John Nettles portrayed Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Barnaby in the British ITV Networks' Midsomer Murders television program from 1997 until 2011. He was there from the beginning, and his departure left fans wondering how, or if the show would continue. By casting Neil Dudgeon as Tom’s cousin John Barnaby, the producers found a way to move forward without too much disruption. In Nettles’ final show, “Fit For Murder,” Tom announces his retirement, and introduces John. The basic premise of Midsomer Murders remains unchanged, and the 16th series (season) is currently in production.
That basic premise of Midsomer Murders is a good one. The show is based on the novels of Caroline Graham, and takes place in the fictional English county of Midsomer. Midsomer County is a wealthy enclave, and the settings are often quite beautiful. It is against this idyllic backdrop that an inordinate number of murders occur, and the perpetrators are usually the least likely candidates.
The locations of the murders range all over Midsomer County, and we follow Tom from a golf course to a touristy model town, to an old village school, and some grand estates, among many other places. His final case, “Fit for Murder” happens at a weekend spa that he and his wife are visiting. There is no rest for the wicked it would seem.
While the settings are certainly attractive, the mysteries themselves are what keep us coming back. For some reason, it seems that the English have a knack for crafting great murder mysteries. Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby novel series upholds the long tradition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
The new 15-DVD, 15-episode box set Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases contains all seven Midsomer Murders from series 12 (2009-10), and all eight from series 13 (2010-11). As the title indicates, these are the final 15 mysteries featuring John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby. While I have not as of yet had the opportunity to watch every episode of this long-running program, I can say that of the many I have seen, I have never been disappointed. This is certainly the case with the final 15 of Nettles’ run with the show.
Acorn Media has carved out a nice niche, releasing select British programs on DVD for the American market, and Midsomer Murders is one of them. I took a chance on one of the sets, and was very pleasantly surprised. Evidently, the DVD sets of Midsomer have done well, as these programs have already been previously released separately by Acorn. Having the two series packaged together in this manner is great for those who may not already them.
Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases is housed in a four-volume box set, with a full DVD devoted to each mystery. The breakdown is as follows:
Series 12: Part One: “The Dogleg Murders” (100 minutes), “The Black Book” (100 minutes), “Secrets and Spies” (100 minutes), and “The Glitch” (100 minutes). Bonus materials include cast interviews and fact sheets. While Midsomer Murders is a television show, there is an advisory for “The Black Book” on the back cover to alert the viewer that it contains brief nudity and sexual themes. Previously released as Midsomer Murders: Set 17.
Series 12: Part Two contains: “Small Mercies” (100 minutes), “The Creeper” (100 minutes), and “The Great and the Good (100 minutes).” There is a 23-minute interview with Jason Hughes as a bonus on “The Great and the Good,” and “The Creeper“ contains brief nudity. Previously released as Midsomer Murders: Set 18
Series 13: Part One contains: “The Made-to-Measure Murders” (100 minutes), “The Sword of Guillaume” (100 minutes), “Blood on the Saddle” (100 minutes), and “The Silent Land” (100 minutes). “Blood on the Saddle” contains an interesting “Behind-the-scenes” photo gallery. Previously released as Midsomer Murders: Set 19
Series 13: Part Two contains: “Master Class” (93 minutes), “The Noble Art” (89 minutes), “Not in my Backyard” (89 minutes), and “Fit for Murder” (89 Minutes). John Nettles’ final starring appearance as Tom Barnaby comes in “Fit for Murder,” and the DVD also includes the bonus feature “Barnaby Through the Years” photo gallery and a “Saying Goodbye to Barnaby” essay. Previously released as Midsomer Murders: Set 20.
If you add it all up the run time would be approximately 24 hours. Although I would not necessarily recommend sitting down for one 24-hour marathon of Midsomer Murders, I would understand if you chose to do so. The series really is that addictive, and I believe it is one of the best British television shows going. For those who have yet to fall under the spell of Midsomer Murders, it is most definitely worth investigating.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The initial run of the program was from 2002 to 2008, for a total of six seasons, or “series” as the Brits refer to it. Although it rarely works, in the case of Foyle’s War, the outcry of fans actually succeeded in reviving the show, and a seventh series ran in 2010, and reportedly there is an eighth scheduled for 2013. There were a total of 22 programs produced during the original run of the show, with each year seeing four, three and even just two individual 90-minute installments.
