I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. The kinds of things we recommend here are things I would be delighted to find under the tree.
The folks at Acorn keep churning out the best of British television productions. Take a look at some of these complete sets that will be sure to please any fan of quality television.
Loch Ness (Blu-ray)
by Brent Lorentson
When it comes to hearing the name Loch Ness, just about everyone will think about the giant lake where “Nessie” the mythical monster inhabits. Whether you are a believer or not thousands converge to the Scottish highlands location in hopes to be one of the lucky ones to catch a peak of the elusive beast. But the Loch Ness I am talking about is a beast of a whole other ilk. Though the TV series does take place in a small tourist town that thrives on the legend that haunts the cold water, the series instead is about a serial killer that has been unleashed upon the town and given its residents something more to fear other than a giant monster that roams the lake.
A group of friends decide that they want to play a hoax by creating a fake plesiosaur carcass and placing it along the lake shore. While using fake innards that salvaged from the local slaughterhouse, it is later discovered a human heart managed to somehow get mixed up in the remains. With a human heart found and no body, this of course sends an uneasy shockwave through the town. Detective Annie Redford (Laura Fraser) is tasked with leading her first murder investigation in a town that rarely has experienced its share of violence, and it doesn’t take long before a body is found (not one that belongs to the missing heart) and it is understood that they have a serial killer on their hands. Investigator Lauren Quigley (Siobhan Finneran) is called in to take lead of the investigation where she also brings criminal psychologist Blake Albrighton (Don Gilet) to assist.
Really this isn’t all so different from any other whodunit murder series, but it’s the location and the cast of characters that keeps this story feeling fresh. In a town where everyone knows everybody, it’s fun to see how the town begins to turn on one another as the investigation turns its its attention on the townsfolk. As each person is investigated we see how just about everyone in the town has a set of skeletons in their closet as well as their own reasons to commit murder, but who really is the killer and who does the heart belong to are the questions that hang over the season for its entire 6-episode run.
The Fall (Blu-ray)
“Art is a lie. Art gives the chaos of the world an order that doesn’t exist.”
The X-Files will soon return for a second revival season with 10 episodes that will likely finish the franchise. But if you’re a Gillian Anderson fan, you won’t have to wait until next year to get your Anderson fix. Acorn has a release that you really have to discover. Gillian Anderson has served three seasons (or series, as the Brits call them) in Belfast for the BBC series The Fall. With the broadcast of that third and final season, Acorn is releasing a nice complete set of all three seasons on both DVD and Blu-ray. If you want to win a copy of the DVD set, you have to stay tuned here and be sure to check out our 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways. In the meantime, I’m going to tell you about the Blu-ray set that I’ve just had the pleasure to consume for review.
Gillian Anderson plays Stella Gibson. She’s an investigator from London who has been sent to Belfast to review a murder investigation. She expects a short stay. That all changes when another murder is revealed to have some connection to the one she is sent to review. When Gibson voices her theory, it is not exactly what the local or London brass wanted to happen. Before long she’s crying serial killer, and finally enough evidence emerges to prove her right. The next thing she knows is that she’s put in charge of the taskforce to catch the elusive killer.
Enter Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector/Peter Baldwin. He’s the hunted killer. Don’t worry, I didn’t just spoil the series for you. The show takes place from two very distinct perspectives. There is the point of view of Gibson, but we also go deeply into the life and activities of Spector. He’s a family man with a wife and two young children. He works as a grief counselor, a field he is very familiar with. His mother killed herself, and it’s left an emotional scar that is part of the reason he has become a killer.
These two perspectives create a rather nice and edgy contrast in the storytelling here. This is not a typical police procedural drama. We get deep inside of these characters’ darkest places. Gibson has a lot of emotional trouble herself. There’s an emptiness there that Anderson plays quite convincingly, not just during vulnerable moments, but through her motion and speech. She has a reservation about her that strongly contrasts with a need to be in charge and prove her ability in this “men’s club” of the police force. She intentionally chooses a green female patrol officer to be her assistant on the task force. Gibson also has a history of sleeping with her male colleagues. It’s a pattern that is repeated here, but it ends up not being the safest play for the men she ends up with in her bed. They are all either troubled or “broken” in some way, and for her it’s a rather cold act with no emotional involvement. When one ends up dead, she can’t even muster up much interest at all in the circumstances.
