Britcom's have been a favorite of mine for years now, and I was dreading the prospect of having to review a dry, stiff Upstairs, Downstairs or Eastenders-ish Drama. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that BBC Scotland's Monarch of the Glen is a sweet, charming Dramedy along the lines of Northern Exposure. The series follows a successful London restaurateurs return to his family's estate in Scotland. Filmed on location, Monarch of the Glen provides a window on the Highlands, while also delivering a fair amount of laughter and tears in each episode.
Series One saw Archie MacDonald (Alastair Mackenzie) and his girlfriend Justine (Anna Wilson-Jones) called back to his ancestral home, Glenbogle. It seems that the 400-year-old, 40,000-acre estate had fallen into disrepair and is nearly bankrupt. He also finds that his father, Hector (Richard Briers), has named him Laird, giving him full control of Glenbogle and the surrounding lands. Archie's loyalties are split between his family, who are depending on him, and his life with Justine in London. Series Two begins where Series One left off, with Archie embracing his responsibilities as Laird with newfound purpose and pride.
Glenbogle, however, is still coming apart at the seams, and the MacDonalds can barely keep it open, much less stop its growing decline. Exacerbating the situation is Archie's mother, Molly (Susan Hampshire), and her growing gambling addiction. His plans to bring commerce to the estate include turning it into a museum of early Scottish life, renting it out for weddings and hiring a Ranger, Fergal (Jason O'Mara), to lead guests on nature hikes. None of these ventures becomes the success that Archie hopes it will be. Making things more difficult still is that Glenbogle is a home for not just the MacDonald's, but also to their staff and friends, and someone always ends up unhappy with the changes he tries to make.
Archie also has a way of letting his love life, confusing as it is, get in the way of his grandiose plans. Monarch of the Glen does get a bit "Soap"-y when dealing with these romantic complications… we find that Archie has no less than three women vying for his attention (Justine, his girlfriend; Katrina, his childhood friend (Lorraine Pilkington); Lexie, the MacDonald's Cook (Dawn Steele)). When things heat up between Katrina and Fergal, things get even further muddled. Thankfully, all of this hi-jinx only spans eight episodes, so the proceedings never fall into the realm of melodrama and the interesting cast of characters that populate Glenbogle are the kind that you enjoy coming back to.
The episodes included on this two disc set are:
Episode 1: Archie's plans to turn the crumbling estate into a cash cow are thrown off course by the arrival of bankers. Six months of Justine's imperial rule has taken its toll and the natives are restless. Lexie is vowing to quit, Hector and Molly have left the house, and Katrina avoids the estate altogether. Archie has to take action. Justine and Archie's break-up is filmed on the newly installed Glenbogle web-cam!
Episode 2: The appointment of a Head Ranger – charged with dragging Glenbogle into the 21st century – brings fresh tension to the big house. The competing applicants pose a tough dilemma for Archie. Should he promote from within or bring in outside expertise and risk alienating the household and possibly losing Katrina to the dashing Fergal MacLure?
Episode 3: Hector must dig deep to save Archie's bacon after a vital grant application is rejected because of a long-held grudge. Tempers flare elsewhere as Fergal wants to be top dog at Glenbogle, but Golly jealously guards his influence and authority. Duncan, as ever, is caught in the middle – torn between ambition and loyalty.
Episode 4: Archie would rather just forget about his 30th birthday, but there's precious little chance of that with Molly secretly organizing birthday celebrations and Hector preparing a big surprise of his own. Obsessed by Archie's age and the absence of a long-term heir, Hector resolves to marry Archie off. Katrina makes the most of the opportunity to let the birthday boy know that she and Fergal could be more than just good friends.
Episode 5: Molly's gambling addiction places the MacDonald family in serious danger when a hard Glasgow gangster, Murdo, arrives at Glenbogle determined to cash in his IOUs. Elsewhere on the estate, Archie must turn a derelict crofter's cottage into a fully functioning tourist attraction – in just 36 hours. As Fergal and Archie muck in to meet the deadline, Katrina finds herself at close quarters with both her suitors. Who will she choose?
Episode 6: Lexie comes face to face with her wayward mother for the first time in four years and an epic confrontation ensues. Engaged to a millionaire, Pamela is determined to have a lavish wedding at Glenbogle – reconciliation with Lexie as part of the package. Meanwhile, there's a serious shock for Katrina when the local education authority threatens to close her school. But Fergal may have a solution. She can come with him to New Zealand.
Episode 7: Abandoned by a married man, Lizzie (Archie's sister) arrives at Glenbogle looking for comfort and support, but runs into the maelstrom of Hector's disappointment and disapproval. The result is an explosive family schism, with Archie caught right in the middle. As Katrina prepares to leave Glenbogle for good, Lizzie questions her desire to start a new life with Fergal. Will Katrina go through with it or has Lizzie done enough to throw Katrina and Archie a lifeline?
Episode 8: Glenbogle has finally been transformed into a fully functioning tourist attraction, due to be opened amidst a blaze of publicity at Glenbogle's annual clan gathering. However, a rich businessman, Joe MacDonald (from Atlanta), arrives with a legitimate claim to the house, lands, and everything! A desperate Archie invokes the Chieftains' Challenge and battles Joe in a series of grueling contests to decide who is the rightful heir. Katrina returns without Fergal, but with Lexie eyeing up the desirable laird, is the way clear for Archie and Katrina?
Picture: The episodes are presented in a 1:78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The colors are seem bright and crisp.
Audio: This DVD set features a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, which sounds great, although, at times the Scottish "atmosphere" music appears to be louder than the dialogue. A growing trend with the British DVDs is that they are closed captioned for ease of understanding (through those brogues…).
Extras: There are no Extras to speak on this DVD set except for a few Cast Bios and a collection of BBC DVD Trailers.
Conclusion: With its beautiful Scottish locations (the Highlands are the show) and its offbeat characters, Monarch of the Glen: Series Two, is able to become totally addictive, despite some of it's soap opera tendencies. Fans of the first series (on DVD or BBC America) will definitely want to pick this one up, for everyone else I'd recommend watching the Series One first, or giving this volume a rental.