Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is Love Like a BBC Butterfly?

I talk a lot about my remembrances of when I was young and started to watch British television. It was a naïvely happy time of getting into something that would have a strong impact on my life. It was all new to me. I think most people who discovered a love and soon passion for this genre may have started out the same way but maybe took some different direction.

Being in the US, my love for British television started with Doctor Who. This is no revelation from me and I would guess that quite a few of the US viewers who got into British television via PBS would possibly have started the same way. I was only 9 years old or so when I got into yet but to think of a time without British television or Doctor Who in my life fills me with anxiety. Through these programs, I have experienced so much in my life that started with these programs. It’s a period of time when watching a favourite program transcended into meeting people and making lifelong friendships. It’s hard to believe that I started on this journey in 1984 and really got active in 1988. It’s just four years but at the time and even now it seems like there was a ten year gap between the time I started to watch these programs and when I got involved and started to meet people with like passions.
Love IS like a butterfly.

Who would have thought that a comedy series from 1978 would have been so instrumental in my love for all thinks British. What makes it so interesting is as a 9 or 10 year, there is much of this series that would have gone over my head. There are themes and scenarios that I wouldn’t have picked up on which are actually the basis for the series. These are not one-off plot points but actual over-riding arcs that go beyond the whole series. Yet, when I watched it, I loved it. It doesn’t answer the question of why?
Butterflies is a wonderful BBC series that ran from 1978 to 1983 taking some time off in-between to complete four stellar series. It’s written by Carla Lane. She created, amongst other things, the ground breaking series The Liver Birds. Butterflies stars Wendy Craig, Geoffrey Palmer, Andrew Hall, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Bruce Montague. The theme song was sung by Clare Torry which is a cover of the song “Love is Like a Butterfly” from Dolly Parton. Those are the basic facts yet these are the building blocks of what would put me on a road that has lead me to where I am today.

It’s really tough to peg Butterflies because I think it is more than a comedy but it’s not drama. Butterflies is about life crisis. From initial viewing, I think we could say that the life crisis just concerns Ria who is the mother of the family but I think you could put a life crisis for each character. Ria is middle aged and is suffering from a mid-life crisis. She is smart and creative. I think it must have been odd for viewing audiences to see a mother that is not so traditional, yet Ria tries. She tries to cook and fails. She lets her imagination run away with her which is actually an endearing quality. It’s sad because she tries and no one really listens or take her seriously. She is taken for granted.
Her husband Ben might be labelled as the “long-suffering husband” but when viewing this years after seeing it as a child, it is sometimes harsh to see how he treats her. He is not a mean person. He is more traditional in his ways but is frightened by the modernization his children bring into his life. He is generally a stick in the mud because he doesn’t know how to really say what is on his mind. He is a dentist and clearly has provided his family a comfortable middleclass lifestyle. This is enough that makes him believe that he should be treated with more respect. Ria can’t cook and it appears everyone woman in Ben’s life never could cook so maybe he has never had a good meal in his life. I think it is interesting that in the first episode of the series, Ben is a much harsher character in every way. He is written and played as a stereotypical husband who sits at the table demanding his food. He is rude and barks orders. When I was re-watching the episode for this article, I was in shock as that was not how I remembered him. Luckily, by Episode Two, he was much milder. He still was bad-tempered, uptight and grouchy but done more light-heartedly and humourous. More so, he was endearing. One could see why Ria fell in love with him. Oh, did I mention that his hobby is collecting butterflies? Hmmmm…..

The kids are Adam & Russell. They are not far a part in age and get along very well. They are a little older probably reaching around 18 to 20 and are good kids. They don’t have jobs which is a big problem for Ben. He sees what his children are doing is directly tying into the crumbling of the moral fiber of Britain. I think Ria is actually exhilarated by this because she can see that they both have the creativity and imagination that she has. She doesn’t want to grow up and I think she is envious of them to that so is Ben. That being said, the series really starts because of one man named Leonard enters into Ria’s life.
Leonard is in his mid-40s and has been recently divorced. As much as he seems like a nice guy, what he really wants to do is tempt Ria away from her family because he is infatuated with her. Ria meets Leonard in the first episode at a café. This is something I am not familiar with as we don’t do this in Minnesota but in this place, strangers will sit together at the same table at a restaurant. It’s odd to me but makes sense. This sort of thing also happens in LA and New York. There is a similar type scene in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. They strike up a conversation and it is clear they have a connection of sorts except that Ria is married. She gives the impression she is happily married but she does keep talking with Leonard.

