George Gently, Series 5 Blu-ray delivers great video and solid audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
In the fifth series of this British police drama set in Northeast England in the 1960s, an old London case of Chief Inspector Gently's resurfaces, with dire consequences.
For more about George Gently, Series 5 and the George Gently, Series 5 Blu-ray release, see George Gently, Series 5 Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on May 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Anyone watching the current season of Mad Men is learning (or being reminded) that 1968 was a
tough year in America. While the previous year, 1967, had seen the so-called "Summer of Love",
1968 brought the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, an
intensification of violence involving the civil rights movement, escalating demonstrations against
the Vietnam War and the spectacle of demonstrators and cops battling during the Democratic
National Convention in Chicago in what would be later termed "a police riot".
Across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom was experiencing similar shocks, and they are vividly
on display in the fifth series of George Gently, which is the first since Series 2 to contain four
episodes instead of two. In these episodes, first shown on British TV last year, the incorruptible
chief inspector faces some of his toughest cases yet in a landscape that is changing so rapidly that
men of his age can barely keep up. As if the present weren't challenging enough, a case from
Gently's past returns and old enemies he thought he'd left behind in London reach out seeking to
destroy him in his new home.
Series 5.1: "Gently Northern Soul" (Aug. 26, 2012) 5/5
In 1968, the British Parliament debated and eventually passed a landmark Race Relations Act
that, among other things, prohibited discrimination in housing. The most publicized opposition
was expressed by politician Enoch Powell, whose public address on April 20, 1968, denouncing
the Act came to be known as the "Rivers of Blood" speech. Part of the speech is heard on TV and
radio during the course of "Gently Northern Soul", and it provides an important element of the
explosive context for a case that pulls Gently and Bacchus into the era's most volatile issue.
The body of Dolores Kenny (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is found by the roadside in an area
frequented by prostitutes. She was killed by a blow to the head. Bacchus immediately assumes
that Dolores was a working girl, but she turns out to be a respectable young woman with a job
and a family. Her father, Ambrose Kenny (Eamonn Walker), served in the RAF during World
War II, and her brother, Joseph (Gary Carr), is a student. Dolores was a regular at all-night dance
parties organized by a promoter, Gary Watts (Craig Conway), at venues such as the Carlton
Ballroom in Newcastle where young people gather, dance and trade records. Dolores was
last seen attending one of these functions with her best friend, Carol Morford (Lenora Crichlow).
Chief Inspector Gently (Martin Shaw) and Sergeant Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) are accustomed to
sorting through lies in a murder investigation, but the fact that Dolores was black adds a whole
new dimension to the case. A story appears almost immediately in the press announcing that a
black prostitute was found murdered, and the report is traced to a proudly racist landlady named
Matilda Braithwaite (Maggie O'Neill). (The sign in her windows says, "No Blacks. No Irish. No
Dogs.") Gary Watts turns out to be the son of a local hoodlum, Bernie Watts (John Bowler), who
also heads a white supremacy group—which begs the question of what Gary is doing organizing
"northern soul" gatherings and hitting on pretty black women who attend them, including
Dolores. And Gary's brother, Charlie (Philip Correia), a DJ at these dance parties, may have
been more than casually acquainted with the dead girl.
In the charged atmosphere of 1968, even Dolores' funeral becomes the occasion for a vicious
racial confrontation, and another victim is added to the toll. By the time Gently and Bacchus have
unraveled the tangled skein of motives and events, they are faced with an armed standoff
between two sides that have both suffered grievous losses. There's no more dangerous place for a
peacekeeper to be.
Series 5.2: "Gently with Class" (Sept. 2, 2012) 4.5/5
The English ambivalence toward their aristocracy is at the heart of "Gently with Class", which
begins with the discovery of the body of a young woman, Ellen Mallam (Ebony Buckle), who
drowned in a wrecked auto overturned in a river. The car is one of many registered to Lord
Blackstone (Roger Lloyd-Pack), owner of a massive estate and father to James Blackstone
(James Norton), whom Bacchus has twice arrested for drunk driving. Each time, the charge has
miraculously disappeared, and Bacchus has been reprimanded for harassing a son of the nobility.
