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Lord Peter Wimsey - The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Acorn Media // Unrated // July 16, 2002
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 23, 2002 | E-mail the Author
There's a good reason why Dorothy Sayers is considered one of the "classic" mystery writers: her Lord Peter Wimsey novels offer well-plotted, well-written puzzles with an appealing amateur detective, Peter Wimsey, as the protagonist. The BBC television productions of Sayers' novels have been extremely faithful to the text of the books, which has resulted in mystery mini-series that are as enjoyable to watch as the books are to read.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club features a delightfully convoluted plot, the kind that starts out apparently simply, but becomes more and more complicated as new information is revealed. The "unpleasantness" starts when the elderly General Fentiman is found dead, apparently having gone peacefully in his sleep, at his club. It looks like all will be resolved with a minimum of fuss, until it's revealed that the General's wealthy sister died on the same day, and nearly the same time... and as each had willed his or her estate to the other, a sizable sum of money hangs in the balance depending on which one died first. Enter Peter Wimsey (Ian Carmichael): as an amateur detective, not an official one, he is asked by the family to determine the truth of the matter without causing a scandal. However, the more Wimsey investigates, the more serious the matter becomes, until it's clear that he has found a puzzle worthy of all his considerable intelligence and detective skills.

The mystery is spread out over four forty-five minute episodes, which are quite well-paced. Each section establishes a few new facts in the case while opening up new avenues for Wimsey to explore, before it's finally wrapped up in a satisfying manner. In addition to Wimsey, there is a sizable cast of secondary characters. It's quite necessary, after all, to have a variety of suspects and sources of information in order to make the puzzle worth puzzling out! Fortunately for those viewers like myself who are easily lost in large cast lists, the characters are handled well: they're presented so that it's easy to keep track of who is whom, an essential element in appreciating who did what. My only regret in the casting department is that Bunter, Wimsey's butler, is played here by Derek Newark, who while adequate, doesn't quite capture the essence of the character. Fortunately, it appears that the BBC felt the same way: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club was the first of the adaptations starring Carmichael, and subsequent productions feature Glyn Houston delivering a dead-on performance in the role of Bunter.

Video

I don't know if we have to thank the BBC for keeping their prints in good condition, or Acorn Media for a good transfer, or both, but in any case, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club looks remarkably good for what it is: a television production from 1972. The image is very clean, with minimal noise, and colors are vibrant and accurate. The one main fault is in the outdoor shots, which are distinctly blurry and grainy. Fortunately, there are very few of these, as the action takes place almost entirely indoors. All in all, viewers will be quite satisfied with the image quality here.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is adequate for the job at hand, but it could be better. The overall volume of the soundtrack is a bit low, and the dialogue tends to be a little muffled, which led me to watch The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club with the volume turned slightly higher than normal. On the bright side, the dialogue and music are in good balance with each other, and the overall sound of the track is clean and noise-free.

Extras

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a two-disc set, with Parts 1 and 2 on one disc in its own keepcase and Parts 3 and 4 on the second disc also in its own keepcase; the two cases are packaged in an attractive glossy paper slipcase.

The special features included are an interview with Ian Carmichael, filmographies, trivia, and some informational material on author Dorothy Sayers. It's nothing out of this world, but worth a minor peek.

Final thoughts

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a DVD that I'd recommend instantly to any Dorothy Sayers fan: director Robert Wilson manages to get the best of both worlds here, with the production being extremely faithful to the original novel while making excellent use of the resources of a visual presentation of the story. For any fans of mystery films and novels in general, I would also highly recommend The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club: it's a great, imaginative story that will probably hook you on Dorothy Sayers' work. Last but not least, I'd definitely encourage viewers in general, whether or not they're specifically mystery fans, to check out this set, as it's really very entertaining.
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