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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » This Is Coronation Street
This Is Coronation Street
Acorn Media // Unrated // June 10, 2003
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 19, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

An interest in observing your neighbors' goings-on, and a desire to gossip about those goings-on, is practically hard-wired into the human psyche. Back on the African savannah, our distant ancestors probably found great entertainment in the daily drama of whether Uruk would actually bring home some meat today for a change, or whether anyone would actually go along with Oola's new-fangled idea of using pointy rocks as tools instead of good old-fashioned sticks. Humans being humans, we're fascinated by drama of all sorts: not just grand epic drama and adventure, but also the smaller stories of people just like you and me. The enduring nature of the British serial Coronation Street certainly supports this idea: from its first episode in 1960, the show has been running for forty years and more than four thousand episodes.

Coronation Street is what we'd call a "soap opera" in the U.S., but unlike the glitzy and unrealistically glamorous lives of the typical soap opera cast of characters, Coronation Street has been famous since its premiere for depicting the realistic lives of ordinary working-class people in Northern England. This Is Coronation Street offers a retrospective look at the popular series, consisting of a 75-minute documentary called "40 Years on Coronation Street" and the first five episodes of the series itself.

"40 Years on Coronation Street," an anniversary special made in 2000, takes us back to the creation of the series, with the creator of the show discussing his ideas and the various actors reflecting on the amazing and immediate success of the program, which was ground-breaking in its presentation of "ordinary people." The documentary has a fairly loose structure, moving from one interview clip to another as various people discuss what Coronation Street meant to them, and what it was like to work on the show.

Here we run into a bit of a snag, though. The documentary is quite clearly aimed at viewers who are familiar with the show already; it offers a minimum of actual information about the program, and focuses on the experience of watching or being a part of the show. The various interviewees are not presented well at all; we usually just get their name printed in a corner of the screen, but for someone who's not a devotee of the show, there's no indication of who they are. Are they actors? Writers? Just people who watched the show? Since it appears from the documentary that just about everybody in Britain watched the show at one time or another, including the actors, this lack of explanation of who's who makes the documentary a bit confusing.

Those who follow the show will probably find the documentary reasonably entertaining to watch, if only to see their favorite actors reflecting on what it was (and is) like to work on the show. However, for viewers who aren't familiar with the program, the enjoyment value of the documentary palls relatively quickly, as it becomes clear that its primary motive is to celebrate the show rather than explore it.

The second disc of the set presents the first five episodes of the serial. I'm not a particular fan of soap operas in general, and so it's not surprising that I didn't find Coronation Street to be particularly engaging. At this point, the early episodes are most likely to be interesting as a look back forty years at the way people really lived and worked in northern England, since the show has prided itself on its social realism from the very beginning.

The DVD

This Is Coronation Street is a two-disc set packaged in two keepcases inside a paper slipcase.

Video

The documentary is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The program doesn't do anything particularly demanding on the visual side of things, and the transfer looks quite good, with nice colors and contrast, and a clean print. The one part of the video transfer of the documentary that I didn't find satisfactory is the handling of the clips from the television show. These are cropped on top and bottom and zoomed to fit the widescreen aspect ratio of the documentary, resulting in a picture that doesn't quite look right. The better way to handle the clips, of course, would have been to show them on-screen matted on the sides, but unfortunately that's not what's done.

The five episodes from 1960 are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. They're watchable, but none are in particularly good condition. Contrast is a bit iffy in some of the darker scenes, but on the whole it's adequate. There's a substantial amount of grain and print flaws such as small flecks and larger scratches appearing throughout the episodes, and all of them except the first one have an overall fuzzy grayish appearance.

Audio

The audio quality of the documentary is satisfactory; like the video, there's nothing all that demanding for the soundtrack, as it's just clips of people talking. The 1960s episodes are adequate as well, with a generally clean track that is free of background noise. The dialogue in the episodes has a slightly harsh quality to it, but it's not too bad.

Extras

The first disc has a short text trivia section and a list of guest appearances by "famous faces" over the years. The second disc has a set of character profiles for what appears to be the original cast of the show.

Final thoughts

It was mildly interesting to get a glimpse at a part of British popular culture that I knew nothing at all about, but I didn't find anything of real substance in the set. This Is Coronation Street appears to be more oriented toward existing fans of the show, who will probably appreciate hearing from their favorite actors as well as seeing the earliest episodes of the show, but there's nothing particular to interest new viewers. It's a good choice for a rental in either case, as there's not much replay value in this set.

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