Crisis at the Castle
Athena // Unrated // $29.99 // August 21, 2012
Review by Nick Hartel | posted August 14, 2012
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The 2007 British documentary miniseries "Crisis at the Castle" presents viewers with an interesting subject: stately British castles in financial crisis and the attempts by the owners of said castles to get the finances back in the black. However, the focus of the show is not a simple case of looking at the pure economics of each situation, as the homes chosen for examination in the series have rich family histories and current occupants unwilling to just sell the estates outright to solve all financial woes. The producers of the series pack each, 55-minute episode to the brim with on-screen interviews and fly-on-the-wall looks at the day-to-day operations at Sudley Castle, Burton Court and Kelburn Castle; the result is a very objective and often uncensored look into the lives of three distinct families.

The program itself starts on shaky ground with Sudley Castle, with a constant focus on the inner family squabbles that keep the castle in financial turmoil. While the program does manage to get the financial troubles and possible solutions conveyed to the viewing audience, the family bickering gets to be very tiring very quickly and once one possible solution makes its way on camera, the result are the sounds of a cringe worthy dance party one would expect to find on "The Jersey Shore." Fortunately the natural beauty of Sudley Castle and the discussion of renting out one's own home for various events do have enough of the spotlight to make the debut episode tolerable enough for one viewing. Thankfully it's all uphill from there, as the program points its lens at Burton Court.

The Burton Court episode does contain its share of family bickering with the current owners at odds with their son who stands to inherit the quickly falling apart manor, but needs financial backing from his elderly parents to get his business of renting the estate for social functions off the ground. The difference here is all parties truly love the featured home and beneath all the fussing and fighting love one another; the series needs no narrator to convey the emotions on screen and even when the son states how stressed he is, the viewer already fully understands this through the objective eye of the camera. A great deal of time is spent covering the history of Burton Court, the structural problems and the possible solutions to the financial woes. While every episode of "Crisis at the Castle" ends with no cliché update segment, the dedication displayed by the residents of this estate do leave viewers with a sense of hope for the future.

Finally, the series concludes with Kelburn Castle, owned by Lord Glasgow, who like the owner of Burton Court wishes to leave the estate in financial stability before turning it over to his son, Viscount David. The Kelburn Castle episode is very similar to Burton Court, but on a much grander scale. A local developer is largely involved with Lord Glasgow's attempts to sell some land in order to bring the castle up to structural codes as well as establish the castle as a prime location for private rental. What sets this episode apart from the others are the quiet moments following the few remaining long-time staff, including the aged butler Sandy, who expresses the desire of having wanted to retire two years prior, but obviously stays on, even in less than stellar health out of love to the family and castle itself. Thankfully "Crisis at the Castle" ends on a very high note with another engaging, informative episode, and nearly erases memories of the rather dull start to the series. While it's highly debatable whether the series has any replay value, there's no question it's well worth seeking out as it sheds light on a subject likely not considered by most people, but one that at the end of the day, is one that affects every homeowner.


The Video

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a definite mixed bag. Close-up shots, namely those related to interview shots are incredibly detailed and feature strong, natural looking colors. The rest of the program has a color palette that's decidedly a tad too hot on the temperature side of things, with detail levels that are a huge step downward. To top it off, compression artifacts are often quote noticeable, while digital noise levels are all over the board, never obtrusive, but inconsistent.

The Audio

The English Stereo audio track is much more consistent. Although it's flat presentation, there's quite a bit of life and kick whenever a party scene is filmed. The sometimes-thick accents of the interview subjects are generally clear, but to be fair to the producers of the program, even the included English SDH subtitles sometimes throw up [INAUDIBLE DIALOGUE] for a few participants who go into fits of muttering.

The Extras

The only extras are four, text-based informational pieces relating to other historic homes in similar situations and a 12-page printed booklet providing background info on the homes featured in the program.

Final Thoughts

"Crisis at the Castle" is a real treat, despite the owners of the first home featured coming off as insufferable at times. The remaining two programs are definitely worth checking out as both are enlightening on many levels. At the end of the day though, one viewing of this great series is more than enough and any real motivation to purchase the disc is puzzling. Rent It.

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