As mentioned, Acorn Media have previously released these as individual DVD sets, each with a single DVD devoted to what amounts to separate TV movies. The new Foyle’s War The Home Front Files Sets 1-6 contains all 22 DVDs in a box-set format, and it is a mighty impressive collection.
First of all, let me just say that using the backdrop of World War II to present murder mysteries was inspired. I have always been a fan of murder mysteries, be they English or American, but Foyle’s War is really something special. With the war raging in the background, there is a much deeper level to all of the stories, and the producers use that to excellent effect.
The titular character is Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), who is based in Sussex, England. The very first Foyle’s War episode is titled “The German Woman,” and is set in 1940. At this time, anyone of German extraction in England was immediately suspect, as the Germans were bombing the country. “The German Woman” refers to the brutal murder of the local magistrate’s wife, who was German. Among some of the townspeople of Hastings (in Sussex), there is kind of a feeling of “who cares” as she was German, but Foyle gets to the bottom of it, and the story is quite compelling.
This level of sophisticated story-telling continues with the remaining three episodes of the first season. They are “The White Feather,” “A Lesson in Murder,” and “Eagle Day.” All four are excellent, and I really enjoy the chronological format as well. This first season is set from May to August of 1940. The second season of Foyle's Warpicks up the story in September of 1940, with “Fifty Ships.” This second set also contains four DVDs/episodes, and ends in October 1940.
Set three is also a four-DVD collection, and takes place from February to June 1941. To this viewer, the third series of Foyle’s War was a real peak, maybe the finest of the six. Each of these mysteries does what Foyle’s War does best, presenting a fascinating mystery with the equally fascinating intrigues going on in civilian Sussex during 1941. “The French Drop” is a perfect example of this. In it, Foyle traces a murder back to the mysterious wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE), which is an undercover espionage-training group. The tensions between the SOE and the government in these early days are captivating to say the least.
For whatever reasons, Foyle’s War was off the air in 2005, and the series resumed in 2006, for its fourth season. This season only produced two episodes, although they were both quite good. “Invasion” sees the arrival of American troops in Hastings, who are not made to feel 100% welcome. We are in March, 1942 at this point, and the U.S. has just entered the war in a big way after Pearl Harbor. The other Foyle’s War program for the fourth season was “Bad Blood,” which has some early-21st century parallels thanks to the use of anthrax in biological warfare experimentation.
Season five was also a two-episode affair, and initially aired in 2007. These are two more excellent installments though, without question. "Bleak Midwinter" is appropriately titled, as the show takes place during December of 1942. In this case, Foyle finds himself investigating the mysterious murder of a munitions worker. "Casualties of War" moves the story into 1943, and is one of the more intriguing of the lot. The situation involves more investigation into top secret weapons research, which is always creepy. The show also focuses on domestic events in Foyle's life, as his god-daughter and her young son unexpectedly come to stay with him. In 2007, viewers must have thought the series was over, as Foyle retires at the end of "Casualties of War."
The show did return in 2008 however, for its sixth season. The three episodes that comprise season six take place from April 1944 to May 1945. At first, it certainly appears that Foyle's decision was final, as we are introduced to his replacement. But things get mighty dicey in this one, and Foyle winds up solving not one but two murders. At the end of the show he has decided to put off his retirement until the end of the war.
"Broken Souls" finds Foyle in the middle of a strange situation with a former POW and a psychiatrist at a mental health institution. "All Clear" refers to the end of the war, VE Day, but that joyful event is marred by another murder.
Thankfully, the end of the war did not spell the end of Foyle's War. The three-episode seventh season takes place in the immediate post-war period of June to August 1945. It was originally transmitted during 2010. "The Russian House," "Killing Time," and "The Hide" continue the excellent, theatrical film level quality of the show in fine fashion.
Michael Kitchen does a marvelous job as Christopher Foyle throughout the series, and he gets wonderful support from his co-stars as well. Acorn has not skimped on the bonus features here either, as the set includes interview segments with the creator of the show, Anthony Horowitz and actors Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks. The making of pieces are also top notch.
Each of these "shows" are really individual movies, and are just the perfect thing for fans of British mysteries. Foyle's War is one of the finest shows of its kind, and Acorn have made this all-inclusive set available at a very reasonable price. I recommend this one without reservation.
Monday, January 21, 2013
An edited version of this article was first published as Music News: Black Sabbath to Release Their First Album with Ozzy in 35 Years on Blogcritics.