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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Forsyte Saga - Series 2
The Forsyte Saga - Series 2
Acorn Media // Unrated // February 24, 2004
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted February 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The movie

It's the beginning of the 20th century, a new age: but for the Forsyte family, old feuds are far from forgotten. The rivalry that began decades before, chronicled in The Forsyte Saga: Series 1, here continues unabated, as the next generation of Forsytes, innocent of the history between their families, set in motion events that will affect all of them.

I loved the first series of The Forsyte Saga: the story of Irene, Soames, Jolyon, and all the other characters was completely captivating and very memorable. I knew it would be a tough job for Series 2 to live up to the standard set by Series 1... and I was delighted to discover that it does, in every way.

The Forsyte Saga: Series 2 is really a straight continuation of Series 1, which is a strong point in its favor. Based on the third volume of John Galsworthy's trilogy about the Forsytes, the focus of Series 2 falls on the younger generation: Jon, the son of Irene and Jolyon, and Fleur, the daughter of Soames and Annette. But their story, and their lives, doesn't happen in isolation; the story draws in characters from both sides of the Forsyte family, and develops their stories along with that of Jon and Fleur. It's not completely necessary to remember exactly what happened in Series 1, but it does help (and certainly adds a greater dimension to the events in Series 2); viewers who need a quick refresher can check out the text summary of the events of Series 1, in the special features of Disc 1. (Viewers who haven't seen Series 1 at all should go out and watch it right away: it's too good to miss out on.)

As always, the characters are at the center of the brilliance of The Forsyte Saga: when it comes to the performances, there's not a single wrong note here, from the smallest part to the largest one. And when it comes to the main roles, we get some truly outstanding performances, most notably from Damian Lewis as Soames and Gina McKee as Irene, but also Lee Williams and Emma Griffiths Malin as Jon and Fleur. All of the characters are complex people, and most importantly, they're very real people, not "good guys" and "bad guys."

Jolyon Forsyte, whom we know and love, is capable of being wrong, perhaps of holding a grudge too long; Soames Forsyte, narrow-minded and self-centered as he is, is even sometimes in the right. It's also a mark of how well done the series is, that all of the characters are compelling. Soames is by turns frightening, despicable, and pathetic, yet he's also the single most fascinating character in the series... and we come to understand him, flaws and all, and even to sympathize with him even while also completely sympathizing with the characters who despise him.

The way that the story is told matters as much as what's being told. Fundamentally, this is a very intelligent and thoughtful series, one that shows respect for its characters and for the audience. Respect for the characters, because they always behave true to themselves; through good decisions and bad ones, through conflict and reconciliation, the characters behave as they do because of who they are. The plot develops around them, rather than drives them. Respect for the audience, because the story is completely engaging without any narrative "tricks." There are no last-minute melodramatic twists, and no manipulative tear-jerking; they would be unnecessary, as we feel already profoundly attached to the characters and anxious about what happens.

The Forsyte Saga: Series 2 is also very willing to deal with complicated situations without offering a clear-cut "right answer." The story centers around the relationship between Jon and Fleur, one from each side of the feuding Forsyte family. Should they be allowed to be together? Should they be kept apart? As the series develops, this question is by no means as clear-cut as it might seem... and the final resolution leaves us, like the characters, wondering if it was the right thing or not. It's a difficult thing to wrap up a story like The Forsyte Saga, but the final episode does it very well: it's not a conventional happy ending, but a realistic one; it's an ending that provides a very satisfying sense of closure while at the same time leaving a number of threads open.

And, of course, one last element that helps make The Forsyte Saga work so well is its impeccable production values. When we watch The Forsyte Saga, we're stepping into an utterly convincing world of the 1920s, with every detail from houses and cars to clothing and entertainment feeling completely right. It's particularly fascinating to see the characters from Series 1 here, coming to grips with the changing way of life in the post-World War I years and the "roaring twenties."

In the end, the effectiveness of The Forsyte Saga can be measured in how much it sticks in the mind. I watched the four episodes over the course of several days, and between each one, I found myself thinking about what had happened, wondering what the characters would do, and what I hoped or feared for them. After finishing it, it sticks with me even more; now I'm looking forward to re-watching Series 1 and Series 2 in succession. That's the unmistakable sign of a production with a lot of substance to it.

The DVD

The Forsyte Saga: Series 2 runs 276 minutes across two DVDs, with two episodes on each disc. This is the complete UK broadcast version of the show, and is uncut. Each DVD has its own plastic keepcase, with the two discs inside an attractive glossy paper slipcase.

Video

Like the first series, The Forsyte Saga: Series 2 is presented in anamorphic widescreen, at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is soft, but uniformly so, and without graininess; I suspect that this soft look was intentional. Overall, the image looks very good. Colors are excellent, with a natural look and a nice vibrancy and richness; contrast is also handled very well, with detail correctly presented even in challenging lighting environments. I didn't notice any edge enhancement or print flaws. All in all, Series 2 offers an attractive transfer.

Audio

The Forsyte Saga: Series 2 is presented in a well-balanced Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. The emphasis of the film is on dialogue, which is handled very well, always sounding natural and clear. Music and environmental sounds are also incorporated into the soundtrack quite well, creating a very pleasing audio experience overall.

Extras

On Disc 1, we get a useful text summary of "Previously on The Forsyte Saga," which I suggest that viewers read before watching the first episode of Series 2. It would have been even better if this had been in video format rather than text, but it's useful nonetheless. We also get a photo gallery, a biography and book list for John Galsworthy, and cast filmographies.

Final thoughts

The Forsyte Saga is one of the very best historical dramas I've had the pleasure of watching. This elegant, superbly acted adaptation of John Galsworthy's novels offers a compelling story that won't easily be forgotten. Series 2 is a direct continuation of Series 1, and has all of the same power and drama as the first series; if you enjoyed Series 1, you will like Series 2 just as much. And if you've never seen any of The Forsyte Saga, now is a perfect time to get started, and watch both Series 1 and Series 2 in succession, as the complete story that they are. Acorn Media has given the series a nice treatment on DVD, with a lovely anamorphic transfer and good sound. It's very highly recommended.

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