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Lord Peter Wimsey - Clouds of Witness

Acorn Media // Unrated // February 5, 2002
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 14, 2002 | E-mail the Author
Readers of the classic mystery novels of Dorothy Sayers have no doubt been eagerly awaiting the arrival on DVD of the BBC's presentation of Clouds of Witness, one of the first novels featuring the amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. In this five-part series, Lord Peter (Ian Carmichael) comes face to face with a deadly crime in his own family: his sister's fiancé is found murdered, and his brother is charged with the crime. As Lord Peter and his faithful valet (and assistant detective) Bunter trace the clues, they realize that the single thread of a murdered man will unravel an entire tapestry of love, hatred, betrayal, jealousy, and deception.

All of Sayers' mystery novels are entertaining, skillfully plotted stories, and as the BBC's version of Clouds of Witness is very faithful to the original novel, it can't fail to be entertaining as well. The story is told in five parts, each 45 minutes long, for a total running time of 225 minutes. The pacing is handled fairly well, with each section generally unfolding the story in more depth, adding some new twist to the mystery, and ending on an intriguing note, leaving the viewer anticipating the events in the next part.

Clouds of Witness is a mystery with an intricate plot, requiring that viewers pay attention, and rewarding the attentive viewer with the pleasure of seeing the puzzle take shape and then seeing how all the pieces fit into place. Though intricate, the story is not overly complicated, and the characters do a nice job of periodically summing up major developments and discoveries, without being too obvious about it.

Lord Peter himself is the most noteworthy character, and Ian Carmichael does an excellent job of bringing out the character's quirky yet appealing personality. My favorite among the minor characters is Bunter, Lord Peter's unflappable, distinguished valet, whom Glyn Houston brings perfectly to life.

Video

It's a bit difficult to decide on a rating for the video quality of Clouds of Witness. The image quality of the indoor scenes is quite good, especially for a 1972 television presentation; the picture is reasonably sharp and clear, with natural-looking colors. The only real fault with the quality of the indoor scenes is the occasional presence of slight colored halos around the edges of objects, but fortunately these are infrequent. The outdoor scenes are a different story, unfortunately: the image is grainy, blurry, and muddy-looking. I would suspect (though I can't say for certain) that this discrepancy in image quality between the indoor and outdoor shots is a problem in the original source material, not the transfer, but in any case it looks terrible. If I could rate the two types of scenes separately, I'd have given the DVD 3 stars for image quality for the indoor scenes, and 2 stars for the outdoor scenes.

Looking on the bright side of things, however, I'll note that by far the majority of all the action in Clouds of Witness takes place indoors, where the better image quality rules. The 4.3 aspect ratio preserves the original ratio of the presentation, which was made for television.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 track on Clouds of Witness is adequate for the job. The sound is clear and free of distortion, and when music is used, it balances well with the dialogue.

Extras

The special features for Clouds of Witness are a typical offering from Acorn Media. We have filmographies, trivia, and some text material about Dorothy Sayers, with the one more substantial extra being an interview with Ian Carmichael.

The packaging and presentation of the DVD is quite nice. The two-disc set comes in two DVD keepcases which are enclosed in a glossy cardboard slipcover; disc one contains parts 1 and 2, and disc two contains parts 3, 4, and 5. The menus are straightforward and easy to navigate, while also being attractively themed to the movie, with the catchy title music playing in the background.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed Clouds of Witness quite a bit; Dorothy Sayers is one of my favorite mystery authors, and it's nice to see that her novels translate very well to the screen. It's an interesting, well-developed plot, with interesting characters played well, on a reasonably solid DVD presentation. In short, it's recommended to all lovers of good mysteries, and most especially to fans of Sayers' famous amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey.
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