Described as the most popular British television series ever, The Darling Buds of May might be better known now as the show that made a star out of Catherine Zeta-Jones, in her first major role. Fans of the series will be very pleased to see it make its debut on DVD, in a complete collection: this five-DVD set from BFS includes all three seasons and both Christmas specials.
The Darling Buds of May is a lighthearted series focusing on the adventures (and misadventures) of a decidedly eccentric, but extremely happy family in 1950s Britain. Viewers are invited to feel a part of the ample Larkin family: to smile indulgently at Pa (David Jason) with all his escapades, the perpetually good-spirited Ma (Pam Ferris), the slightly awkward former city-boy Charlie (Philip Franks), and spirited Mariette (Catherine Zeta-Jones), along with all the rest of the gaggle of children, neighbors, and assorted farmyard animals. The Larkins live in a perpetual country paradise, with plenty of farm chores to keep them active and work up a healthy appetite (but not tire them out), lots of free time for excursions, and plenty of ready cash for little spontaneous purchases like, for instance, a lemon-yellow Rolls Royce, and an amazingly low level of interference from the outside world. Yet the values it is founded on are real, not imaginary, if admittedly seen through rose-tinted glasses: affection for one's spouse and family, enjoying the company of friends, good food and drink, appreciating nature, and living life according to one's heart rather than being a slave to a soulless time-clock.
The Darling Buds of May doesn't go straight out for laughs, but by drawing its characters in broad strokes with a generous helping of eccentricities and foibles, it creates a general atmosphere of good-natured humor. Even when the story strays into potentially serious territory, as when Pa is hauled off to court in "When the Green Woods Laugh," it's back to all smiles within a few moments.
It sounds appealing, and it starts off well, but the one thing that The Darling Buds of May lacks is staying power. The most charming part of the series by far is the first two episodes, "The Darling Buds of May" and "When the Green Woods Laugh," which chronicle the introduction of Charlie into the Larkin family. After that, however, the freshness of getting to know the Larkins wears off, but there's nothing to replace it. The story doesn't really advance, nor do the characters really develop; what we get is a series of "family chronicles" of incidents that the Larkins experience, in which we see their now-familiar eccentricities displayed. For me, it just wasn't enough to keep me interested in the series.
Considering the relatively recent date of the series (1991-1993), the image quality of the DVD set is very disappointing. From beginning to end of the episodes, the image is very blurry, and the overall sharpness issue isn't helped by the fact that the picture looks to have been heavily edge-enhanced. Colors look pale and washed-out, and in some scenes, the color balance is clearly off, resulting in an overall reddish or brownish tinge to the image. It's watchable, but clearly not up to the mark of television releases on DVD.
The Dolby 2.0 track is adequate for the mainly dialogue-based sound of the series. Most of the time it does the trick, but some lines of dialogue are a bit less clear than others.
The boxed set, which consists of five DVDs in individual keepcases inside a glossy paper slipcase, includes a minor sampling of special features. There's a short interview with Catherine Zeta-Jones on the first and third discs, an interview with David Jason on the second disc, and miscellaneous material on all five, such as photo galleries, cast biographies and filmographies, and trivia.
Offering the complete The Darling Buds of May collection in one fell swoop, the DVD set is an absolutely "perfik!" buy for any fans of the television show. For viewers who aren't ready to dive full into the chronicles of the Larkin family, I'd suggest picking up the first DVD or two separately first, to find out whether you like the show enough to justify getting the whole collection.