Lord Blackstone, who goes informally by "Hector", seems forthcoming, but his wife, Lady
Alethea Blackstone (Geraldine Somerville), is an imperious iceberg, who lives up to the evil
reputation with which Bacchus has painted the entire family in his account to Gently. Both
parents insist their son had nothing to do with the accident, although, when interviewed, James
sports a suspiciously recent gash on his forehead, for which his explanation (a household mishap)
As it turns out, Ellen Mallam was no stranger to the Blackstone estate. Her father, Billy
(Christopher Fairbank), lives and works on the estate as a groundskeeper, and she had long been
a friend (and possibly more) to James. A talented singer and violinist, she performed in a folk
music band with Anthony Baugh (Nick Hendrix), a poor boy in whom the Blackstones have taken
an interest and put through school. As Gently and Bacchus interview various witnesses, and their
accounts play in flashbacks, it becomes clear that Ellen was blessed with both beauty and a
passionate nature that lit up the room, whether she was performing or simply talking with friends.
When she sang, everyone stared. Even Lord Blackstone sometimes joined his son in attending
Bacchus is so angry at the prospect of James getting away for a third time that he's blinded to
inconsistencies in the evidence (some of which he tampers with). Gently has the cooler head as
usual, but even he can do little in the face of a such a tightly knit group as long as their unity
holds. Patience works in the chief inspector's favor, however. Tensions on the Blackstone estate
eventually crack the facade, and the truth spills out, first in drops, then a flood.
Series 5.3: "The Lost Child" (Sept. 9, 2012) 4.5/5
Gently is peacefully fishing on his day off, when he is urgently summoned to the station for the
1960s equivalent of an "AMBER alert". An infant, Faith Groves, has been snatched from her crib
in the home of her adoptive parents, Stephen and Frances (Mark Gatiss and Helen Baxendale),
and every available officer is needed to aid in the search.
The Groves appear to be in shock. Childhood sweethearts, they were separated for many years
when Stephen left to fight in World War II. He returned from the Far East in 1946 to a joyful
union and the promise of a beautiful life—and the promise was mostly fulfilled, except that
Frances suffered repeated miscarriages, depriving the couple of any chance at a family. In their
forties, they turned to an adoption charity run by Esther Dunwoody (Allison Steadman) and her
assistant, Hazel Joyce (Faye Castelow). Miss Dunwoody provides shelter and pre-natal care for
young, unwed mothers, then places their babies with suitable parents. All of these services are
provided without charge. Miss Dunwoody's facilities are funded by donations from grateful
recipients of her services.
As is so often the case in George Gently, the beneficent surface covers a thicket of twisted
secrets. As Gently and Bacchus dig further, the suspects in Baby Faith's disappearance multiply
at an alarming rate. Both parents are possibilities, as are the birth mother, the biological father,
another couple interested in adopting the baby, enemies from the past and a mystery man in a
blue car who may be one of several people. Before the investigation is finished, new information
will emerge about Esther Dunwoody's charitable organization, and she and her assistant will
have a memorable falling out in front of a prospective pair of adoptive parents.
The complicated relationship of parent and child has special resonance for the divorced Sgt.
Bacchus, because the case occurs during a weekend when his young daughter, Leigh Ann (Katie
Anderson), is visiting. Forced to work unexpected hours, Bacchus must leave Leigh Ann with his
father, Peter (Tony Haygarth), whom we meet in this episode for the first time. John and Peter
Bacchus do not have an easy relationship. A retired miner, Peter exhibits the stereotypical British
laborer's disdain for anyone who earns his living wearing a suit and tie. Deep down, though, he's
most concerned about the impact of his son's divorce on his granddaughter, even if his manner of
expression is less than tactful. "You were never much as a son, but you are a spectacularly
useless dad", he tell Bacchus when the detective drops off Leigh Ann, but later regrets his
remarks enough to run after his son to tell him that he's proud he made detective. Bacchus shrugs at
the remark, but by the end of the episode, it means a lot to him.
Series 5.4: "Gently in the Cathedral" (Sept. 16, 2012) 5/5
In the most dramatic and personal episode since the series pilot, ghosts from Gently's former life
in London reach out to ensnare him. It begins with two apparently unconnected events: the
disappearance of a local gangster, Ernie Rivers (John Raine), and the death under mysterious
circumstances of a Durham constable, PC Gavin Henderson (Lee Armstrong). Four months later,
Gently receives word that a career criminal he helped put away for thirty years, Melvyn Rattigan
(Ralph Brown), wants to see him at the Durham Penitentiary. Rattigan makes vague threats, and
soon enough Gently is besieged by reporters asking questions about "newly discovered" evidence
confirming Rattigan's claim that Gently fabricated the case against him. Worse, bank records
suddenly materialize indicating that Gently was "on the take" for Rattigan, but turned on him when
Rattigan wouldn't pay more.
