Lately I find myself stopping more and more often on BBC America and PBS during my TV channel-flipping. (Okay, yes, I confess, I'm a born flipper. Just ask my wife -- wait, on second thought, don't. I still can't find where she hid the remote last time.) Anyway, lately the flipper-finger stops when I land on the channels showing mystery/suspense series from the U.K. From Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie to P.D. James, British mystery writers and British TV seem to go together like ... well, tea and biscuits. The shows are often stunningly good and as addictive as apple crumble. (I'll leave it up to you to determine why they're making me think of desserts.) Wire in the Blood, Foyle's War, Prime Suspect, Blue Murder, Midsomer Murders.... They're so addictive, in fact, that I now look for them at DVD stores, where I rent or buy and then end up vanishing for a weekend. (Fortunately, my wife is hooked as well, so I have company. And she gives me back the remote.)
My main supplier of this enticing, heady drug has been Acorn Media, which specializes in the best of British and Canadian TV on DVD. And, boy, do they keep the fix coming. There's plenty that's new out from Acorn this month, so let's dive in as if they're a plate of jam butties.
Debuting this week is the third series box set of Rebus, offering four taut thrillers from the smash hit British detective series based on Scottish author Ian Rankin's bestselling crime thrillers. In maverick detective John Rebus, Rankin has created "the most compelling mind in modern crime fiction" (The Independent, U.K.), and actor Ken Stott (Charlie Wilson's War) has found the role of a lifetime. Incorrigible, insubordinate, and deeply troubled, the hard-drinking Scottish detective plays by his own rules, hounding down murderers in modern-day Edinburgh with a single-mindedness that his superiors barely tolerate. His earnest, ambitious partner, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke (Claire Price, Poirot: The Hollow, Twelfth Night), learns from him even while she covers for him. The Scottish capital itself becomes a character in these thrillers, from its high, wind-swept hills to its shadowy backstreets.
These four grim, hard-boiled mysteries -- based on Resurrection Men (Edgar Award, Best Novel), The Naming of the Dead (British Book Award, Crime Thriller of the Year), The First Stone, and Knots and Crosses -- show Rebus at his wiliest and most willful.
Rebus, Set 3 is a four-disc boxed set totalling more than four and a half hours of outstanding "Tartan Noir." Also here are an Ian Rankin biography and cast filmographies. SRP: $49.99.
Also new on DVD is another third set in a series. The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Set 3 continues our home-video immersion in the popular television series based on the fiction of bestselling British crime-writer Ruth Rendell.
One of the most honored, prolific, and critically acclaimed modern crime writers, Rendell has been called this era's "Queen of Crime." Rendell ratchets up the suspense while exploring the peculiar human compulsions that lead to crime. Set 3 features five tales based on some of her most popular and acclaimed works, including The Lake of Darkness (Arts Council National Book Award), The Fallen Curtain (Edgar Award, Best Short Story), and the Inspector Wexford mystery Harm Done.
These slick productions -- broadcast in syndication on public television in the late 1990s -- include faithful scripts, surprising twists, and exquisite performances. The stellar casts include Sadie Frost (An Ideal Husband), George Baker, Barbara Ewing, and a young sprat named James Callis, who most of us know now as Battlestar Galactica's Gaius Baltar. The tales on hand are:
Harm Done -- Detective Chief Inspector Wexford (George Baker) faces growing public unrest over the release of a pedophile, an odd series of abductions, and the disappearance of a wealthy couple's daughter from her bedroom.
The Fallen Curtain -- Teenager Richard Clayton (Ben Brazier) remains haunted by a few unaccounted-for hours when he went missing as a boy. Co-starring Barbara Ewing.
You Can't Be Too Careful -- A security-obsessed woman (Serena Evans) takes on a new flatmate (Jane Hazlegrove) who doesn't share her safety concerns.
At $49.99 SRP, that's less than $10 a crime -- an extra value given the value of the dollar against the pound these days.
Acorn doesn't provide with just murderous vicars and vengeful lovers. This week they're also feeding our higher chakra points with The 2007 Newport Music Festival - Connoisseur's Collection.
Every summer since 1969, music lovers have flocked to the opulent Gilded Age mansions of gorgeous Newport, Rhode Island, for an international festival of chamber music. This ten-pack DVD set, filmed live at the 2007 festival, delivers 15 hours of concerts and highlights that include the Newport debut of 20-year-old American pianist Adam Golka, music by Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Lizst, and an all-Schumann program.
The $124.99 suggested price is a bit steep, sure, but fans of chamber music will find this set worth every dime, especially with the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and extras such as bonus performances on each disc, a color booklet loaded with information, and on-camera comments by Festival founder Dr. Mark P. Malkovich, III. A class act and a welcome addition to my increasingly eclectic music-on-DVD shelf.
And finally, elsewhere here at Film.com MaryAnn Johanson gives us her feature look at Acorn's Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, a two-disc set with three episodes of the U.K. miniseries that skewers British social and academic hypocrisy.