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DVD Review: The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Set 3

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On June 24, Acorn Media will release on DVD The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Set Three. This set, like the previous two, contains episodes from the popular late 1990s British public television series based on works from the Queen of Mystery, Ruth Rendell.

Ruth Rendell, who also writes under the name Barbara Vine, is a British award-winning suspense author known for her clever plots and dark psychological investigations into the madness within ordinary people that can drive them to kill. Rendell mysteries contain the usual assaults and murders, but not a large amount of gory detail. In a 2002 interview, Rendell said, “I am fascinated by what makes people do dreadful things, not by how they do them.” This set focuses particularly upon obsession and the way it can warp people’s perceptions and lives as they step ever closer to the line of no return.

Going WrongThe box set contains five episodes on three DVDs. Volume one drops us right into the dangerous territory of obsessive love in "Going Wrong." Starring James Callis (Battlestar Galactica, Bridget Jones’s Diary) and Josephine Butler, the 156-minute mystery follows the story of Guy and Leonora, who pledged eternal love as wild teenagers, but split up due to Guy’s lifestyle. Meeting again eight years later, Guy is determined to hold Leonora to her vow, despite both of them being involved with other people.

Volume two gives us "Harm Done" and "The Fallen Curtain." "Harm Done" is an Inspector Wexford mystery, with the excellent George Baker in the title role. In the fictional country town of Kingsmarkham, Wexford tries to understand the obsessions that underlie the odd kidnappings of young girls, a murder in an upscale neighbourhood, and the mob violence aroused by the presence of a released pedophile in a housing estate. Wexford is torn between his duty and his sympathies as his investigations reveal surprising twists.

Harm Done"The Fallen Curtain" is a gem of a tale, beautifully acted by Ben Brazier (Richard Clayton) and Barbara Ewing (Mrs. Clayton). Young Ben is haunted by an incident he can’t quite recall when he vanished for a few hours as a boy. Obsessed by what may have happened, he can’t move forward with his life and instead is driven to do what he must to lift the curtain of memory.

Volume three offers "The Lake of Darkness" and "You Can’t Be Too Careful." "The Lake of Darkness" looks at the power of attraction as Martin Urban (Jerome Flynn) can’t believe his luck in simultaneously winning the lottery and meeting the beautiful but mysterious Francesca (Sadie Frost, An Ideal Husband). Both strands of Martin’s life become tangled together as he learns that his luck and his lady have dark undercurrents.

You Can't Be Too Careful"You Can’t Be Too Careful" is a smartly constructed tale of a security-obsessed woman who takes in a rather more carefree flat mate, and the havoc that ensues as unlocked gates and doors raise the level of tension between the two women.

The attractively packaged $49.99 box set runs approximately 460 minutes, with episode run times ranging from 50 to 156 minutes. The special features, consisting of a Ruth Rendell biography and cast filmographies, do not offer any peeks behind the scenes, something I always enjoy, and therefore were not as interesting as I would like.

However, Rendell is an acknowledged master of suspense and these episodes are excellent adaptations of her books, with faithful scripts and stellar performances from the actors. I particularly enjoyed "Harm Done" and "The Fallen Curtain," but each episode is a well told and dramatized look into the dark recesses of the human mind, offering both thrills and substance. I recommend set three to any mystery buff, particularly those who like the British emphasis on exploring motive rather than gruesome details.

(Photos courtesy of Acorn Media).

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About Gerry Weaver

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    George Baker was quite excellent as Chief Inspector Wexford, as was Christopher Ravenscroft as his prissy sidekick Inspector Burden. It’s one of the few examples of perfect casting in a TV or film dramatization that I can think of.

    Rendell is at pains in her books to describe Wexford as an ugly man, and she was originally rather dubious at the casting of Baker, as she thought he was far too handsome. So impressive was he in the role, though, that she has said she now pictures him in her mind when writing about Wexford.

  • Gerry

    I agree. The casting of Baker is one of those happy times when actor and character are a wonderful match. I think John Thaw as Morse was another such happy match, but you’re right in that there aren’t many that really just seemed the character brought to life. I always looked forward to a Wexford episode!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Another excellent casting, although much less well-known, was Tom Wilkinson in the title role of the BBC’s short-lived Resnick, adapted from John Harvey’s police procedurals. In both appearance and characterization, down to mannerisms and mode of speaking, Wilkinson was exactly as I had pictured Resnick when reading the books.

    One more: Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple has always seemed to me the finest take of all the many actresses who have played the character.

  • Gerry

    I blush to say that I haven’t seen Resnick, though now I’ll keep an eye out for it, if it’s been released anywhere. I absolutely adore Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple, and I’m afraid no other actress will be Miss Marple to me.

    Castings that didn’t work as well: Roy Marsden in Dalgliesh didn’t quite capture the character, though I think he is a fine actor. I haven’t seen an entire episode with the new fellow playing Dalgliesh, so I don’t know what to think yet–what do you think?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Hardly anybody has seen Resnick, and it doesn’t appear to be available on DVD anywhere. Only the first two books were ever filmed (as 3-episode miniseries), and they aired to little fanfare.

    I highly recommend the ten novels featuring Resnick, though, if you can get your hands on them. Up there with the best of modern crime fiction.

    Didn’t ever see more than a few minutes of Marsden’s Dalgleish, so I can’t give you a verdict on that. I didn’t know there were some new adaptations. I live in America now, so it’ll probably be a year or two before they surface over here.

  • Gerry

    Thank you for the recommendation–I will look them up. In fact, I’m just about to start a feature on mystery books, so this is very timely!