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DVD SAVANT


Savant PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:

Raven -
The Complete Series
and
The Georgian House



Separate releases reviewed
by Lee Broughton


British independent television channels produced some excellent fantasy shows for children during the 1970s. Two fondly remembered and critically acclaimed examples have just been granted a DVD release by Network. The quite mystical Raven is a bold and atmospheric production that merges environmental concerns with Arthurian legend. The Georgian House is an equally bold production that deals with time travel and the slave trade in Britain. Well-written and well produced, these shows are idiosyncratic, compelling and intriguing enough to entertain and engage adults as well as children. Both releases are Web Exclusives that are only available from Network's homepage.


Raven - The Complete Series
Network
1977 / Colour / 1.33:1 flat / 150 m.
Starring Michael Aldridge, Patsy Rowlands, Phil Daniels, Shirley Cheriton, James Kerry, Tenniel Evans, Ellis Jones, Blake Butler, Hugh Thomas, Harold Innocent
Cinematography O. Royston Holby, Paul Hacking and Geoff Lloyd
Production Designer John Hickson
Film Editors Graham Thompson and Grant Watters
Written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray
Produced by Colin Shindler
Directed by Michael Hart

Synopsis:

A young offender, Raven (Phil Daniels), is released into the care of Professor James Young (Michael Aldridge) and his wife (Patsy Rowlands). Professor Young is overseeing an archaeological dig in southern England that has uncovered a series of underground caves that feature ancient zodiac-related carvings at their entrances. When viewed on a map, the caves form the shape of a dragon. The archaeologists have just one month left to wrap up their work before government officials, led by the engineer Bill Telford (James Kerry), transform the site into a dumping ground for toxic nuclear waste. The professor and a local newspaper reporter, Naomi Grant (Shirley Cheriton), convince Raven that the caves must be protected and he becomes something of a fixture at the site, enthusiastically working on a report that he hopes will sway the government's -- and the wider public's -- opinion. One night he ventures into the caves alone and has an encounter with an ethereal being that is seemingly linked to Arthurian legend. Before long it becomes apparent that a mystical force is controlling Raven's destiny.

Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray wrote Raven for the independent television channel ATV. The pair had previously written the really quite remarkable Children of the Stones for HTV. A The Wicker Man-cum-Village of the Damned-like shocker, Children of the Stones is remembered by cult TV fans as being perhaps the best produced and the most frightening of all of HTV's innovative children's fantasy series from the 1970s. Raven compares well to Children of the Stones in terms of the quality of its writing and its production values. It's also a leaner and more tightly scripted affair when compared to most of HTV's shows, clocking in at just six twenty-five minute episodes (HTV generally used seven twenty-five minute episodes for their series).

Chief selling point amongst many here is a confident and cocksure performance by a young Phil Daniels. The character of Raven was surely written with Daniels in mind: the cheeky, chirpy and brilliantly written dialogue just rolls off of his tongue in a remarkably natural way. Daniels (Quadrophenia, Breaking Glass) was an extremely keen and convincing young actor and his turn alongside his closest peers, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, in Mike Leigh's Meantime still has Brit film buffs wondering why he never got the big Hollywood break that he deserved. Raven is so called because he was found in a field as a newborn child with a raven standing guard over him. When he arrives at Midshires, it is revealed that another bird, a merlin, has been following him and watching over him. Raven soon discovers a curious link between the merlin and Professor Young.

Daniels is in good company here as the cast is littered with great character actors. Michael Aldridge comes on like an intense and eccentric Patrick Magee type while Patsy Rowlands was known for her roles as likeable eccentrics and gently comical types (she appeared in a number of the later Carry On films and Bless This House with Sid James). Shirley Cheriton was a Brit lads' favourite throughout the late 1970s and most of the 1980s. A blonde, blue-eyed beauty who looks like she could be Linda Hayden's more wholesome younger sister, Cheriton's horoscope-writing, environmentalist and seemingly psychic newspaper reporter Naomi Grant soon gets a reaction out of the sixteen year old Raven. Needless to say, the lad has his hopes of a romance cruelly dashed. Scenes involving Grant's workplace are quite explicit in promoting the idea of a bought press: her editor (Tenniel Evans) is sympathetic to the environmentalist cause but he's brutally honest when he admits that the paper has to pursue an anti-environmentalist editorial policy in order to appease its owner. The flipside to this approach is presented when the camp but wilfully iconoclastic TV news personality Clive Castle (Hugh Thomas) enters the narrative and offers his support to Professor Young.