It cannot be a coincidence that, at just this moment, Sgt. Bacchus receives an invitation from the
London Met's Serious Crime Squad to apply for exactly the kind of position that Bacchus has
always wanted. There's just one catch, though. Would Bacchus be so helpful as to snoop
discreetly through Gently's logs and notes for evidence that would tie Gently to Ernie Rivers'
disappearance and PC Henderson's death? Bacchus can hardly believe that his trusted "guv'nor"
of the last four years has been corrupt all this time, but he also can't discount the evidence that
the officers from the Met are showing him. And Bacchus has always suspected that his boss's
accounts of the Met's corruption are wildly exaggerated.
With Bacchus' loyalty compromised, Gently must seek other allies. One of them is an old friend,
Gitta Bronson (Diana Quick from Brideshead
Revisited), a successful barrister, who handled
Rattigan's defense and never believed his wild tales of Gently's corruption. Another is an old
friend from London, Kieran McGhee (Kevin Whately, Inspector Lewis himself), retired now
formerly Gently's superior. McGhee warns Gently that bigger players than Rattigan are involved
and to watch his back.
It's unsettling to see the stalwart inspector spend so much time fleeing the authorities and on the
wrong side of the law. By the end of the episode, all of the wrongdoers have been exposed and
punished, but the rehabilitation of Gently's reputation is far from complete. The title refers to the
Durham Cathedral, a majestic structure that is one of Gently's favorite places to visit. It also
turns out to be an excellent spot for an ambush.
Acorn Media has changed their approach to video encoding with the most recent releases of
George Gently. Previous releases (that is, Series
1, 3 and 4) have been issued with two episodes
per disc (each episode is approximately 90 minutes long) on BD-50s. Series 2 and 5, which are
being released simultaneously, have the same amount of content per disc, but the discs are BD-25s. Acorn has achieved excellent images with their
releases of Midsomer Murders using this
arrangement, and they apparently have decided to try the same approach with George Gently.
Does it work? For Series 5, yes—but only because Series 5 is the first series of George Gently to
be encoded at 1080p. At
1080p, using the AVC codec, the digitally acquired episodes of George Gently are able to withstand this level of
compression without acquiring noise or other artifacts. The image for Series 5 retains the same
sharp level of detail and clean focus that is evident on the previously released episodes. Black
levels are solid and true, which is essential for Gently's consistently muted color palette. (For
flashbacks, colors become slightly more saturated.) One has to wonder why Acorn, which charges
a premium price for what is supposed to be a premium product, is cutting corners with disc
capacity, but in Series 5 of George Gently, they have managed to get away with it.
Series 2 is another matter, but I will address
that in a separate review.
Having previously encoded George Gently's audio as PCM, Acorn Media has now switched to
DTS-HD MA 2.0. From the listener's point of view, the difference in lossless formats is moot,
because the track continues to provide the same basic and functional mix, emphasizing dialogue
and essential effects. As on previous episodes, there is a general sense of environmental
ambiance, but otherwise nothing special from the surrounds and no major work for a subwoofer.
Philip Appleby (A Most Mysterious Murder) scored "Gentley Northern Soul" and "Gently with
Class", while John E. Keane (Tales of the City) scored "The Lost Child" and "Gently in the
Behind the Scenes (disc 2; 1080p; 1.78:1; 3:03): This short featurette relates to episode
5.4, "Gently in the Cathedral", and was taped on location in and around Durham
Cathedral. It contains sufficient potential spoilers that it should not be viewed until after
the episode. The best part is seeing Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby out of character,
because the actors are so different from Gently and Bacchus. (Note: Although the video is
nominally 1080p, it appears to be upconverted from standard definition.)
Additional Trailers: At startup disc 1 plays trailers for Single-Handed and Foyle's War.
These can be skipped with the chapter forward button and are not otherwise available
once the disc loads.
For five series now, the quality of the writing, acting and production in George Gently has
remained consistently first-rate. On the strength of Series 5, a sixth series was ordered, which is
set to air in Britain this fall. Presumably, the first order of business will be picking up the many
loose threads that remain after "Gently in the Cathedral", but we'll just have to wait and see.
Series 5 is as good as crime dramas come. Highly recommended.
Blu-ray.com and Acorn Media are offering four members an opportunity to win a Blu-ray copy of George Gently, Series 5 or Series 2, both of which star Martin Shaw as the British inspector. Both series, along with a Series 1-4 Collection box set, arrive on Blu-ray ...
Acorn Media has detailed the Blu-ray release of George Gently: Series 5 and George Gently: Series 2, each of which features four mysteries, uncompressed audio and several extras. Both sets will be available for purchase online and in stores across the nation on ...
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