Those who watch a lot of mystery and police procedural programs emanating from the United Kingdom gradually develop an appreciation for the distinctly regional flavors of shows like Taggart (filmed in Scotland), Single-Handed (Ireland), and A Mind to Kill, set in South Wales.
Indeed, A Mind to Kill was unusual in that it was filmed in both English and Welsh (and known in that language as Yr Heliwr), with each scene shot twice using the same actors. (It's not clear, however, if non-Welsh-speaking guest stars such as David Warner were replaced for the Welsh version, spoke in English with Welsh subtitling, or if they spoke their Welsh dialogue phonetically. Anybody out there know for sure?)
The series had a respectable run, with 21 feature length (92-97 minutes) episodes produced between 1994 and 2004, as well as a 1991 pilot movie not included in this set. When it was new A Mind to Kill struggled to find an audience. After debuting on S4C, a Welsh-language network, it ran in its English version on Channel 5, the newest and least-watched of Britain's television networks, a network who's most popular shows were reruns of American imports like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Ironically, A Mind to Kill was part of a wave of more graphic, more realistic crime series including Prime Suspect and Trial & Retribution that predated, directly led to and undoubtedly influenced flashier but more derivative American shows like CSI. A Mind to Kill isn't up to the high standards of Prime Suspect, but it's solidly constructed and star Philip Madoc is excellent in the leading role.
Madoc died almost a year ago at the age of 77, but must have been gratified that in recent years his series found a much larger, even worldwide audience on cable TV (reportedly it's been dubbed into at least a dozen different languages). A Mind to Kill - Complete Collection, is a repackaging of three DVD sets released in 2010-11. Confusingly, the program is packaged as a three-series set even though it actually ran five. The three shorter series 3-5 have been grouped together as a single "Series Three." In any case, all 21 episodes (less the pilot film) have been assembled here, spread across 11 DVD with a total running time of approximately 34 hours. Alas, the original Welsh version of Yr Heliwr is not included, though a short except from that version is tossed in as an extra feature.
"Edrychwch ar y gwerthiannau DVD!" star Philip Madoc seems to be saying.
Madoc plays 60-ish Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Noel Bain. Like the later Inspector Lewis, Bain is a widower, and there's a very similar, series-long undercurrent of Bain struggling to come to terms with his wife's death. And, in another parallel that couldn't be mere coincidence, there're also vague suggestions of a romance between Bain and middle-aged pathologist Professor Margaret Edwards (Sharon Morgan), a relationship only slightly more explicitly dramatized between Inspector Lewis and Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). And, like the later Lewis, Bain has an adult daughter, Hannah (Ffion Wilkins). In the first episode they butt heads over her schooling and his intentions to sell their now-too-big family house, but by the final seasons she becomes a Woman Police Constable (WPC) in the same precinct and they often work together, a contrivance not really believable but dramatically acceptable.
Philip Madoc is not widely known outside of Britain, save for his numerous appearances on various British sci-fi shows like Doctor Who and Space: 1999. But he was a fine actor, a kind of Welsh Spencer Tracy-type who's main appeal is as an understated reactor. His DCI Bain is a man of few words; the fun is watching his mind at work, playing his cards close to his chest interviewing suspects, sometimes with a Popeye-like squint, apparently the actor's trademark.
Other than Madoc, the series is good but not particularly noteworthy. At the time its far grittier, more graphic approach contrasted milder, export-minded fare like Midsomer Murders but times have changed so that what was almost shocking then now plays as rather ordinary. The program is mildly political in content here and there, such as the series one opener, "Black Silence," set against a coal miner's strike, about the abduction of a prostitute witnessed by a scab simultaneously beaten and left for dead across the street.
Making this reviewer even more anxious to watch the Welsh version, in addition to studying the differing performances, is the fact that its guest stars include such familiar Welsh actors as Siân Phillips (I, Claudius), Ioan Gruffudd (Hornblower), and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark). (Those who know Rhys-Davies primarily for his portrayal of an Arab in the Indiana Jones films may also be surprised that, in addition to being Welsh holds controversial, extremely conservative anti-Muslim views.)
Video & Audio
A Mind to Kill - Complete Collection appears to be nothing more or less than a simple repackaging of previously released material in a new paper case to hold it all together. The single-sided discs present early episodes in 4:3 standard format, with the last set of shows in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. Series 2 and 3 (i.e., 3-5) are in Dolby Surround and the audio is up to standards of the period. English SDH subtitles are included throughout.
Modest extras are highlighted by a seven-minute excerpt of Series Two episode, "Head of the Valleys," with optional English subtitles. The clip is presented in widescreen while the English version of the episode in 4:3 full-screen. What to make of this? Was Series Two shot with protection for both formats or one or the other? Text material, notably "The Women of A Mind to Kill," featuring commentary by some of the women in the cast, is also included.
Worthwhile if not earth-shaking, A Mind to Kill is a solid murder mystery/police procedural with much to recommend it, particularly the always engaging Philip Madoc.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.