George Gently, or more accurately, Inspector George Gently (as it is onscreen), the Northumberland police detective and television series of the same name, is back once again. There's not a whole heck of a lot to say here, partly because this latest series consists of just two episodes from late-2011, albeit two feature-length ones running just shy of 90 minutes apiece.
What there is to be said about this series I've pretty much already stated in earlier reviews of Series 2, the Blu-ray edition of Series 3 and, most recently, in a Blu-ray review of Series 1. (Series Four is being released on Blu-ray the same day as the DVD but, alas, for some reason Acorn Media hasn't been sending us Blu-ray review copies of mystery shows like this and Poirot these days.)
As before, the series is adapted from the "George Gently" novels (about three dozen, published between 1955-1999) written by the late Alan Hunter. The two shows here, both original works, are a contrasting pair. One is very good, arguably the best-written episode of the show to date, while the other is boring and predictable, losing sight of what the series is supposed to be about in the first place.
George Gently - Series 4 consists of two TV films on two DVDs running 88 minutes apiece. Acorn Media is releasing both the DVD and Blu-ray versions simultaneously and with the same SRP. I'd go with the Blu-ray if I were you.
Perhaps aware just how weak "Gently Upside Down" is, Acorn has reversed its order with the later, superior show, "Goodbye China," positioning it on Disc 1. But the former aired first in Britain, while "Goodbye China" initially aired the following week.
Anyway, "Gently Upside Down" has the 60-something inspector (Martin Shaw) investigating the murder of a teenage schoolgirl, asphyxiated and buried with great care in a shallow grave. Gently's much younger but more old-fashioned junior, Sgt. John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), alternately suspects the dead girl's abusive, alcoholic father and, later, her high school music teacher.
The story gets bogged down with a wearying subplot involving the murdered girl's best friend, pegged to succeed a jealous TV dance show host as the regional show goes national. Despite strong disapproval from her father, she enjoys discovering her natural talent with the camera and the general frivolity of the show, even though, considering, a more respectable girl would be in mourning for her friend.
Unfortunately, "Gently Upside Down" is painfully predictable. I guessed the killer's identity and his (or her) accomplice and their motives within the first few minutes. The dance show aspects are colorful but add nothing of any interest to the story, and Inspector Gently's role in it is strangely minimized. It might as well be an episode of Midsomer Murders for all the difference it makes.
If "Gently Upside Down" is disappointingly mediocre, "Goodbye China" is unexpectedly good, far better than I thought it would be, and Peter Flannery's teleplay delves more into Gently's psyche than most.
Its story concerns the suspicious death of China (Tony Rohr, who had appeared in two earlier episodes), Gently's alcoholic informant. Gently had given up on the man because of his drinking, and at first isn't surprised by reports that he was destitute and homeless. But then a hospital nurse completely contradicts the coroner's report, insisting Gently was sober at the time of his death, and not homeless but residing in a tidy, nearby flat.
Unlike "Gently Upside Down," "Goodbye China" stays focused on the Gently character, who feels deep regret for abandoning the same-aged stoolpigeon, whom he had always regarded as a mere means to an end, yet who in turn regarded Gently as a great man and role model. It's a show about loss and discovery, and its Ikiru-like structure serves the story well. Both Shaw and Rohr are excellent in this, and even the writing of the Bacchus character, often merely grating, has some depth this time. Interestingly, the mid-1960s setting is underemphasized and almost irrelevant, a sign that the program needs to focus more on the Gently character and less on period window dressing.
Video & Audio
Episodes are presented in extremely good and apparently complete and unaltered 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfers. The image is impressively sharp and rich in color throughout. The Dolby Digital stereo, supported by optional SDH English subtitles, is state of the art.
The lone extra is a fairly typical behind the scenes featurette running approximately 13 minutes.
One's very good one, the other mediocre. Inspector George Gently is above average at its best but frequently doesn't live up to its full potential, either, though star Martin Shaw's central performance is always interesting. A fifth series has been announced. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.