Ria isn’t really the one to seek out Leonard, Leonard’s infatuation brings him to try a lot of things to get her to come around. It’s all done in a gentlemanly sort of way but he is pretty persistent. When he gets frustrated or storms off, Ria will often go after him. Leonard is a self-made man who does alright for himself. I am sure to Ria, he seems exciting and worldly. Ria accepts Ben for who is he but can’t help but to acknowledge how exciting it is to be pursued by someone else. It is clear she likes the attention.
Each episode of Series 1 has a plot to it but the main driving force of the episodes is the way that Leonard tries to stay in Ria’s life. It is interesting because after their first encounter at the café where Ria unknowingly flicked cigarette ash in Leonard’s trifle and spilled his coffee all over the place, she actually told Ben about it. After that, she doesn’t talk about Leonard to Ben again.

As mentioned above, another theme throughout the first series is how Russell and Ben have their differences. In the first episode, they haven’t spoken for a year. They only start talking again in Episode Two but then stop in Episode Three to start up again later. Adam and Russell mean no harm but they don’t always think which leads to them innocently breaking Ben’s butterfly net and other foolish things which is a problem.
There is a great bit of dialogue in Episode Two where Ria takes Ben’s butterfly catcher hat and puts it in the sofa pillow and has a conversation with it basically insinuating that it is basically like speaking with the real Ben. In this dialogue, she lets it go. She talks about how she wants to run through Harrods and shout Woolworths! By the time she gets to the end of the dialogue, she goes through what she wants to do for the week and ends it by saying on Friday she will kill herself. You never get the impression she means it but even so it is such a powerful statement because this bubbly woman who is doing the best she can with a family who intermittently communicates with each other is, in fact, very unhappy. Right before the cleaning lady comes into the living room, she exclaims, “I want to be raped!” It is such an interesting thing to hear being said from a mother and the star of the show.  It’s not too surprising.

The series is very smartly written. It is very funny and may have some serious moments to it, generally it is smartly written observational humor. I also loved all of the references to Butterflies as comparisons to the character’s lives. Here are some I picked up from Series 1:
Ria Parkinson: “Love is a funny old thing isn't it. We're all kids chasing butterflies”
[Ria makes actions to match what she says]
Ria Parkinson: “You see it... You want it... You grab it.”
[Ria looks at clutching hand, opening it slowly]
Ria Parkinson: “And there it is... all squashed in your hand”

In Episode Two they talk about “a bottle full of Butterflies.”

In a later episode, “Man dreaming like a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming as a man?”
Part of why I love this series and the productions from this era and this look is that I am a real big fan of interiors being shot on video and exteriors being shot on film. I love it! There is a great shot in Episode Two while Leonard and Ria are walking down a bust street in a market. No one else in that shot are actors and it shows. The film cameraman is in front of Ria and Leonard shooting them but the people behind Ria and Leonard are not sure if they should keep walking in the same direction, duck out of shot or just gawk. It’s magical! Some things are not quite so magical such as the disgusting food Ria makes in every episode. Ria can’t cook. Sometimes it looks so bad that when she is asked what it is, she can’t remember because it is no longer recognizable to her. Did Jack Kine’s group for BBC special effects make the food? Sometimes they actually have to eat it! Blah!

So, to get back to my original question above as to why this series had such a strong impact on me. When I was 9 or 10 and first started to watch Doctor Who, I started to become interested in all thing British which would last to this day. When I started to really get into Doctor Who, I wanted to watch more series from the BBC and started to watch anything that my local PBS station KTCA would show. Obviously, one of the first I would watch would be All Creatures Great and Small but Butterflies just so happened to be on at the time and I started to watch it.
I remember it would be on first at 10pm and then followed by another comedy series Brass. I never got into Brass and to this day have never seen it again. I remember while my Dad was away on a work trip, I watched the final episode of Butterflies in my parent’s bedroom and fell asleep. I will try not to overwhelm you with any more interesting stories like this.

