Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > British TV > Mini-Series > P.D. James - The Essential Collection

P.D. James – The Essential Collection (British/Roy Marsden)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Episodes: B



P.D. James has been the most successful lady author in Mystery fiction since Agatha Christie herself, making a huge impact since the 1980s with the ever-inquisitive Commander Adam Dalgliesh in one fop the most successful book series of such books in decades.  A fine series of British mini-series adaptations of the books soon followed with Roy Marsden (see The Sandbaggers reviewed elsewhere on this site) brilliantly cast as Dalgliesh.  P.D. James – The Essential Collection brings together nearly every show he starred in as the great detective.


Originally a series of Mini-Series, this massive 13 DVD collection comes in another one of those welcome DigiPak-as-book-pages binders that made recent such Cadfael and Poirot collections from Acorn Media so terrific.  This time, it is Koch and Lance doing the issuing.  The stories are as follows:


1)     Death Of An Expert Witness (1983) starring Barry Foster, Geoffrey Palmer and Brenda Blethyn.

2)     Shroud For A Nightingale (1984) starring Joss Acklund

3)     Cover Her Face (1985) starring Julian Glover

4)     The Black Tower (1985) starring Pauline Collins

5)     A Taste For Death (1988) starring Wendy Hiller and Simon Ward

6)     Unnatural Causes (1993) starring Kenneth Coley

7)     A Mind To Murder (1995) starring Frank Finlay

8)     Original Sin (1996) starring Ian Bannen and Sylvia Sims



Devices & Desires (1991 with Susannah York) and A Certain Justice (1998) are the only two Marsden tales not included.  Perhaps the latter was produced under special circumstances with different copyright holders, but the former is one of James’ best-known works and one wonders where it went.  Talents from Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected (reviewed elsewhere on this site) like Herbert Wise and Robin Chapman helped make this show work and Marsden had appeared on that series several times.  Anglia Entertainment was a producer of both, so that makes sense.


Many have criticized some of the later adaptations as not being totally loyal to the original source material, and though that may be true, Baroness James’ work has not always been as consistent as her reputation would have you believe, but this is someone writing on a higher level than most in the genre.  Thus, you have to take that criticism as relative.  Each murder mystery is smart, realistic and the characters more three-dimensional than most such series than we have looked at from the 1980s to date.  Despite a few limits and misgivings, P.D. James – The Essential Collection delivers some great mystery drama worthy of British TV’s best and is recommended.


The 1.33 X 1 image is from the original PAL analog video shoots and holds up as well as similar productions from the time.  In the earlier shows, the color is great and frame rate fine, while the later shows may be slightly more refined, but frame rate is problematic and color is poor.  That was too typical of 1990s productions in the U.K. and more in the U.S. than many seem to want to admit.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 is boosted to stereo on the earlier shows, while the latter shows have limited Pro Logic surrounds and exhibit flatter, more compressed audio recordings.  Extras on the latter DVDs are simply text on Marsden and James, but nothing more.


Martin Shaw (The Professionals) took over the role in 2003 after Marsden’s amazing run, proving how popular the character became beyond the books.  We look forward to seeing those shows, but for those who saw the Marsden series when Diana Rigg hosted them on PBS’ Mystery!, this will be a welcome reunion indeed.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com