:: The British Drama Website ::

:: National Treasure

It opens with a long shot of a man nervously pacing up and down, smoking, and obviously going over what he is going to say. Time is up, he is called, and the next we see is a long walk through institutional corridors, but it isn’t a court or prison, there is laughter in the background.

Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) is a comedian, an older generation one whose comedy star is one the wane, and he is at a TV awards ceremony to honour his friend and long-term double act partner. It rankles, ever so slightly, that he is presenting and not receiving the lifetime achievement award, but there is some respect. That is, until the next morning when the police come knocking and his world is knocked off kilter with an allegation of rape dating back to the 90s. “They think I’m Jimmy f***ing Savile’.

And there is the hook to real life and the events that have spun out since Savile’s death in 2011. Whilst sexual offenses are nothing new, Savile, and the others that have subsequently been accused as part of the Yewtree, and similar, investigations, were all welcomes into our homes, part of the fixtures, fittings and family, and it is a jolt to find that what you thought you knew was all wrong.

This is undoubtedly a difficult subject to approach in a drama, and there is a very fine balance between presenting a story where it isn’t a foregone conclusion and one where the audience can feel reassured and comfortable in their own decisions.

Despite Finchley being a fictional character, there is an immediate sympathy with him and his family, even thought his shortcomings are presented very quickly. His wife (Julie Walters) has stood by him through 40 years of marriage, supported by her faith, and believes him when he says he is innocent. His daughter, Dee (Andrea Riseborough), is a recovering addict, and her life is thrown further into turmoil by the situation, and his comedy partner, Karl (Tim McInnerny), is all too aware that the professional double –act could easily be confused with one that went a lot further.

Truth, memory, trust and family are all called into question, and the passage of time creates doubts, twists facts and tests loyalties to the full. Added to this is the circus that has surrounded the real-life cases of Savile, Harris, Hall and others and the unfairness of whatever approach is taken regarding the anonymity of accusers and accused.

Through the 3 hours you constantly trying to work out what is truth, half-truth, or just damned lies, and whether he is guilty of what he is accused of, or not.

I’m not going to spoil the ending – I didn’t watch it when it was broadcast on Channel4, and have welcomed coming to the DVD in complete ignorance. It is a gripping drama that draws you in, and credit has to be given to everyone involved, from the bottom up, in making it believable, thought-provoking, and compelling viewing. These include the BAFTA-award winning writer Jack Thorne, the BAFTA-award winning director Marc Munden, and definitely Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters who play Finchley and his wife. Andrew Riseborough’s performance as Finchley’s daughter, Dee, stands out amongst the other performances, which are all powerful in themselves.

Released tomorrow (31st October) by RJL Entertainment’s Acorn Label, this DVD runs to approximately 3 hours and has an RRP of £19.99.


:: Victoria Wood: Wood Work, A Celebration

    

When Victoria Wood died earlier this year, the country lost one of it's great comedy writers/performers. Her career spanned 40 years and numerous awards (including five BAFTAs), and although it followed in the footsteps of many other great performers like Joyce Grenfell, Wood's was a unique performance.

Born in Lancashire, she was a singer-songwriter, screenwriter, actor and director, and the body of work that she leaves behind is a superb and diverse showcase of comedy and drama.

Wood's astute observational humour was embodied in an engagingly flawed and uniquely British cast of characters; her warmth and universal appeal saw her embraced by all sections of the viewing public in a way that few performers have ever been.

Network DVD have brought together various previous releases and present them as 'Wood Work, A Celebration' tomorrow (22nd August). Comprised of 5 discs, the contents include three bittersweet screenplays: Talent, Nearly A Happy Ending and Happy Since I Met You; The Complete Series of Wood And Walters; An Audience With Victoria Wood; Housewife 49; and the award winning one-off special, Julie Walters And Friends. In addition to these there are archive interviews.

With an RRP of £24.99 (Amazon are offering a significant discount at the moment) and a total running time of 573 minutes, this is a superb value for money set.


:: Liverpool 1

Liver Building - check. Catholic priest - check. But hold on, we've missed the other cliches of The Beatles, Lilo Lil and the cast of Bread (well almost) and a World famous football club. Nevertheless, the title gives it away, this is a gritty cop drama set in Liverpool, broadcast by ITV in the late 90s, so well after the regeneration of the dock area was underway.

Starring Samantha Womack (nee Janus), Scot Williams, and Mark Womack (yep, it was whilst filming the series that Janus and Womack came together) with wonderfully fruity support from Leslie Phillips, the series follows the team in Merseyside CID dealing with the day-to-day crimes of drugs, porn, peadophiles, pimps, and the gangs that run it (and just happen to be related to a copper).

DC Isobel de Paulii (Janus/Womack) is newly transferred to Liverpool CID, having moved from London when her partners job moved. Liverpool is not London, and whilst some of the trade-craft applies, the job revolves about local traditions, knowledge and connections, and when the rest of the team you are working with treat you like an outsider, life is even more difficult.

Running for two series, the first was available on VHS many years ago, this DVD set is both 6 episode series over 4 discs and is released tomorrow (15th August) by Simply Media with an RRP of £34.99. As ever, Amazon have a heavy discount.


:: The Ambassador

Harriet Smith (played by Pauline Collins OBE - she of Shirley Valentine, and much more, fame) is the newly appointed British Ambassador to Ireland. Recently widowed, she is a confident and sharp-witted woman who holds one of Britain's most coveted and powerful Embassy posts and is tasked, uneviably most would say, with balancing the political demands from both countries, and calming tensions. All this, whilst trying to manage a private life bringing up two teenage sons.

