The British seem to have a knack for crafting better than average crime drama, particularly on television. (I may have said this somewhere before.) And when dramatic heavyweight Martin Shaw is in the lead, it's difficult for a show to fail. Such it is with George Gently: Series 5, in which Shaw reprises his role as the stoic police inspector in Sixties England. It's not an unreserved success, but it is really, really good.
Inspector Gently is joined by the still sloppy and arrogant, but essentially good hearted, Detective Sergeant Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) and PC Taylor (Simon Hubbard). They investigate crimes, mostly murder but other serious offenses such as kidnapping as well, in the turbulent and changing milieu of the 1960's. Bacchus is very much the "new man", wanting to fit into to the new moral and intellectual landscaped. While Gently is of the old guard: not very expressive, calm, studied, principled and straightforward, but with a deep well of compassion and understanding to call upon.
George Gently has always delved into the darker side of human nature, and as a show that deals with the worst impulses of humanity, the urge to murder and worse, it certainly can't be helped. However, it seems that Series 5 is a bit darker and more cynical than it has been in the past, with less room for a glimmer of redemption to leak through. Particularly bleak is the strong anti-adoption theme in the episode "The Lost Child", in which the single mothers and their families are innocent angels, and all those involved on the adoption side are lying, manipulative, greedy baddies. George Gently can be counted on having one "preachy" episode per series, and perhaps they've just gone a tad overboard on this one, but the tone is a bit off putting. It's not that the episode is poorly executed, or performed (Helen Baxendale gives perhaps the best performance of Series 5 as the grieving adoptive mother), but it's hard to puzzle out the why behind the creative choices.
Gently and Bacchus deal with racism, class conflict, corruption, the odd mobster or gangster, and various other immoralities and wickedness. Gently is mostly unflappable, until he is accused of taking bribes and falsifying evidence, and even murder, and has to sort out his enemies from his friends, which turns out to be a difficult task. Bacchus is mostly rash and callow, though perhaps he's learning something from his years under Gently's tutelage. The episodes are all well produced, with compelling characters, and sufficiently tricky mysteries to satisfy the fans. Series 5 consists of four episodes on four discs. Below is a list of episodes, with descriptive text as provided on the discs:
Gently Northern Soul
The murder of a black teenager has Gently and Bacchus seeking her killer in a community where racism is never far from the surface. The detectives encounter local prejudice and anti-immigrant sentiment but discover that there may have been other motivations for the crime.
Gently with Class
After a car turns up in a river with a drowned young woman in the passenger seat but no driver, the detectives follow the trail to the home of local aristocrats. Bacchus resents the family, and Gently suspects his sergeant may be crossing the line to get a conviction.
The Lost Child
When an adopted baby is snatched from her crib, suspicion initially falls on the birth mother, who may be having second thoughts about giving up her child. But after a ransom demand turns out to be blackmail, Gently turns his attentions closer to home.
Gently in the Cathedral
Upon his release from prison, a vicious career criminal from Gently's London days seeks revenge on the detective. Allegations about the inspector start to fly and many people, Bacchus among them, are all too ready to believe the worst.
Inspector Gently is a strong character, and played with subtlety and wit by Martin Shaw. He and Ingleby as the young sergeant play off of each other well, and interact strongly with the various guest stars, all of whom turn in fine performances. The show is still going strong in its fifth series, and though both Gently and Bacchus seem to be in very dire straits at the end of the last episode, Series 6 is forthcoming, so we can predict that the show will continue on for some time. Highly recommended.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and generally looks good. The image is clear with smooth, rich colors, and it maintains the look of a good quality sixties film.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and also sounds good. The music that features in the first episode is well presented and clear. The dialogue is always audible and no hiss or other problem can be heard. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.
The only extra is a three minute behind the scenes featurette included on disc four, featuring interviews with Martin Shaw, Lee Ingleby, guest star Kevin Whately and producer Faye Dorn. This is interesting, but not very substantive.
George Gently is a strong series that mixes murder mysteries with the dramatic cultural changes and drama of the sixties. Series 5 continues on with the high quality of the pervious series and continues to explore that milieu. While it seems a bit darker than in the past, it's still engaging and fun. Check it out.