Raven features some interesting ideas concerning Arthurian legend. It's hinted that the caves that will soon be filled with -- and subsequently contaminated by -- toxic nuclear waste play an important part in allowing Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to fulfill their promise to return and defend Britain whenever the country is facing an extreme threat. The show's actual denouement is somewhat Arthur-lite in the end but it works well enough. Certainly the show's downbeat and funereal epilogue is mystical enough to convince us that Merlin exists and perpetuates, ever ready to fulfill his duty to Arthur and to Britain. Early videotape-based special/optical effects are used well here to represent the show's characters' encounters with the mystical and supernatural forces that inhabit the caves and the effective music used during these sequences (and the show's front titles) brings to mind the more spacey sounds associated with the early 1970s version of Pink Floyd. A moody sequence set amongst a circle of Neolithic stones late at night seemingly echoes ideas that Burnham and Ray had used to great effect in Children of the Stones. All in all, Raven manages to successfully combine its engagement with contemporaneous environmental concerns and its fixation with a mystical national legend to great effect.


Network have done cult TV fans a big favour by finally granting Raven a DVD release. The show was shot on a mixture of film (exteriors) and videotape (interiors) but the picture quality here is just short of excellent. The same goes for the sound quality. The six episodes of the series can be accessed and played individually but the disc's menu also features a "play all" option.


The Georgian House
Network
1976 / Colour / 1.33:1 flat / 75 m.
Starring Jack Watson, Adrienne Byrne, Spencer Banks, Brinsley Forde, Constance Chapman, Peter Schofield, Janine Duvitski, Valerie Lush
Production Designer Ken Jones
Film Editor John Plummer
Written by Jill Laurimore and Harry Moore
Produced by Leonard White
Directed by Derek Clark, Sebastian Robinson and Leonard White

Synopsis:

Two British history students, Daniel Jeffries (Spencer Banks) and Abbie Wills (Adrienne Byrne), are seconded to a Georgian mansion house in Bristol that now functions as a museum. In between carrying out scholarly research, they are instructed to assist the museum's officious curator, Ellis (Jack Watson), by setting up displays and conducting guided tours. A seemingly chance encounter with a curious African artefact results in the two students being transported back in time to May 1772, where they meet the house's former occupants: Thomas and Anne Leadbetter (Peter Schofield and Constance Chapman) and their daughter Ariadne (Janine Duvitski). Abbie passes herself off as a distant Leadbetter cousin while Daniel acts as her servant. The pair discovers that the family's black African slave, Ngo (Brinsley Forde), is soon to be transported to Jamaica in order to take up work on a plantation: not surprisingly, Ngo is now actively seeking a means of escape. However, their knowledge of history informs the students that Lord Mansfield's June 1772 legal ruling concerning the rights of slaves in the UK will guarantee Ngo's freedom and they are forced to flit back and forth through time in their efforts to devise a plan that will keep Ngo safe until the Mansfield ruling comes about.

The independent television channel HTV created yet another intelligent and literate fantasy series for children (and adults) with The Georgian House. The channel also succeeded in producing a pretty good-looking show too: British TV has always been adept at producing convincing period/heritage films and series and the eighteenth century inspired costumes, sets and decor employed here are all really very good. The distinctive interior design, architecture and lighting of the rambling Georgian house results in some interesting and nicely set up shots. The show's time travel aspects also work really well: the cylindrical African artefact simply takes on a life of its own and begins spinning, which results in some kind of space-time vortex being created which in turn transports those standing close by to another predetermined time. When Daniel and Abbie are visiting the past, the time that they are physically away from the present is much shorter than the real time that they experience in 1772. However, they are still gone long enough for Ellis to notice their absence, which leads to some interesting confrontations between the suspicious curator and his charges.

