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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Irish RM: Complete Series
The Irish RM: Complete Series
Acorn Media // Unrated // August 8, 2006
List Price: $79.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted July 15, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

The Irish R.M. is a classic "fish out of water" comedy situation, in this case set in rural Ireland at the close of the 19th Century. Major Yeates (Peter Bowles) is a well-intentioned, slightly stuffy Englishman who decides that, since his prospects of advancement in the military aren't enough to allow him to marry his beloved Philippa (Doran Godwin), the position of "resident magistrate" in a remote Irish county is the right career move. Of course, the fact that he's completely green as a magistrate and, on top of that, knows next to nothing about Ireland leads to a variety of misconceptions and misadventures. Based on a series of short stories by Somerville and Ross, The Irish R.M. involves the hapless Major in a variety of amusing situations involving his decidedly eccentric... or perhaps just decidedly Irish... neighbors.

The Irish R.M. sometimes pokes gentle fun at the pretensions of the British upper class, in the form of Major Yeates, who presume to know more about how to run Ireland than the Irish themselves. But this is by no means a political satire; the comedy stays entirely on the level of the personal foibles of the characters and the misadventures that they all end up having, courtesy of Flurry Knox. It's the cast, in fact, that really makes The Irish R.M. worth watching; Peter Bowles and Bryan Murray turn in consistently solid comic performances, but the supporting cast members also do a nice job.

The period setting and attention to local detail will also please fans of British drama; the show was filmed entirely on location in County Kildare, Ireland, and there are plenty of opportunities to appreciate the scenery (especially if you appreciate watching horses and hunting, the main excuses to get out and about in the country in these stories).

The six episodes of Series 1 involve an assortment of stand-alone escapades with a few ongoing story elements involving the various characters. The opening episode "Great-Uncle McCarthy" is probably the best of the set, simply because the situation is fresh and new, and we're gradually led into the absurdities of life at Trelawney House bit by bit. In the rest of the episodes, the stories tend to be a bit unfocused in the first half of the episode (like the rather rambling "Trinket's Colt"), generally shaping up to offer an amusing situation in the second half of the episode (as in "O Love! O Fire!").

Despite its somewhat uneven pacing, The Irish R.M. is a pleasant series to watch, due without a doubt to the excellent comic acting from the principals. Peter Bowles gives the straight-laced English Yeates enough of a soft heart and sense of humor that he is a realistic and likable character rather than a stuffed shirt. Bryan Murray is perfect as Flurry, capturing the mercurial spirit, recklessness, and essential good nature of the character. The series, which was filmed entirely on location, also offers an appealing look at turn-of-the-century rural Ireland and the lives of both the "gentry" and working people.

Series 2 picks up just where Series 1 leaves off, with six new episodes. These episodes do a nice job of handling the gently comic, slightly absurd stories that are the hallmark of the series. The season opens with "A Horse! A Horse!", with (no surprise here) Flurry involved in some dubious horse-trading deals. Major Yeates, of course, gets drawn in somewhat unwillingly... and as usual, things go well for Flurry but not so well for Major Yeates. The following episodes offer more variations on the twin themes of "Flurry's escapades" and "Major Yeates having trouble with the locals." "The Dispensary Doctor" features the major attempting to act as the patron of a local regatta, though not without distractions courtesy of Flurry. In "Holy Island" a shipload of rum washes ashore, but then mysteriously disappears when the police come looking for it. "Oweneen the Sprat" puts Major Yeates and Philippa in an unfortunate conflict with one of the dangerous men who live in the local hills, while in "A Royal Command" Flurry sets up what turns out to be a quite eventful polo match. The season ends up with the charming "The Aussolas Martin Cat," in which Major Yeates teams up with Flurry to try to prevent Mrs. Knox from renting out Knox Castle.

