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DVD Review: Rebus – Set 1

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Edinburgh, Scotland is one of the grand historic capitals of the island of Great Britain. The good burghers of the city, which would include municipal politicians and local business associations, would love for the world to not see past the Castle on the hill and all the historic buildings that line the downtown area.

Every August the tourists will flock to the city for the Edinburgh Festival, for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and all the parties and good times associated with both events. Of course if they can drag themselves away from the festivities for a time they can also take in some theatre and some music while they are at it.

As long as they don't stray beyond the confines of the nice hotels, theatres, shops, and "authentic" Scottish pubs, there's no need for them to see the ugly reality of what life is like for a great deal of the city's population. Ever since the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party destroyed the back of Scottish industry and put tens of thousands of people out of work it has been a desperate struggle to bring employment back for the working class.

Like so many other British cities, Edinburgh has its council flats, ghettos for the poor to live in — huge concrete towers surrounded on all sides by concrete parking lots, filled with immigrants, the unemployed, and the unemployable. Like their inner city counterparts in North America, these places are rife with drugs, violence, and the hopelessness that comes from not being able to see any hope of it ever getting better.

Rebus Set 1.jpgIt's in this world that Ian Rankin's character Detective Inspector (DI) John Rebus spends a good deal of his time, because where there's poverty there is sure to be crime. In Acorn Media's release Rebus 1 (the first two episodes with Ken Stott as Rebus), we follow Rebus behind the façade of gentile elegance in "Fleshmarket Close" as he investigates the disappearance of a young woman from one of the housing developments.

The other episode included is set among those who live in manor houses amid elegance and style. But "The Falls" proves that it's not only poverty that can make people desperate, or turn to crime as a means of solving their problems. "The Falls" was also the episode that introduced viewers to the new actors who were charged with bringing Ian Rankin's character's to the small screen.

Right from the start you begin to get the idea you're not going to be dealing with the typical television police officer. When in the midst of conducting an interview with friends of a murder victim he refers to his new partner as Robin to his Batman you know that John Rebus marches to his own drummer.

What I especially liked about "The Falls" is they spent a good bit of time dealing with Rebus when he is off duty. At one point his new partner, Detective Sergeant (DS) Siobhan Clarke, makes politely incredulous noises about Rebus having a relationship with a younger woman. Her attempts to understand her boss has Siobhan's character acting on behalf of the audience in finding out as much as possible about the enigma of John Rebus.

It's interesting to discover that the character traits that make him a good cop are also what make him attractive to women. He's intuitive, empathic, and sensitive to moods and place, characteristics men are often accused of lacking. The problem though is these same traits make him highly susceptible to carrying his job with him at all times. Awareness isn't selective when it comes to deciding what it's going to feel and when, so DI Rebus can't leave the job at the end of the day any more than he can stop breathing.

Ken Stott.jpgWe see this in "Fleshmarket Close" with the discovery of the first body and the helplessness that you can see him feel when the deceased's wife is brought from a refugee detention centre for formal identification purposes. Afterwards the camera and Siobhan find him sitting on a staircase with a scowl that betrays nothing of what he's feeling. But the fingers tugging and pulling in an attempt to remove his tie, leaving it hopelessly knotted and hanging crooked from his neck, is an indication of the turmoil that sits just below the surface.

Television shows aren't often noted for their cinematography; establishing shots and the like don't make many appearances on the small screens of North America, but both episodes contained in this set have at least one breathtaking shot. Most memorable is how they shot the apartment blocks that make up the projects where the action takes place in "Fleshmarket Close".

By shooting at an angle almost directly below the buildings and straight up, the apartment blocks turn into towering monoliths that dominate their surroundings and the people who live in them. They are monstrous sentinels that act as a constant reminder to the people living there of their lowly status and how little they are valued by the rest of the population.

Coming on to the site with Rebus and Siobhan the first time you wonder how anyone can live there. Even the meanest housing in most places will have some green space; a bit of park for kids or a place for dogs – but here, there is nothing but asphalt and concrete and brown lands. The surprise is not that they eventually turn up a body here, it's that they aren't constantly tripping over them.

As was the case with Rebus Set 2, the scriptwriter has done a remarkable job with adapting full length novels to fit within the seventy-minute time slot that he's allowed. Each episode is beautifully paced so that there is no last minute rush to reveal who done it. Instead the facts are gathered together and the pieces fall into place gradually until the inevitable conclusion is reached.

If I have a quibble at all with this collection, it's the fact that the sound quality of the episode "The Falls" is inconsistent. I found that the dialogue kept fading in and out and I was always having to either turn the sound up to hear the characters or turn it down because the music was too loud.

But that's only a minor technical detail about the quality of the DVD's sound recording and has nothing to do with the artistic merits of the pieces. Rebus Set 1 is a great introduction to these brilliant adaptations of Ian Rankin's famous novels. I wouldn't bother just buying the one set though; there's no question in my mind that you're going to want to watch the rest of them.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.