2007, Granada Television.
Total running time: 204 minutes.
Series created by Cath Staincliffe.
Cast: Caroline Quentin, Ian Kelsey, Saskia Wickham, Paul Loughran, Nicholas Murchie.
Acorn's third "Blue Murder" set comprises the three hour-plus episodes of the fourth season of the British policier series. The shows aired in the U.K. in December 2007 but, like the previous nine episodes, have not aired stateside. Each episode is dense with plot, complex personae and speedy dialogue; all that and the heavy Manchester accents may have led U.S. TV programmers to conclude the series is too difficult for Americans. So DVD is the only way to see these intelligent, powerful mysteries.
"Blue Murder," centering on a middle-aged female police detective, is the working-class cousin of the London-set, Queen's English-speaking "Prime Suspect." Caroline Quentin (of the original "Men Behaving Badly") stars as Detective Chief Inspector Janine Lewis, divorced mother of four, who must solve grisly crimes in between taking cell phone crisis calls from the home front. Quentin's regular castmates return here: Ian Kelsey as Detective Inspector Richard Mayne, Lewis' tall, handsome right-hand man (and former romantic interest); and Nicholas Murchie and Paul Loughran as detectives Shap and Butchers, the series' Laurel and Hardy-esque bad cop/good cop team.
The series, as always, grabs you from the opening moments, in which a body often turns up before the opening credits are over, and keeps the suspense going the rest of the 68 minutes, as one or more characters get killed. The revelation of who done it is unfailingly surprising and satisfying. This is not leisurely, cozy Brit mystery making in the P.D. James/Agatha Christie mode, but gritty, unrelenting and rough.
Episode 1 -- "Not a Matter of Life and Death" A well-liked, rising young soccer star is stabbed to death outside a nightclub and initial signs point to a trio of yobs as the culprits. But a mysterious girlfriend whom none of the victim's kin has ever met, a rape victim trying to keep the crime hidden, a posh apartment the amateur footballer could not have afforded, and a younger brother with soccer dreams of his own all send Lewis and her team in different directions in search of the real killer.
Episode 2 -- "Desperate Measures" A friendly neighborhood doctor (Simon Williams of "Upstairs, Downstairs"), just exonerated in a malpractice suit, is shot to death outside his office. Lewis and company suspect the family of the doc's late patient, but there's that nurse in the office who may have been in love with the doctor, plus his grieving widow who has a medical secret of her own.
Episode 3 -- "Crisis Management" An officer at the local army base is found dead, and Lewis can find no motive for his murder. But she's soon interested in the "estate" housing complex off the base, where soldiers and their families live and get a little too involved in each other's business. Illicit drugs, statutory rape, extramarital affairs and other bad business figure in the military madness.
With only three episodes on the set's two discs, there was room for sizable extras, and Acorn obliges, providing more here than on its first two "Blue Murder" sets. Besides filmographies of the lead actors, there's a 45-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. The narrated piece is more substantial than most of these things, containing interviews with all the stars and the creators, plus a look at scenes being shot. Ian Kelsey comes in for some ribbing when his repeated flubbed takes of one particular scene in the third episode are shown at length. (He just can't say the phrase "over the side.") Most of the actor interviewed speak in brogues similar to those of their characters, but it's a little surprising to hear a plummy accent coming from Nicholas Murchie, whose character, Shap, has perhaps the series' hardest to decipher Mancunian mumble.
The crisp, richly colorful picture -- the series is shot entirely on Manchester locations, which offers lush countryside in addition to urban streets -- is nicely transferred to DVD, presented in 16:9 widescreen. The Dolby Digital stereo sound is solid and full, but those accents and the speed-talking may pose a problem for non-British ears. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles or closed-captioning. The two single-sided discs are housed in plastic thin packs, both encased in a slick cardboard sleeve whose cover matches the previous two sets.
Intricate storytelling, convincing characterizations and pleasing plot twists are the hallmarks of this whodunit police series. It's hard to call three episodes a "season," but these three stories from 2007 represent the last productions to date. (If the set had one or two more, I'd have upped it to Highly Recommended.) Fans of British mysteries won't find "Blue Murder" on PBS or A&E or any other channel, giving this DVD set (and Acorn's previous two) special value.