I ended up loving everything about Butterflies when I first saw it at a young age. I loved the look of the house they lived in, how the phone would ring and even how the phone looked. I loved how Britain looked in the episodes and I loved Russell’s car which was painted as a Union Jack. I fell in love with the UK through this series. My love for the UK had never dwindled. Once in the late 1990s, I was very close to moving over there. I was working with a company that placed people at jobs over there. I was very close. I was packing my stuff, that’s how close I was. I was placed to work over there. Then I met someone and changed my mind. I, obviously, ended up staying here. Do I regret it? No. Is there a possibility that I may move out there someday? Maybe!
As I mentioned how I fell in love with every aspect of the series, I really loved the opening titles to Butterflies. The premise of the opening credits is a display case of the butterflies caught with the name of the series and the stars in it. I make that sound macabre. They are not pinned in there like specimens. They are very casual. The theme music is my favourite. It was written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton in 1974. The version for the BBC series was recorded by Claire Torry and it is easily my favourite rendition of it. It is more airy and whimsical. It is beautiful. Up to literally 1 day ago, I did not realize Claire recorded a full version of the song. I had only heard the version used in the opening and closing credits. Below is the version. It is wonderful. It was also very emotional for me to listen to this because it just opened up all sorts of wonderful memories of my youth. I never knew there was a full version so it was almost like finding a lost treasure!

Butterflies, as most other popular series, have been released many times on different home media formats. My favourite is probably the recent purchase I made from eBay which is the first four episodes of the series from BFS video……on beta! How cool! Like I don’t have enough crap in my house already.

At one time I made my own DVD covers for each series of Butterflies. See below, I prefer mine more but of course I would say that.

Finally, I work at an advertising agency where we sometimes have a fair amount of fun. Sometimes, if someone leaves their computer unlocked and walk away from it, someone else will get on it and type an e-mail to the whole agency (about 250+ people) looking like it came from the person who own that computer. Such e-mails could be sent from a guy’s computer saying something in the subject line like, “Do I look fat today?” As you can imagine, hilarity ensues. One day, my friend/co-worker Mike left his computer open and I couldn’t resist.
Sending to the whole agency from Mike, I put in the subject line, “Did you know…”

The body of the e-mail simply read:

“Love is like a butterfly
As soft and gentle as a sigh
The multicolored moods of love are like its satin wings
Love makes your heart feel strange inside
It flutters like soft wings in flight
Love is like a butterfly, a rare and gentle thing
I feel it when you're with me
It happens when you kiss me
That rare and gentle feeling that I feel inside
Your touch is soft and gentle
Your kiss is warm and tender
Whenever I am with you I think of butterflies

Love is like a butterfly
The multicolored moods of love are like its satin wings
Love makes your heart feel strange inside
It flutters like soft wings in flight
Love is like a butterfly, a rare and gentle thing
Your laughter brings me sunshine
Everyday is spring time
 And I am only happy when you are by my side
How precious is this love we share
How very precious, sweet and rare
Together we belong like daffodils and butterflies

Love is like a butterfly
As soft and gentle as a sigh
The multicolored moods of love are like its satin wings
Love makes your heart feel strange inside
It flutters like soft wings in flight
Love is like a butterfly, a rare and gentle thing
Love is like a butterfly, a rare and gentle thing”

As I can hear co-workers chuckle as they each open the e-mail, none of them knowing it came from me we get an e-mail from our CEO who simply says, “Thanks for letting us know Mike.”
I don’t think Mike ever knew it was from me.