The Fall takes you deeper into these dark acts than many might find comfortable. We witness his entire process as it relates to a victim named Sarah Kay (Donnelly). We watch as he picks her out and stalks her. His next phase is to break into her apartment and look about, stealing and sniffing underwear. Before he leaves, he arranges undies and a sex toy on the bed, because he wants the victim to know he’s been there. He likes being in the apartment while she’s there barely getting caught. Finally he slowly strangles his prey, letting up many times to prolong the experience. Afterward he washes the body and poses her on her bed, taking pictures and even video. As Gibson correctly surmises, he is creating his own porn that he will come back to and create elaborate dolls and sketches to relive the event. The murder, particularly of a later victim, is intense and graphic. Even those of us somewhat immune to this kind of drama might find it quite dark and disturbing.
Jack Irish (Blu-ray)
by John Ceballos
“He’s just got a knack for being in the wrong spot at exactly the right time.”
Jack Irish, the disheveled former lawyer-turned-debt collector with a nose for trouble, is at it again. The character is the creation of novelist Peter Temple, but Australian TV audiences got to know Jack thanks to a trio of TV movies starring the great Guy Pearce. The movies were successful enough that Jack Irish returned as a six-episode series that brings the entire gang back together.
“My car’s been stolen, I lost a client, and now they’re trying to pin a murder on me.”
The fact that all of these things happen to Jack (Pearce) by the end of the series’ first hour tells you that our reluctant hero is in for a rough time. After being a paid a too-good-to-be-true amount of money to find a client’s ne’er do well adopted brother, Jack finds his target…but the brother is killed in front of Jack’s eyes. For extra fun, Jack is framed for the murder. As he works to clear his name, Jack becomes involved with Sarah (Claudia Karvan), a troubled sculptor who believes Jack can help find her missing sister Tina (Brooke Satchwell). Tina was involved with a powerful mega-church called Way of the Cross, which is headlined by charismatic pastor Rob Shand (Marcus Graham) and has tremendous influence that extends all the way to the Phillipines.
“You don’t have a career, Jack. You hardly have a life.”
And it just so happens that Jack’s on-again/off-again journalist girlfriend Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp) has just been sent to work in Manila as a correspondent. The two part ways early on in the first episode, but their paths cross a couple of times as the case Jack is investigating and the story Linda is chasing become entangled. Meanwhile, Jack’s horse trainer employer Harry Strang (Roy Billing) and Harry’s right-hand-man Cam (Aaron Pedersen) embark on a scheme involving a long-lost racehorse and Jack becoming a reluctant horse owner. The stuck-in-time Melbourne Bitter pub Jack frequents has introduced (much to Jack’s horror) Chinese tapas, and its owner has jumped into the world of online dating. Finally, Jack’s cabinet making mentor Charlie (David Ritchie) is as cranky as ever, especially since he seems to quietly be having money troubles. (That being said, we do shockingly see the softer side of Charlie when he meets the new woman in Jack’s life.)
George Gently (Blu-ray)
Inspector George Gently goes back to the 1950’s when Alan Hunter began writing a series of novels to feature the detective. He ended up keeping the series going until 1999 shortly before his death. There were 46 books in all, making him one of the most widely written detectives in history. The series began in 2007 with the pilot episode. Martin Shaw stars as Inspector George Gently. His “guy Friday” is Detective Inspector John Bacchus, played by Lee Ingleby. A few characters would come and go over the years until the series ended in 2017 with its 8th season/series. But the two main leads were the driving force in the entire run of the show.
The show is not set in contemporary times, but rather starting in 1964 when the novels were at their most popular. The series does a fantastic job of immersing you in the time period. Those of us alive in the 60’s will have a particular fondness for the production design of the series. For much of the show England still executed murderers, and that adds a punch to the stakes that isn’t true in modern day British shows. Most of the series remains in the mid 1960’s with Series 8 finally ending in 1970. The booklet that comes with the collection offers some fine tidbits on the years that the action takes place in. It’s great to see a detective show where he doesn’t have DNA testing or a cell phone to make his job easier. There’s a lot more field work required by this detective.
The early episodes are direct adaptations of actual novels, but by the third series original stories began to dominate the episodes. Most episodes are pretty much feature length, so some seasons only have two episodes. There were only 25 made in that 10 years. These are a lot like the Columbo films that would come out from time to time or the Perry Mason televisions films made long after the series ended. It’s all pretty standalone, but you get them all with this nice set.