The quality of the acting here is largely excellent and a number of reasonably big names can be found amongst the cast. The marvelous Jack Watson was well known for his turns as no-nonsense military men (The Hill, Sky) and awkward oddballs (Tower of Evil, Schizo). Here he gets to play an amalgamation of both character types to pleasing effect. Janine Duvitski went on to make a big impression in Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party and she's still going strong today: she currently stars as the sexually adventurous Jacqueline in Benidorm. Brinsley Forde duly took the lead role in Franco Rosso's feature about black working class youth culture in recession ravaged early 1980s Britain, Babylon. Peter Schofield and Constance Chapman had both appeared in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!  The show's lead actors, Spencer Banks and Adrienne Byrne, are less familiar-looking faces but they acquit themselves well and their characters remain well drawn and interesting.

Banks and Byrne's characters are essentially representatives of the British social class system. Daniel is a posh talking public school boy who is confident that his father will be able to get him a job in banking. Abbie is a smart working class girl who goes to a comprehensive school, lives on a housing estate and speaks with a warm and expressive regional accent. Daniel disparagingly mocks the trade union movement while Abbie disparagingly mocks Conservative town councillors. Interestingly, their class positions are reversed when they travel to the past: Abbie enjoys the privileges of the ruling class while Daniel finds life tough as a lowly domestic servant. But the show's most daring political statements come via its focus on Ngo's plight. Very few British films or TV shows have chosen to detail Britain's involvement in the slave trade, let alone acknowledge that slaves were actually used within Britain. The hateful language that Leadbetter uses to describe his ownership of Ngo is really quite shocking, as is the revelation that Leadbetter has had the boy branded. As such, the series was a really bold attempt to open up a dialogue about a little mentioned aspect of the nation's historical past.

Sadly, Network could only find three surviving episodes of this seven-episode fantasy show but I fully support the company's decision to issue these three episodes (numbers one, three and seven) on a special, budget-priced DVD. Those who remember the show's original broadcast with affection have been desperate to view it again and, under the circumstances, three episodes are better than none when it comes to vintage cult TV. While odd bits of exposition in episodes three and seven actually serve to successfully recap key narrative developments that occurred in the missing episodes, chances are that viewers who are completely new to the show will find the narrative gaps generated by the missing episodes distracting. Fortunately, a raft of extra features in the form of PDF files serve to fill in said gaps. Amongst these PDF files is an original breakdown of episode two, rehearsal scripts for episodes four and five and a draft script for episode six. All of these documents were sourced from the personal archive of one of the show's writers, Jill Laurimore.


The surviving episodes of The Georgian House presented here are all mostly comprised of studio-bound interior sequences and, in keeping with the contemporaneous working practices of British television, these episodes were mostly shot on videotape. Picture quality fluctuates from episode to episode. The picture and sound quality of episode one both range between good and very good. Episode three has fair to good picture quality and good sound quality. An off air recording of episode three has been used here but whoever did the recording must have done so in a professional capacity of some sort because the episode is in generally good shape. The picture and sound quality of episode seven are both excellent. The three episodes included here (each twenty-five minutes long) can be accessed and played individually but the disc's menu also features a "play all" option.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Raven - The Complete Series rates:
Movie: Excellent -
Video: Excellent -
Sound: Excellent -
Supplements: An image gallery

The Georgian House rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Fair ++ / Excellent -
Sound: Good ++ / Excellent -
Supplements: An original breakdown of the first four episodes, rehearsal scripts for episodes three, four and five and the original draft script for episode six.

Packaging: Separate releases in keep cases
Reviewed: May 26, 2010



Text © Copyright 2010 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.
Also, don't forget the 2010 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.

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