Oh, those British crime dramas! Every time I get hooked on another series, it reinforces the difference in perspective and quality between UK and US productions. Most of the shows produced in the US seem glossier, more fantasy than reality, while the UK gives us gritty, intelligent dramas that force us to pay attention. Some British crime dramas make my very favorite American shows pale in comparison.
The May 25 release of George Gently (Series 2) is the latest in my collection of UK crime shows. It’s a period piece, taking place in the 1960’s. How mod! The sixties certainly offer ripe pickings, and George Gently delves into sex-clubs, politics, gangs, and a huge shift in mores. This boxed set includes four feature length (89 minutes) episodes that comprise the second season (or series) which appeared on British TV in 2009. Special features included are text interviews with Martin Shaw (George Gently) and Lee Ingleby (Sgt. Bacchus), production notes from Johann Knobel (producer), and historical facts about 1964.
Title character George Gently is a former Scotland Yard detective who finds himself tracking murderers in Britain’s North Country with the assistance of an “impulsive, young protégé, Sergeant Bacchus” who “tests nearly all of his patience.” While Bacchus does, indeed, test Gently’s patience, the reverse is also true.
George Gently recreates the ambience of 1964 so well that at times one forgets that this is not a program that was made in 1964. It’s not just a question of “look,” but also of attitudes; it has a genuine feel for that time period and honors it, down to the minutiae presented in passing comments. What distinguishes George Gently from that generation of shows is the treatment of subject matters, such as abortion and the sexual abuse of children, that wouldn’t have been considered appropriate topics for entertainment back in the day.
This is a show for fans of mysteries and puzzles; it employs classic detection techniques to solve crimes. In each episode, the viewer does not know who committed the crime (murder, of course), and there is a complex landscape of clues, hints, and innuendo that must be navigated. Because DNA, as well as much of current technology, was not a tool available to investigators in 1964, forensics are virtually primitive. In one episode, blood type matching the victim is found on a suspect’s shirt—blood type! This may be one of the reasons George Gently is so enjoyable; it features an “old-fashioned” story with modern themes. (Heaven, help me! Am I really referring to 1964—which was only yesterday—as “old-fashioned”?)
Another reason George Gently is so enjoyable is the cast. Martin Shaw is perfect as the beleaguered Gently, a man who has seen and experienced so much that he no longer judges or stereotypes. Bacchus, his sergeant, is self-righteous and idealistic, a man who believes there is a bold line separating right and wrong; he clings to his social stereotypes, reluctantly learning that there are many shades of gray. His sometimes stodgy views clash with the changing morality of the sixties. Lee Ingleby brings life and credibility to what could have been a two-dimensional character.
Notably, most of the themes in George Gently shift in and out of various gray areas. As in life, there is no happy ending; what’s happy for some will not be happy for all. Some criminals go unpunished, some evil people profit from their deeds, and moral dilemmas are troubling. Because George Gently succeeds so well at putting a human face on the issues on which it focuses, some of the stories are disturbing. All are thought-provoking.
Despite suspending disbelief, the audience watching George Gently is aware of the show's superior quality . The writing, acting, atmosphere, sets, music, and costumes all conspire to involve us in an excellent, flawless viewing experience. George Gently shows us how good television can be when it is done right.
Bottom line: Would I buy/rent George Gently – Series 2? Yes, buy it. It’s a keeper.