Series 3 was never broadcast in the US, but thanks to Acorn Media, fans can finally see how The Irish RM wrapped up. The show's six final episodes are included here. In "The Muse of Skebawn," Major Yeates has to contend with the introduction of newfangled "moving pictures" as well as the excessively attentive Miss Bobbie Bennett. Major Yeates' sister Babs comes to help out in "Major Apollo Riggs," along with Cousin Andrew, whose assistance goes a bit too far. "The Friend of Her Youth" brings in Babs' old friend Julian, who soon ruffles the feathers of Major Yeates' household... so much so that Flurry Knox decides to teach him a lesson. New technology raises its head once again in "In the Curranhilty Country," with the Major's new motor car causing all sorts of problems. "Lisheen Races" features conflicts with Sally and Miss Bennett, as well as concerns for the Major's job. The series wraps up with "The Devil You Know," with the Major offered a new post elsewhere. Will he take it?

All in all, the third series of The Irish R.M. follows in the same vein as the previous two series. The show sticks consistently with the character- and situation-based humor, steering well clear of the political, social, and religious issues that were such a problem in the relations of England and Ireland at that time. The English-Irish antipathy is sometimes alluded to, especially in the final episode, but it's never brought to the fore. As a result, The Irish R.M. maintains a light comic tone all the way to the end. I think that the show may have missed out on some opportunities for additional depth by steering so firmly clear of dramatic issues, but certainly the result is consistent. If you've enjoyed the first two series, you'll certainly enjoy the concluding one. While the situation as a whole isn't as fresh as it was in the first part of the first season, the actors are clearly still having fun with their roles, and the overall level is on a par with the previous episodes.

It's also nice to see that the final episode wraps up the series in a satisfying way. I won't reveal any details, but I'll say that it's a well-handled episode that fits very well with the overall tone of the three seasons. Fans will be pleased.

The DVD

This DVD set contains all three seasons of the show: Series 1, 2, and 3, for a total of six DVDs. The discs are in individual keepcases inside a large glossy paperboard slipcase.

Video

The image quality is unfortunately rather poor. (One can only shudder at the thought of the lousy storage and inconsiderate handling that these lesser-known older television shows went through over the years...) Oddly enough, Series 1 looks the best. The episodes, which are now more than twenty years old, show some wear and tear in the form of print flaws, but overall the transfer more or less hits the average mark. Colors tend to be somewhat faded, but they're reasonably natural-looking, while contrast is acceptable in well-lit scenes and too heavy in darker scenes. Edge enhancement is kept to an acceptable minimum, and I didn't notice any compression issues.

Unfortunately, the print for Series 2 appears to be in worse condition. The generally grainy look isn't too bad, but on top of that, colors are muddy, contrast is too heavy, there's considerable edge enhancement in some scenes, and small print flaws are commonplace. It's watchable, but it certainly requires viewers to cut the show a lot of slack in the image department.

Series 3's image quality is disappointing, like Series 2 or slightly worse. The image overall is very soft and worn-looking, in close-ups as well as longer-distance shots, with a grainy feel and many scattered flaws. In the outdoor scenes, the image has a washed-out, grayish tint, while the indoor scenes have a brownish cast to them.

All the episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Audio

For all three seasons of the show, the sound quality is passable. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack squeaks by with an average mark, considering the early-1980s vintage of the show. The sound is slightly flat and occasionally a bit muffled, but has no other faults, except an occasional touch of harshness. The delightful theme music sounds quite nice here.

Extras

The first disc in the set contains the special features. Of most interest is a 25-minute featurette called "The Making of The Irish R.M." This informative piece was evidently done at the time that the show was in production, and while it's more or less promotional in nature, it does include some interesting background on the show, as well as interviews with the main cast and crew.

Other assorted features are four recipes from "Mrs. Cadogan's Kitchen," a text profile of original authors Somerville and Ross, and cast filmographies. More recipes are included in the Series 2 and Series 3 discs, but no other special features of note.

Final thoughts

If you enjoyed watching The Irish RM when it appeared on PBS, the DVD releases of the show will be sure to charm and entertain as they did then. The three series are available separately as well, but if you enjoyed the first season enough to want to own it, you'll probably want all three, especially since the third series was never shown in the US (and offers a nice wrap-up for the show). The transfer quality is unfortunately not very good at all, but it's watchable. For fans, I'll give this set a mild "recommended" rating.

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