Smith is ably helped by her commercial attache, John Stone (Denis Lawson, who I first saw in The Kit Curran Radio Show, but is probably better known from recent series of New Tricks) but he has another master, MI6, and often has his own agenda.

Harriet finds herself in a sinister and dangerous world far removed from the cocktail parties of Downing Street. Entangled in a complicated web of half-truths and withheld information - rife both in and outside of the Embassy walls - Harriet is up against a host of people who would love nothing more than to see her fail.

Contempory with Liverpool 1, this was broadcast on BBC One in 1998 and 1999 and runs to 12 episodes over the two series and is presented in this release from Simply Media as a 4 disc set. With an RRP of £34.99, Amazon are offering a discount.


:: Whicker's World - Whicker and New World

'Hello World'. Alan Whicker was a mainstay of British television for over 50 years and carved out his own brand of quietly incisive, and highly identifiable, journalism. Each of the documentaries was self-contained, but often with an overall theme to a series, and have become time-capsules that are as enjoyable and informative today as they were when first made.

Originally broadcasting on the BBC, he was a pillar of the franchise bid for Yorkshire Television that started transmissions in July 1968, and the two volumes of Whicker's World released tomorrow (23rd May) by Network DVD cover the first two series he made for the company. The first, Whicker's World 1: Whicker, has a very Yorkshire feel, with the subjects primarily of local interest, and with only a few Networked across the whole of ITV. The second volume Whicker's World 2: Whicker's New World, broadcast in 1969, covers, as the title suggests, the New World, and the broader subject meant a networked airing.

Some of these editions have been released before (there were three volumes previously released by Network DVD), but presumably the interest in those was such that a full release of his ITV work could be considered and these two volumes present things in chronological order. Hopefully, now that Network DVD have access to the BBC archives, this could be the beginning of a full release of all his work, which is long overdue.

Priced at £19.99 each, both volumes are around 260 minutes in length and contain two discs.


:: The Ginger Tree

A series in four parts starring Samantha Bond, in one of her earliest roles, as Mary Mackenzie, Daisuke Ryu as Count Kentaro Kurihama, Fumi Dan as Baroness Aiko Onnodera, Joanna McCallum as Alicia and Adrian Rawlins as Richard Collingsworth.

The year is 1903 and young Scottish woman Mary Mackenzie travels to Manchuria to marry a British Army Officer. Finding herself in the middle of a war zone and disillusioned with her husband, away for a year, she begins a passionate affair with a Japanese nobleman and falls pregnant, bearing him a son. On moving to Tokyo, she faces hardship and is shunned being both a Westerner and a woman.

This was the earliest HD production the BBC recorded, and it quickly became apparent that long-standing stock of sets and props didn't stand scrutiny in High Definition, requiring hasty, and expensive, replacements and it wasn't just the trappings that were clearly seen to be wanting, traditional make-up and wigs techniques had to be improved as well.

This is a compelling BAFTA winning series that was co-produced by the BBC and NHK Japan and was originally aired in November/December 1989. This runs to approximately 4 hours and has an RRP of £19.99.


:: Charters and Caldicott

In 1985 this pair of lovable clubland buffers, created by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat and first seen in the film The Lady Vanishes, returned to the screen in this comedy thriller, set in modern times and written by Keith Waterhouse.

Robin Bailey and Michael Aldridge play Charters and Caldicott, both now retired, with Charters a country dwelling widower, and Caldicott living at Viceroy Mansions, Kensington.

Their ritual meeting at their London Club, the first Friday in each month, allows them to discuss old school chums and disagree about batting averages, but that particular first Friday, in an attempt to sort out one such disagreement finds them consulting Wisden back at Caldicotts flat and discovering a body, of a young lady no less.

They are drawn into the murder and a wider criminal plot, and it just isn't cricket.

This 6 part series runs to around 300 minutes and is priced £24.99.


:: Nature Boy

This haunting four-part drama in which Lee Ingleby plays David, a disenfranchised teenager struggling to cope with life in a foster family, has strong echoes of the late Barry Hines novel, Kes.

Solace from home and school bullying is found in a nearby nature reserve, with his love for nature intertwined with his vague memories of his father who disappeared from his life early on.

After a chance remark by a neighbour, David is determined to track is father down and leaves home and begins his search. On the way he finds love, pain and as he becomes involved in environmental campaigning, a new purpose in life.

Written by Bryan Elsley and directed by BAFTA winner Joe Wright, it won the Royal television Society 2001 award for Best Serial Drama and also stars Joanne Froggatt.

First broadcast in February 2000, this four-part drama runs to 240 minutes and has an RRP of £24.99.


:: The Missing Postman

This two-part comedy drama was first broadcast on BBC1 in March 1997 - 19 years ago tomorrow to be precise - and stars James Bolam and Alison Steadman. Postman Clive Peacock (Bolam) is forced to take early retirement, but instead takes the spur of the moment decition deliver his last collection in person, and sets off on a cycling expedition around the country.

On delivery leads to another as Clive daydreams of The Pony Express and those he meets in his travels, and it isn't long before his exploits are picked up by the press and he starts to become a folk hero. The police, on the other hand, are not so impressed, and Detective Sergeant Pitman (Jim Carter) is soon on his trail.

Adapted by Mark Wallington from his novel, it was produced by Golden Globe and triple BAFTA winner Gareth Neame, directed by Alan Dossor, and won best BBC Comedy at the British Comedy Awards that year.

Running to 80 minutes it has an RRP of £19.99.

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