Next week: How odd it was when I realised that I randomly picked something to watch on November 22 that had to do with the JFK assassination yet was made in the UK. Next week, I look at the 1966 Play of the Month installment Lee Oswald: Assassin. This is directed by Rudolph Cartier and was the first dramatization of anything regarding the events of the Kennedy assassination ever made. How did they do?
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Agatha Christie's Poirot Series 13

Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series 13
Available on Blu-ray (3-Disc) and DVD (5-Disc) 462 minutes.
Released by Acorn Media on November 4th, 2014. SRP $59.99 (Blu-ray) $59.99 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 16:9 DTS-HD 2.0 HD: 1080p

When I first started doing reviews for studios on this site, the very first review I ever did was for Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series 6. I had watched a few of the episodes before from the old A&E releases but it was kind of hard to know what was released and in which order they were supposed to be watched. I would occasionally grab a few discs from the library to watch them but that was it. When I had a chance to review Series 6 of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, I was immediately intrigued because the series was getting a re-release from Acorn Media. What was happening was that all the previously released volumes were going to get a new release but this time not only would we get these in the UK broadcast order but they would go back to the original film elements and give us a Blu-ray release too. I very recently gushed about another release that had a lot of HD care given to it.
I can’t help but to think of when I was writing my first review as I am now about to write the final review for my favorite Belgium detective Hercule Poirot. Series 13 is the final series of this amazing program that began in 1989. I like to talk about definitive versions of a character and David Suchet playing Poirot is easily to me the most definitive. Over the course of 25 years, we got to get to know this detective and actually see how television has changed over this period of time yet Poirot himself always stayed the same. I have written a lot about the final series of this program, mainly over on my column on DVDTalk, Brit-streaming, but I still have much to say.

I am always curious how TV series end their run. I have said elsewhere that the greatest achievement a series can attain is being able to end its run on its own terms. When a series can have a final episode, it is a great achievement. I am not a big film buff. This may not come as a shock to anyone but most of the stuff I watch is British television. It is amazing that I can watch something like Agatha Christie’s Poirot which is virtually a feature film in every episode. Agatha Christie’s Poirot has given us a tradition of amazing locale plus some very wonderful recreations of England if not Europe of the time.
The final run take up 5 episodes. I feel like for a few series that Agatha Christie’s Poirot had lost its way a little but the last few series have been phenomenally enjoyable to me. This series has been very strong with some great stories and some beautiful locations.

The favorite of this set of episodes for me is The Labours of Hercules. Don’t let the title fool you. As it happens, this is the last episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot that I had seen. I opted to watch Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case first since I was really curious how closely it followed the novelization. The Labours of Hercules is visually stunning. This point alone made it so enjoyable to watch. It takes Poirot to the Swiss Alps where there is murder. It tangentially is linked to something that Poirot did 3 months earlier which ended in disaster. He did not travel to the Alps to continue this investigation but he was called into action and it was too irresistible for him to pass up. What is very interesting is with this being the last new episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot that I had seen, I actually guessed the murderer quite early on which shows I have passed the Agatha Christie School of Mystery just in time as the series ended.
As it happens, my least favorite episode in this set is the final episode Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. The novel is an oddity which makes the episode an oddity. As I have written in other places, Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case was published in 1975 but was written in the 1940s. This was originally written during World War II. Agatha Christie as well as manly who lived in the UK feared for their lives during the war. There was a constant fear of invasion or just death. Christie wanted to have a proper end for her Belgium detective and wrote this novel and had it locked away until she felt the time was right for the novel to be published or possibly until after her death. Agatha Christie died in 1976 though she gave her permission for the novel to be published in 1975. Her final novel she wrote of Poirot was Elephants Can Remember in 1972. The novel for Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case itself is a bit of a curiosity since it was written in the 1940s and before it was published there were many more Poirot novels, this story makes no reference to them because they weren’t written yet.

In this final episode, Poirot himself is aged and riddled with arthritis. He is wheel chaired bound but there is more going on than he is saying. His oldest friend Captain Hasting visits him and as it happens, they are at Styles Manor House which is where they solved their first murder together. Such happy memories! The final episode is very stark with the color of all scenes slightly muted. It is actually very sad but a fitting end to a wonderful series. That being said, I much remember him in other episodes where he is more like his old self such as the The Big Four.
The Big Four is quite the powerhouse episode. The story is about a group of people who have enough power and influence that they have influence over everything. This is on the edge of England entering World War II. Of course nothing is as it seems. This is such a fascinating episode and looks beautiful. The best part, for me, is that we see the original characters together again one last time. Most of the episode focuses on Poirot and Japp which is such a treat to watch. We also see the return of Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon. This is the last time that they are all together in Agatha Christie’s Poirot. As cool as it is to see them, it is just one more reminder that we are nearing the end of the series.

