship. The intensified feeling of life, of being alive, which men feel in those frozen wastes and which draws them back as if their souls belong there.”

With Shackleton now married to Emily and ensconced in Edinburgh, life for both of them is settled, but he regards the Antarctic as unfinished business.  With the backing of William Beardmore, a wealthy Clydeside industrialist, Shackleton mounts his own expedition, but finds that various obstacles – most notably Scott – have to be overcome first.  Scott insists he has a prior claim on the McMurdo Sound area and Shackleton agrees not to use it as his base of operations.  But when the heavy pack ice forces him into McMurdo, Scott – back in England – regards it as a personal betrayal.

The ominously titled Our Dead Bodies Must Tell The Tale sees Shackleton and his three companions, Frank Wild (David Rodigan), Jameson Adams (Kevin Whately) and Eric Marshall (Andrew Seear) set out for the South Pole.  Between late 1908 and early 1909 they made a trip of sixteen hundred miles, ending up just ninety seven miles away from the pole.  This feat turned Shackleton into a national hero and earned him a knighthood.

Rodigan is excellent throughout the series as Wild, one of Shackleton’s firmest friends and supporters whilst Seear adds a discordant note here as Marshall, a man who dislikes Shackleton intensely (he refers to him as “a moody vacillating boaster”).  A young Kevin Whately has a decent role as Adams.  There’s a nicely observed sense of desperation as the months tick by – they may have started sprightly enough (with plenty of supplies and horses to pull the sledges) but all four would have been well aware that the return trip would be the real test.

By then the horses have passed their usefulness, leaving the men to pull the sledges.  With dwindling supplies there’s a sense of anxiety that the others may have already left.  Will they return to base just to find an empty hut?  The stark beauty of the barren wastes, with Shackleton’s words in voice-over provided by Schofield, make the first half of this episode a memorable one.

Although not directly connected to Shackleton, Scott’s ultimately doomed attempt to reach the South Pole first was a key moment from this era of exploration and closes the second episode on something of a sombre note.

With the South Pole conquered by Amundsen, Shackleton needs a new challenge. He announces that he will mount a Trans-Antarctic Expedition to cover the entire continent – from a landing in the Weddell Sea, via the South Pole to McMurdo Sound.

This journey, which begins in the boat Endurance, is by far the most compelling part of Shackleton’s exploits.  Episode three, Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey, starts with Shackleton’s recruiting drive and shortly afterwards his hand-picked crew (and the odd stowaway) are making good progress after departing from South Georgia.

But it doesn’t take long before the ice pack traps Endurance solid.  It’s an awe-inspiring sight and if Shackleton did go as far over budget as Will Wyatt claims, then it was worth every penny.  Trapped fast in the ice, the crew have to find ways to while away the time (and this they certainly do – with a variety of light-hearted jinks, including dog racing and a spot of cross-dressing).

When the Endurance is lost, Shackleton and the others are left stranded on a large ice floe which they hope might drift towards civilisation.  Even in such a desperate situation, Shackleton continues to be an inspired leader and David Schofield continues to impress in the title role.

The desperate plight of Shackleton and his men continues during the fourth and final episode, Cape Horn – Or South Georgia?  It covers an especially memorable part of the Shackleton story – which begins with a hellish 800 mile journey made by himself and five others in the open-lifeboat James Caird.  But when they reach their destination – South Georgia – that’s not the end of the story as Shackleton and several others have to make a land crossing over the island (through previously unchartered territory) in order to reach the Norwegian whaling stations and safety.

With the stakes so high – if Shackleton doesn’t succeed then the rest of his crew – (stranded on Elephant Island) – are sure to die, Cape Horn – Or South Georgia? engages the attention right from the start.  It’s a suitably dramatic conclusion to the series, leaving the fate of the men stranded on Elephant Island unresolved until right before the end.

The series is split between Shackleton’s Antarctic explorations and his life back in the UK. The first instalment has the least Antarctic footage (it tops and tails the episode) but the scenes in Britain are integral to understanding Shackleton the man, so they shouldn’t be regarded as mere filler.

Not only do they document his relationship with his wife (with hints that his restless spirit has placed a burden on their marriage) but his clashes with the establishment are also key to understanding his character. And it doesn’t hurt that the establishment is represented by character actors as good as Geoffrey Chater, Robert James and Anthony Bate – all of whom excelled at playing precisely these types of stuffy, patrician mandarins.

The contrast between Shackleton’s comfortable life in Britain and the hardships endured by himself and the others in the Antarctic is teased out in several unspoken ways. Firstly, the members of the Royal Geographical Society are shown to be frequently dismissive of Shackleton – even going so far as to suggest (not to his face, at least) – that his claims of nearly reaching the South Pole were exaggerated.  How can they, stuck in their comfortable existence, even begin to understand the hazards and joys of Antarctic exploration?  And when we see Shackleton on his lecture tours, it again highlights how his audience (smartly dressed, affluent) live in a totally different world from the one he’s describing so vividly.

One of the ways you know if a real-life drama or documentary has engaged your attention is if it inspires you to seek out more information about the subject. That’s certainly the case for me here, as I get the feeling that – even with four hours to play with – the surface of Ernest Shackleton had only been scratched.  David Schofield deftly brings to life all of his key characteristics though – his anti-authoritarian streak, the way he inspired trust and loyalty amongst his crew, etc – and the fact that Shackleton’s words, via Schofield’s voice-overs, are heard throughout the four episodes also helps to bring us closer to the man.

Shot on 16mm film, it’s a pity that the print looks rather tired-looking and faded in places. Restoration or a new print struck from the negative would have been welcome, but – as so often with niche archive releases – had this been done then it’s doubtful the title would have been economically viable.  What we have is certainly watchable though – and no worse than other material of the same vintage – so once the story begins to grip, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Classed as a drama-documentary, Shackleton is much more drama than documentary. Although we hear a voice-over at key points, since they’re Shackleton’s words (delivered by Schofield) it doesn’t break the drama feel of the programme.

Shackleton is an engrossing tale of old-fashioned heroism and friendship. David Schofield excels as Shackleton, but in many ways the real star is the unforgiving, forbidding Antarctic (there’s no doubt that without the Greenland material it would  be much the poorer).  A quality production, it grips from beginning to end.  Warmly recommended.

Shackleton consists of four 60 minute episodes across two discs.  It’s released by Simply Media on the 13th of March 2017.  RRP £19.99.