I'd never heard of The Broker's Man (1997-98), a policier-type investigation/mystery series starring Kevin Whately, a respected actor best known for playing Robbie Lewis for more than a quarter of a century, first on Inspector Morse (1987-2000) and more recently on Lewis (2006-present). The Broker's Man, which ran for two short seasons, doesn't even merit its own Wikipedia entry, and seems mostly forgotten even in Britain. That's a shame, because judging by Acorn Media's release of Series 1, it's a fine series similar to Lewis that affords the actor the opportunity to create quite a different character.
Acorn Media's DVD release will probably win the show some new fans, despite its lackluster video transfer. The first series ran six roughly 48-minute two-part episodes that have been recut into three feature-length ersatz films. That's not such so much a problem as the fact that the shows are presented in a 4:3 letterboxed format that doesn't play well on the 16:9 television standard we have today. It's not clear if these shows were originally broadcast that way but, regardless, should have been remastered either for 4:3 full frame (assuming they weren't hard-matted to begin with) or, probably better, reconfigured for enhanced widescreen, in 1.66:1 format. The set is also bare bones with no extra features.
Whately plays Jimmy Griffin, "ex-job" (a former copper) now working as an independent insurance investigator. Two years earlier he had separated from his wife, Sally (Annette Ekblom) after she learned of his extramarital affair with colleague Gabby Rodwell (Michelle Fairley, Game of Thrones). Jimmy broke off his relationship with Gabby as soon as Sally found out about it, and his been unceasingly contrite toward Sally ever since, but she is unforgiving and still holds a grudge. This, in turn, creates endless tension whenever Jimmy tries to visit his kids: teenage daughter Jody (Holly Davidson) and her younger brother, Dominic (Danny Worters).
Moreover, she's entirely unsympathetic about the demands of his unusual, time-consuming job, though the teleplays quite reasonably portray Jimmy as frequently irresponsible attempting his fair share of parenting, too often using work as an excuse. Nor do the scripts let Jimmy off the hook with regards to his philandering. He wants his family back, but doesn't exactly commit to this insofar as his relationship with Gabby (and other women) goes. He's not a bad guy, but despite his protestations he's clearly not as committed to the reconciliation that he claims he wants.
Jimmy's job also creates tension with regard to his income, and thus his child support is irregular: 10,000 quid here, two grand there. He's relying on others to pay him, sometimes working cases he thinks will be a breeze end up taking much longer to resolve over several months, or taking on last-minute jobs that end up screwing up his plans with the kids.
The idea of an ex-detective running a small office contracted by a larger firm working on behalf of an insurance company representing a client is somewhat confusing. It took me about an episode-and-a-half to fully comprehend the chain of command, and just how each party's financial interest can occasionally gum up Jimmy's part in the overall scheme of things. That probably lost The Broker's Man some viewers early on, as did, probably, "B-stories," the personal injury claims Jimmy works on behalf of insurance companies who want to avoid paying out, not the sort of thing endearing to an audience often screwed over by these same sorts of companies.
But the three major cases that make up Series 1 are all interesting: In "Double Dutch," Jimmy investigates the theft of millions of pounds worth of digital audiotapes (DAT). (One can only imagine how comparatively worthless these tapes would be in 2014 compared to their value in 1997, when this was made.) The investigation, taking Jimmy to the Netherlands and involving several murders, is as intriguing as any police procedural.
"Dangerous Bends" involves a manslaughter investigation leading Jimmy to a major cover-up at a water treatment plant, while "Siege," the disappointing concluding story, pairs an insurance scam involving stolen cars with an apparently crazed Falklands War vet who blames his former commanding officer for his wrecked life since.
Still, even at their weakest The Broker's Man intelligently follows how these cases become entwined with and add tension to Jimmy's family life, and there's a series-long story arc that reaches a satisfying semi-conclusion at the end of the series.
Video & Audio
The Broker's Man appears to have been shot in Super-16(mm) with video-generated credits. It's not clear to me whether the series was originally broadcast in some form of widescreen, but these very slightly cropped 4:3 LBX presentations (at about 1.5:1) aren't very attractive on today's 16:9 HD monitors. I ended up watching the series zoomed in to 1.78:1 full-frame that, other than the opening titles, played just fine, with no cramped framing. But they do source what are probably the original masters and are, on the whole, disappointing. The stereo audio is notably better, and optional English SDH are included. No Extra Features.
Unsurprisingly, Kevin Whately's performance and intelligent teleplays make The Broker's Man worth watching, even though the video transfers disappoint. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.