The last two stories of the set are good (after all, they all are good) but not as strong. They also have one character that is not a favorite of mine but kept showing up in the novels. Ariadne Oliver. She is in Elephants Can Remember and Dead Man’s Folly. Don’t get me wrong, these episodes are good but I am not a fan of Ariadne’s character or is it how she is played by Zoe Wanamaker? Though, I will admit that she has slowly been growing on me over the past few series. Plus, it could be worse, Ariadne was played by Jean Stapleton in the Peter Ustinov Poirot films!
Elephants Can Remember is a good episode where Poirot does not have time to take part in a line of inquiry that Ariadne needs to pursue in conjunction to a murder of her goddaughter’s parents many years ago. It’s an unsolved mystery that she wants solved! It is only when Poirot finds a link between what she is doing and his case does he become interested. Although Ariadne is no Poirot, she does a decent job of gathering clues based on her investigation. Then again, she should since Ariadne was a mystery novelist just like Agatha Christie. The episode features Iain Glen who is the star of another series released by Acorn Media Jack Taylor but many will recognize him from Game of Thrones.

Dead Man’s Folly features Ariadne getting invited to devise a “murder hunt” for a fete at a country home. Ariadne has a feeling that someone is going to be murdered at this event and she sends for Poirot to come down to help her. Does a murder happen? Well, it is an Agatha Christie mystery! I was thrilled to see that this episode features Sean Pertwee who had a major role in Cadfael and is currently Alfred in Gotham. He is also the son of Jon Pertwee. The episode also features Sinead Cusack and Martin Jarvis.
Something that really struck me about these stories, with perhaps the exception of Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, is that these stories are multi-layered and complex. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the episodes that took place between Series 7-9 as they all seemed 1 dimensional but these episodes are complex. One part of the plot or some characters seem to go away or blend into the background and suddenly they come back at the end of an episode in a big way. It’s easy to forget about them. These are really sharp, well made episodes. This is a really strong way for a series to go out. I have watched these final episodes many times now and these are still very entertaining.

These episodes look great. Unlike the episodes I reviewed for Series 6 a few years ago, these were made in HD and presented that way. It is very nice to have the entire collection of Agatha Christie’s Poirot on Blu-ray. This is a series that benefits from it especially when seeing all of the amazing locations.

There are a couple of extras on this set. There is a photo gallery and there is 19 min interview with David Suchet. This interview is pretty good and David really comes off as a generous and nice person. I enjoyed listening to him talk about how well he knew Poirot and everything he did to prepare himself to take on the role. It is very fascinating. The problem with this is that the feature is not put together very well. Each question in the interview is a title card with way too much black between the card and footage of Suchet and comes off as a bit amateur which is too bad as that is not how Acorn normally do things.

I feel that this set is missing an extra that has showed up on the Agatha Christie’s Poirot Complete Cases Collection. There is a documentary on the set titled Being Poirot. This aired on ITV just as the final episode of the series aired. I thought this was a shoe-in to be on the Series 13 set because a.) it is a nice documentary for fans of the series that have been loyally buying these sets and b.) there seems to be some kind of precedence as the documentary David Suchet on the Orient Express was included on the Series 12 set. There is also plenty of room for the documentary as this is a 3-disc set. Instead this is reserved as an exclusive on the Complete Cases Collection. I am not a fan of this decision and I think it is too bad it is being omitted.  Maybe someday a disc of this will be available for the fans who did not but the Complete Cases Collection to have for their own.

The one thing that has stayed consistent with the run of Agatha Christie’s Poirot releases is that they have smart covers and pleasant looking packaging. Of course it’s the contents on the inside that is most important but I love the “whole package” which is why even the covers are important to me.

Blu-ray Breakdown:

Disc 1: Elephants Can Remember, The Big Four
Disc 2: Dead Man’s Folly, The Labours of Hercules

Disc 3: Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, Interview with David Suchet

For further reading, I go into greater detail of two of these episodes on my column on DVDTalk:

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

It is difficult to say farewell. The whole time watching Series 13, I knew that the series was coming to an end. Agatha Christie’s Poirot has been an amazing series made memorable by David Suchet playing that wonderful little Belgium detective. Bon! Even with the issues I have with the extras, I still consider this set highly recommended.
Next week: Love is like a butterfly. Some of my earliest memories of watching British comedy on PBS is this little gem called Butterflies. It’s amazing how much of this comedy’s subject matter went over my head when I was a child!

Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Miss Marple Volume 1

Miss Marple: Volume One
Available on Blu-ray (2-Disc) and DVD (3-Disc) 527 minutes.
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on October 28, 204. SRP $44.98 (Blu-ray) $39.98 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 4:3 DTS-HD 1.0  HD: 1080p

There is something really special about Miss Marple. By that I mean the 1980s television series that was a co-production between the BBC, Network Seven and A&E Networks. I just got done with another review where I lament the passing of the original A&E (Arts & Entertainment Network) years ago. Back in the day for people like us who adore British television, this network was a godsend. I suppose it is now that to people who love reality TV which I am not a part of at all.
There is something wonderful about a classic series to get a release in any format but it is more of an event when that series is treated to lavish care such as the first volume of the Miss Marple mysteries on Blu-ray and also DVD. I was fortunate enough to be sent the Blu-ray to review and as I posted weeks ago on this site, the image and picture detail are simply amazing. This is one of those occasions as I watch this series and simply cannot believe my eyes and am so fortunate to be watching this beautiful production re-mastered. I tuch more on the restoration later but let’s start literally at the beginning.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Miss Marple was created by Agatha Christie in 1926 in a short story titled The Tuesday Night Club in The Sketch magazine. Her first full novel was The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930. For those who do not now, Miss Marple is an amateur detective who has keen instincts in solving murder. What makes her so wonderful is that she is this elderly lady who is very unassuming which normally gets people to think she is not a factor but is in fact a very intelligent woman. She is often the bane of the police’s existence but very soon they are all trying to get her opinion or help because inevitably, they all know that she is right.
Miss Marple novels continued to be published until 1976 with Sleeping Murder. It’s interesting though since Sleeping Murder has a couple of similarities to Poirot’s final novel, Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. Sleeping Murder was written in 1940 but not published until 1976. In fact, this novel was written posthumously after Christie’s death. The novel published before it was Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case which also was written in the 1940s but held until near her death. She wrote that in the 1940s as she was frightened she may not live through the war but wanted an actual end for her Belgium detective.

Over the years, many women had played Miss Marple. There never was a definitive version that Christie really liked. It was when Joan Hickson was in the play Appointment with Death that Agatha Christie sent her a note, "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.” Although Christie would never see this happen in her lifetime, it did happen which is what we are reviewing today.
I will admit that I had only started watching anything Miss Marple with the ITV series Agatha Christie’s Marple starring Geraldine McEwan and later Julia McKenzie. I liked that series for a lot of different reasons but I had been wanting to get my hands on this version for some time. I got a hold of the Joan Hickson version on DVD recently and started to watch it. I was amazed by what I saw.

To start with, Joan Hickson was 78 when she took the role of Miss Marple. The thing that struck me as I watched these episodes was that Joan plays the role very vanilla. It sounds like I am being rude to her but actually I think this is quite the compliment. She blends into the background. It is almost easy to forget she is there. Then, suddenly she comes to life but only when she feels the time is right. It’s almost like she is not the star of her own series. She is gracious. She almost plays it like Miss Marple is sure of her instincts and hunches but yet is sometimes a little shy to always speak her mind. She is not overbearing in any way. She is very comforting. Don’t agree or don’t believe me? Watch how Hickson plays the role any time someone gives Miss Marple any kind of compliment. She gushes a little in embarrassment as if it is difficult to accept a compliment. I think Joan does a very complex job in this role and I loved every minute of watching her.
What we get in this first volume (of 3) Blu-ray are the following episodes: The Murder at the Vicarage, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger, and A Murder is Announced. These episodes make up the first set of episodes aired on the BBC from 1984 to 1986. It appears these episodes are presented in publication order rather than broadcast order and I am not too sure what I think of that. I am pretty much a purist to have series put into the proper broadcast order but I know this will not be a problem for 99% of the Earth’s population. In this case it’s the episodes that count plus I don’t think there are any continuity problems with this.

