British murder mysteries: smart scripts, involving characters, great acting. Case closed.
In George Gently, Series 4’s two feature-length tales (adapted from the novels of Alan Hunter), the setting is Northeast England of 1966, where wise, humane, tough, and always fair ex-London copper Chief Inspector George Gently (Martin Shaw) tries to straighten out his cocky, prejudiced, mop-topped sergeant, John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), while solving complex crimes and dealing with rapidly changing times.
Based on Caroline Graham’s books, the four ninety-minute episodes in two-disc Midsomer Murders, Set 20 follow DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles in his final episodes), a charming family man who hides wily canniness behind an oafish smile. Quiet village life apparently produces three-to-four Anglo-eccentric murders a week, making for highly-watchable whodunits.
Gently’s excellent picture is bright and extremely crisp. Plentiful depth and great detail reveal seas of lines mapping an alcoholic informant’s life while surface textures are all tactile. Good contrast produces deep black police uniforms, bleached-white nurse's collars, and wide ranges of restrained colors. Skin tones are accurately pasty.
Midsomer’s picture is good, too — though lacking the icy clarity of Gently, the warmer and softer tones match the show’s mood, colors being less distinct and skin lacking tonal range. Detail is fair but images a little flat.
Gently’s very active stereo soundtrack spreads well-placed effects across left and right channels with the ultra-clear piano and strings in orchestral music and period-stylings by fictional band The Walking Dead (read The Zombies). It’s all powerful, strikingly full, and clear. Voices are deep and resonant, particularly Gently’s gravelly bass.
Midsomer’s sound is clear and crisp, too, though not as full and music, which includes the memorable Theremin-based theme, is not quite as punchy.
Gently: Video: 1.78:1. Audio: PCM 2.0. Extras: behind-the-scenes featurette. Midsomer: Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: “Barnaby Through the Years” photo gallery, “Saying Goodbye to Barnaby” essay. Studio: Acorn.
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