P.D. James – The
Essential Collection (British/Roy
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
For A Nightingale (1984) starring Joss Acklund
Her Face (1985) starring Julian Glover
Black Tower (1985) starring Pauline Collins
5) A Taste
For Death (1988) starring Wendy Hiller and Simon Ward
Causes (1993) starring Kenneth Coley
7) A Mind
To Murder (1995) starring Frank Finlay
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