In a recent review of Judge John Deed I wrote that the only reason its star, Martin Shaw, was unknown to American viewers was the dearth of imported shows featuring this fine actor - very little of his television work was available on DVD in America. That's rapidly changing, as Acorn's release of George Gently - Series 2 (2009) attests. A detective drama based on the "George Gently" novels (about three dozen, written between 1955-1999) by the late Alan Hunter, the television series is notable for its 1964 setting. This allows for an interesting perspective on controversial issues: child abuse, anti-Muslim intolerance, abortion.
Other than that, the show is routine but intelligent, handsomely produced, and features much fine acting. The series began with a single pilot film in 2007, followed by two more feature-length television films in 2008. This collection, called Inspector George Gently onscreen but simply George Gently on the packaging, consists of four more 88-minute movies, presented on four single-sided DVDs.
Hunter's novels were set in his hometown in East Anglia but for television the setting was changed to mostly rural Northumberland, the northernmost district in North East England, though the series was actually shot (and partly financed) in Ireland. Visually, Inspector George Gently has an interesting look, its drab, rain-soaked buildings photographed in almost oppressively cool colors throughout: dark greens, browns, and blues. This also lends more authenticity to its period setting, which filmmakers usually render artificial by playing up bright primary colors. This is much more a believably "lived-in" past.
The show's setup is overly familiar, with Martin Shaw's Inspector George Gently the relocated-from-London veteran detective: world-weary, methodical, unpretentious, contemplative. Naturally, his partner is his very opposite: Detective Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby, who with his Beatles-style mop top and bony features strongly resembles a young Roman Polanski) is uunctuous, insensitive, emotional, and jumps to conclusions. Though the mismatched partners is a genre cliché, Bacchus's stubborn refusal to learn from his experienced senior isn't, and that makes their sometimes contentious relationship a bit more interesting than is usual.
Mostly though, the real pleasure of Inspector George Gently is in watching Shaw's understated performances. He's the kind of actor especially good at expressing without dialogue a mind at work. Some actors are great reactors - he's a great listener. He'll question suspects and the camera tends to stay on him, studying his subtle but intense concentration as Gently tries to read between the lines of their testimony, looking for changes in their inflection, Freudian slips, and throwaway remarks that might lead to bigger clues.
Of the four episodes, the first and third, "Gently with the Innocents" and "Gently in the Blood," are the best. The first, about the investigation of a murder at a one-time orphanage, sustains a palpable atmosphere of dread, of unspeakable crimes buried and rediscovered. It's a creepy, unsettling show, the strongest of the bunch. "Gently in the Blood" intriguingly explores tensions between a homegrown gang and Arab immigrants. Its plot twists won't surprise experienced genre fans, but they're dramatic and powerful just the same.
Less successful but still good are "Gently in the Night," set in a Playboy Club-type nightspot, and which explores some of the less savory qualities of Bacchus's character; and "Gently Through the Mill," about government corruption, a secret society (Free Masons) and illicit affairs at a local mill.
Video & Audio
Episodes are presented in extremely good and apparently complete and unaltered 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfers that capture the delicate color scheme described above. The Dolby Digital stereo, English only and accompanied by optional SDH English subtitles, is state of the art.
Supplements are modest: Included is a smattering of text articles, though these are somewhat longer and more interesting than what usually comes with these releases. There are text interviews, including one with Martin Shaw, production notes, and some 1964 historical facts to provide unfamiliar viewers with a little perspective.
Though I didn't find Inspector George Gently quite as satisfying as Judge John Deed, it has many of the same qualities, most notably actor Martin Shaw at the center of things. A third series has already been announced and I'm looking forward to that, as well as catching up with the first three shows. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.