There is a lot of period drama/television being made these days. I would agree that much of this is good. Looking at Downton Abbey takes place roughly around the same period of these episodes or certainly Agatha Christie’s Poirot. I know for example an amazing series like Foyle’s War on many occasions enlisted the help of computer technology to paint out traffic signs on the road or modern street lights. When this iteration of Miss Marple was made, none of that technology was available to help out like it does today. It was real locations, which needed to be converted into the locations of the time. Television is not made this way anymore. This is not me moaning about technology, it is me also moaning about pacing and development. Most of these episodes apart from The Murder at the Vicarage are 2 to 3 episodes in length.
Does this always work to the story’s advantage? Usually yes but I will admit that sometimes things take too long to develop just not often. That being said, there are great shots of people riding bicycles on country roads entering villages or people walking against beautiful backgrounds. I feel that this series of Miss Marple is one of the last vestiges of this type of television. Of course, my disclaimer to all of this is that this doesn’t mean I dislike the series I mentioned above, in fact the opposite. It’s just that it is easy to be reminded of this amazing style of BBC television which is kind of a lost art. Sometimes, it feels like we don’t get a ton of Miss Marple in the episodes. Most of the time, we are watching an Inspector such as Detective Inspector Slack (David Horovitch) or Detective Inspector Craddock (John Castle) interviewing suspects, trying to figure it out. They run into Miss Marple only for her to tell them something that throws everything out the window.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the series is the opening credits and theme music. It might be one of my favorites in all of British television. The open credits is made up of black & white (later to become color) illustrations of “Agatha Christiesque” stereotypical characters in positions that show us some of the more questionable sides of human kind. Shadowy figures at a church, two women outside a shop talking quietly to each other probably spreading gossip about other people in the village, a woman peering out of a window and, of course, a body. The best part is the theme music that once you hear it, it never leaves you. Ever. It is the type of tune that can be simple, with few instruments or it can also be grand in scale. It features in most of the incidental music. Parts of the theme are incorporated in a ton of the music. It is so cohesive that there is no doubt what you are watching. I would love a full soundtrack of this music. It is superb.
As for the episodes on this set. I will be honest, I am not an aficionado of the literary works of Agatha Christie especially where Miss Marple is concerned. I love the stories and characters and I also know that with the ITV series some liberties were taken including adapting some of Agatha Christie’s other work and shoehorning Miss Marple into it. With the BBC Miss Marple series from the 1980s, it is very clear that this is going to be a pretty close adaptation of this classic series. A lot of talented people have worked on this series yet I feel like Joan Hickson wouldn’t have bothered with this series if it wasn’t as true to the original source material as possible. I have no grounding in this information; it is not factual yet I would like to believe this based on no evidence whatsoever.

I love all the stories on this set yet a couple really jump out at me. I love The Murder at the Vicarage for a couple of reasons. First of all, you only need to read my reviews on Midsomer Murders to know how much I love mysteries that include religious institutions such as nuns, priests or churches. I am fascinated by that. That being said, if you want a great mystery set in a Nunnery, check out the Armchair Theatre story Quiet as a Nun, it is excellent. Anyway, another reason I adore The Murder at the Vicarage is that Paul Eddington plays the Reverend Leonard Clement. Paul will always have a special place in my heart for his iconic characters in The Good Life and of course, Yes, Minister.
The other story that is a great stand out for me is A Murder is Announced. It is such a great premise that Agatha Christie would make uniquely her own are the plot points of someone announcing a murder in the local paper and the local folks actually show up to see if the murder happens. Its tremendous fun. This episode features a very young Samantha Bond, a very little of David Collings but a marvelous performance from Joan Simms. I think Joan Simms was an underrated actress that I think was overshadowed by her role in the Carry On films. She is great in all of those but a performance like this is really solid. She could always do a myriad of different types of characters and it was a joy to see her turn up in this.

I felt that The Moving Finger was a bit ploddy. To me, it was one of those stories that I mentioned that felt like it had little of Miss Marple in it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad at all, I just was finding myself getting bored by it.

