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DVD Review: The Beiderbecke Connection

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Imagine a couple of school teachers who spend their spare time solving crimes. I did. For some reason, that’s what I thought the premise of The Beiderbecke Connection was. I was expecting a gritty British crime drama that focused on a married couple solving, well, gritty British crimes. It’s usually no fun being wrong, but this time I was delighted!

The Beiderbecke Connection is about two school teachers, Trevor Chaplin and Jill Swinburne, who live a life of witty domesticity with their infant, aptly named “Firstborn.” Trevor is mad about jazz, hence the title which is a reference to jazz great Bix Beiderbecke, and, instead of fairy tales, he tells his son goodnight tales from the history of jazz. Jill, on the other hand, is not jazz crazy and tells Firstborn stories about eminent women, such as Emma Goldman. They work in an impoverished school in Leeds where, due to the lack of money to buy wood, Trevor teaches his woodworking class about trees. Jill is attempting to teach her English Literature class Tess of the d’Urbervilles with only three copies of the novel for the entire class.

Having just watched eight episodes of Taggert, my first reaction was that The Beiderbecke Connection is pretty lightweight stuff. It may be humorous, but it is intelligently written. This two-disk, four-episode boxed set is the conclusion to Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke trilogy, but one needn’t have seen either The Beiderbecke Tapes or The Beiderbecke Affair to enjoy The Beiderbecke Connection.

Throughout the series, Jill (Barbara Flynn) and Trevor (James Bolam) are being videotaped by a snoopy neighbor who suspects they are involved in terrible doings because there has been a parade of young girls (prospective nannies) and middle-aged men (their friends) seen coming and going from their home. The neighbor leaves the tape on a police car, which triggers an investigation.

The Leeds police are not the most aggressive, ambitious, effective force. Their over-educated Detective Inspector is an easily manipulated buffoon. The cops are too lazy to solve a crossword puzzle, no less investigate crimes, and their boss is too inept and impressed with himself to provide much authority. They are a step up from Keystone Kops, but it is a very small step.

The fun begins when Trevor and Jill’s friends (the middle-aged men, Big Al and Little Norm), ask them to provide a “safe house,” for one night only, to a Transylvanian refugee (“Ivan but he’s not that terrible”) who is in hiding because he does not have the necessary papers, and he needs to be taken to “the border.” Being the good soul she is, Jill agrees to the arrangement. Ivan turns out to love jazz as much as Trevor; they may not speak the same language, but they become comrades over the same music.

The story is complicated by a head master who disapproves of Jill and Trevor’s living arrangement, Al and Norm’s dubious donations to the school, Ivan’s secrets, the anarchic school staff, and Jill’s jailbird ex-husband. Subtle humor weaves its way throughout, and the viewer is warned to pay attention—some of the best bits are underplayed.

When jazz-loving husband Chip and I (the non-jazz-enthusiast) watched The Beiderbecke Connection, it was our second choice. We had originally chosen a different British series that was so awful in its first few moments we settled for Beiderbecke. I should say we thought we were settling. Instead, we watched all four episodes in a marathon sitting, and found them entirely amusing. I was actually not in the mood for a humorous crime show and doubted this one would satisfy my entertainment jones. I think I could start to like being wrong.

The Sunday Times (UK) is quoted, calling The Beiderbecke Connection a “leisurely, gently humorous mystery series.” Yes, it is gently humorous and leisurely, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny and intellectually stimulating. Besides all that, Chip enjoyed the BAFTA-winning soundtrack and—best of all—stayed awake through all four episodes. High praise, indeed.

The Beiderbecke Connection includes filmographies of the lead characters.

Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent The Beiderbecke Connection? Yes, it is a gem.

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