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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The House of Eliott - Series 2
The House of Eliott - Series 2
Acorn Media // Unrated // January 10, 2006
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 10, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The movie

Before I saw The House of Eliott, if someone had told me that I'd be enthralled by a television miniseries focusing on two women running a fashion house in 1920s England, I'd have called them crazy. After all, while I do enjoy historical drama, my interest in fashion is nil: I'm a "throw on jeans and a t-shirt and call it good" kind of person. But then came The House of Eliott, demonstrating yet again that really outstanding drama is in a class all its own. Now, after the positively addictive Series 1, Series 2 comes along to shatter expectations once more. It's hard for the second half of a great program to live up to the first half, especially since the newness has worn off of it. Series 2 of The House of Eliott, though, is every bit as good as Series 1... or even better, since it's building on such a strong foundation.

The House of Eliott: Series 2 picks up exactly where Series 1 left off. The House of Eliott has started to make a name for itself as a daring and innovative fashion house, so sisters Evangeline and Beatrice Eliott have their hands full with trying to manage and expand the business. The younger sister, Evie, is enjoying her growing sense of independence, while Bea is still working out her relationship with Jack Maddox, the photographer-turned-film director who loves her deeply despite feeling that he comes in second to the House of Eliott in importance. This is just the starting point for the first episode, however: the story very swiftly moves forward on all fronts to develop the lives of all the characters.

One of the many strengths of The House of Eliott is its emotional and dramatic complexity. There's no clear-cut "good" and "bad" in the story or characters. Just as in the first series, all the characters whom we meet in Series 2 are completely three-dimensional, complex people. Bea, Evie, Jack, and the other sympathetic characters in the House of Eliott are likable but also flawed, just as real people are. Bea is smart and motivated, but she may not always make the best decisions... and while we may dislike Ralph Saroyan for high-handedly exerting his influence on the business, we have to concede that he may be right about some things. Jack and Bea's relationship is fundamentally a loving one, but both can be very high-strung and prone to outbursts of anger at each other. Across the board, the characters resist easy labeling as protagonists or antagonists. Just when we think we've gotten a handle on someone, like the prickly Mrs. Ranby who runs the workroom with an iron hand and is disliked by the staff, we get a glimpse of another side to the character, bringing it home that everyone has additional depth to their personality. Or take the seamstresses Tilly and Madge: we like them and tend to side with them, but little by little we see that they're far from perfect, making life difficult for Mrs. Ranby. With this kind of complexity, the character interactions and our reactions to the characters are enormously richer and more engaging.

It's not just the characters that continue to impress me in The House of Eliott: the writing is simply fantastic. Each 50-minute episode is paced to perfection. The writers never linger too long on any scene or plot thread, instead going for maximum storytelling effect with absolutely minimal padding. Take any episode, and you could find two or three episodes' worth of material for a lesser show. As a result, every scene and every shot in The House of Eliott is worth watching, and the episode flies by. As the end credits rolled for each episode, I'd think "It's over already?" and I'd be already looking forward to watching the next one. (It takes some self-control not to have a House of Eliott marathon, but it's worthwhile spreading the episodes out a bit to savor them more.)

Another aspect of the high-quality storytelling of The House of Eliott is the sophisticated handling of the multiple story threads. While each episode has a central focus, each is also part of a larger story arc. At any given moment, several different arcs are developing at the same time, intersecting with each other and coming to a resolution at different points in time. For instance, as one arc focusing on Bea's involvement with a ballet group (and its charismatic choreographer) wraps up, having influenced the relationship between Bea and Jack along the way, another arc dealing with the House's financial woes is building. There's a seamless continuity of interest in the events on-screen, because there's always something fascinating developing, but at the same time the series as a whole has a natural rhythm of up and down, of increasing tension, dramatic resolution, and then building tension once again. What's more, the dramatic tension is genuine: the writers have proved that they're not afraid to have life-changing, unexpected events happen in the course of the series, and more often than not, they'll surprise us with how things work out.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, one of the remarkable aspects of The House of Eliott: Series 2 is that it manages to be so good while also being the second half of a series. I think the credit has to go to the writers, who continue to stretch themselves with each episode. Neither the stories nor the characters are ever allowed to stagnate or rest on their laurels, and new challenges and issues are brought onto the table. That's not to say that the actors don't have a lot to do with the show's success. From the main actors all the way to the secondary actors, everyone in The House of Eliott provides solid, nuanced performances. The greatest challenges lie with the three central characters: Evie (Louise Lombard), Bea (Stella Gonet), and Jack (Aden Gillett). The actors for each of these roles give us completely believable performances, showing us growth and change in the characters as the story progresses.

It's a real pleasure to find a "hidden gem" like The House of Eliott, and even more of a pleasure to be able to enjoy a second complete season of the same outstanding quality. Great writing, fantastic pacing, interesting stories, excellent acting, and to top it all off, loving attention to all the details of the period in costumes and sets: The House of Eliott isn't just enjoyable, it's compulsively, addictively watchable. Just you wait and see.

The DVD

The House of Eliott: Series 2 is packaged in the same attractive way as Series 1. The twelve episodes are spread out over four DVDs, each of which is in an ultra-slim keepcase. All four cases fit into a glossy paperboard slipcase.

Video

The House of Eliott is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image is clean and clear, with minimal flaws or edge enhancement. I think the colors here are a bit more vibrant than they were in Series 1, though in a few scenes the colors looked a bit muted. Contrast is handled well, and overall the image quality is quite satisfactory.

Audio

The audio for The House of Eliott: Series 2 is a Dolby 2.0 mix that's unfortunately not up to the standard of the first series. The overall sound is rather muted, so it's necessary to crank up the volume quite a bit, and even then, the sound often has a rather muffled, flat quality to it. You do get used to it after a few minutes, and it doesn't interfere with understanding the dialogue, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

Extras

An interesting 2005 interview segment with Louise Lombard (12 minutes long) is included on Disc 1. We also get a photo gallery and cast filmographies.

Final thoughts

A description of the premise behind The House of Eliott doesn't do justice to this exquisitely crafted series. Following two sisters in 1920s London as they work to make their fashion house a success, this second series has all the same outstanding qualities of Series 1: compelling stories, complex and nuanced characters, outstanding pacing of the narrative, and fantastic production values. It all comes together to be more than the sum of its parts, giving The House of Eliott: Series 2 that undefinable "something" that makes it compulsively watchable. If you enjoyed Series 1, don't hesitate even a minute before buying Series 2: it is a more than worthy follow-up to the great first series. If you haven't seen The House of Eliott at all yet, you have a treat in store for you: go watch Series 1 right away. Highly recommended.

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