As I mentioned above, the highlight for me is the fact that this release has been lovingly restored. If you have read articles on my site for a while, you know how much of an activist I am for this sort of thing. Many of us have been spoiled by the work on the Doctor Who DVDs but I am thrilled to see that it has been extended to other series such as Miss Marple. I can try to explain why I think this looks so good but I feel it is much more important to let the pictures speak for themselves. A restoration like this is almost akin to having cataracts every time I watched this series and one day they were removed. The detail, colors, villages, the greenery in the country are gorgeous. The production looks so fresh and vibrant. To say I am happy would be a complete understatement.  
A few weeks ago, as a teaser I posted some comparison pics and just a general amount of delicious looking HD screengrabs from this release which can be seen here. Much to my surprise and honor the folks who did the restoration, BBC Studios & Post Production, got in touch with me to let me know they did the restoration and asked if I could put a link to their site in my review. You don’t have to ask me twice! You can visit their sit here  where there is more information on the restoration of Miss Marple.

The color grading was done by Jonathan Wood and if you follow restoration and coloring of British television, his name should come as no surprise. He has done a lot of work on Doctor Who releases and others with his team such as The Sweeney, The Professionals, House of Cards, The Persuaders, The Goodies, and Space: 1999 among others. The thing about the restoration is that it allows us to see these episodes the way the creators intended them to be seen.
I think it is very easy (if not ignorant) to accept the film we see from a BBC production prior to going back to any source material as the way it was intended to be seen. I don’t mean just Miss Marple but think about anything you have seen from the BBC that had either film inserts or even full episodes on film. Prior to any sort of re-mastering, most of the film looks flat with colors crushed; almost like the productions were going through the motions of getting the shots in the can. The re-transferred film inserts from the 1980s Doctor Who episodes shows us how much work went into creating these shots but were lost due to poor telecine technology at the time the programs were originally made. I should have made this connection before but Miss Marple, as she often does, showed me the way. Watching the un-remastered SD versions of the DVDs before this Blu-ray came out, they just look like television shot on film; nothing remarkable about it. Re-mastered though, there are great treasures for us to discover in each episode. We see how blue Miss Marple’s eyes are and we see the depth of shadow and color in every scene. Just watch the opening of The Murder at the Vicarage. Even in the opening when Paul Eddington’s character is walking through the interior of the church. There are wonderful shadows and even more with the light shining through the stain-glass windows on him as he is walking in the church. It is beautiful. As a geek of British television and restoration, I just want to say thank you for the work that has gone into this release.  

There is one interesting extra in this set. It’s called A Very British Murder: Part One The New Taste for Blood. It’s a 3 part series that originally aired on BBC Four in 2013 and is presented by Dr. Lucy Worsley. I have to admit that when I started to watch it, I didn’t think it was going to be any good. I was wrong. It is actually quite good and informative. It’s a series that chronicles how murder became popularized in the UK by the media and this first episode examines this from the 1800’s before the Metropolitan Police formed and what this affect had on the people of London. Murder that happened during this period spawned songs and plays based on the real murders that took place. This was the start of what we would eventually read in books and watch on TV and film. Dr. Worsley is very interesting as she not only presents but has a massive hand in telling the story. A very surprising extra and I am looking forward to the other two installments.

Disc Breakdown:
Disc 1: The Murder at the Vicarage (Feature-length episode), The Body in the Library (3 episodes)
Disc 2: The Moving Finger (2 episodes), A Murder is Announced (3 episodes), Extra: A Very British Murder Part One.

If you have not seen this series in a while or you have been waiting to pick it up, now is the time to do so. This is the perfect combination between amazing story telling and beautiful visuals. If you feel like you have seen enough of the series with the 21st century episodes, do yourself a favor and check these out. I love different variations to beloved characters but some are the definitive versions for me. Joan Hickson as Miss Marple is the definitive version and should not be missed. This Blu-ray set is Highly Recommended.
Next Review: Why stop with the Agatha Christie series? We say farewell to my favorite, the wonderful Hercule Poirot in my review of the Series 13 Blu-ray set from Acorn Media.

Next week: We haven’t had an article about a randomly chosen TV series in a while. After all, that is why this site exists! We will be taking a fond look back at Series 1 of the wonder comedy Butterflies!
Have a great week!

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