Home / DVD Review: The Ruth Rendell Mysteries: Set Four

DVD Review: The Ruth Rendell Mysteries: Set Four

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

On April 14th, Acorn Media released set four of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, featuring Inspector Wexford in two feature-length mysteries from the popular television series of the 1990s. Rendell is widely recognised as one of the most successful crime writers writing today and her Wexford stories made the leap to television particularly well. With perfect casting and challenging intelligent stories, these Wexford mysteries are as gripping today as they were when first broadcast.

Ruth Rendell's interest as a crime writer has always been the psychology behind the crime. She knows all the tricks of the Golden Age crime writers like Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham; and, Inspector Wexford, her avuncular, honest and thorough country copper, fits very well into the tradition of crime solving policemen. But Rendell takes this image of normality and places him in a very contemporary setting with contemporary issues, issues that often stray into very abnormal territory. The very politically and socially aware author often has written about people on the edges of society, people who don’t fit in. Rendell serves up a realistic world—which always comes with a twist.

"Road Rage" and "Simisola" are perfect examples of the way Rendell juxtaposes her country copper with very current social anxieties. "Road Rage" deals with the thin line between activism and terrorism as Wexford tries to deal with the clash between environmental protesters and security forces, a clash that soon involves innocent pawns, including his wife, Dora. In "Simisola," Wexford’s case involving a missing girl is soon complicated by racial and class misunderstandings—some of which are his own. Rendell never shies away from challenging Wexford’s own assumptions, sometimes through his sidekick, Burden (the excellent Christopher Ravenscroft) and sometimes by the people he investigates.

The main focus of "Simisola" is the idea of making invisible people visible. Rendell’s solving of a crime, while satisfying our need for justice, never solves the underlying problem that produced the crime. Rather than restoring everything to its rightful place, Wexford’s catching of a criminal only exposes the real crime we would rather not see, because there are no easy answers.

Rendell’s writing is very atmospheric, which make her novels excellent choices to adapt for television. She never chooses to adapt her own stories, but with Wexford, the author was involved to a degree with the production, ensuring fidelity to the essence of her plots and most especially to her characters. For this series, the casting was a stroke of genius: George Baker as Wexford is one of the most satisfying matches of actor to character on television. Under Baker’s sure hands, Wexford walks off the page and onto the screen, to the point Rendell admits in her later novels, she pictures the actor when writing Wexford. Christopher Ravenscroft is also a joy as the uptight but efficient Burden, and the two men’s partnership is subtle, nuanced and occasionally explosive.

"Road Rage" (adapted by George Baker) and "Simisola" are excellent adaptations of Rendell’s stories, and the "Super Sleuths: Inspector Wexford" special feature on the DVD is also wonderful. This documentary has interviews with the people behind the scenes as well as many of the actors, including George Baker, Christopher Ravenscroft and Louie Ramsay. Unfortunately, Ruth Rendell does not appear, but she does feature in many anecdotes.There is a serviceable biography of Rendell as another special feature.

The DVD is sold as a two volume boxed set, with a running time of 353 minutes. The price is $39.99 and fans will find it a bargain.

Powered by

About Gerry Weaver

  • Simisola is probably my favourite of all the Wexford novels. It packs some gut-punches, with the theme of ‘invisible people’ brought home with an almighty wallop by the fact that Rendell doesn’t reveal the significance of the title until the very last sentence of the book. (Don’t peek!) I remember watching the TV dramatization and feeling that they muffed it a bit as far as the novel’s impact and message went.

    I know Wexford’s (lightly fictionalized) country well, having spent many happy weekends hiking in Sussex when I was younger, and the setting lends an extra appeal to the books for me. But the TV show was filmed in Hampshire, which I don’t know well, so I didn’t always get along with it for that reason among others. The cast was superb, though, and I’ve always thought that Chris Ravenscroft was one of those very rare examples of absolutely perfect casting. He was Burden exactly as I pictured him when I first read the books.

  • Gerry

    Hi, and thanks for the comment! Yes, I agree that Christopher Ravenscroft is Burden to a T–the casting for this series was just amazing.

  • Absolutely. George Baker – even though he didn’t fit my mental image of Wexford, or even apparently Ruth Rendell’s: she frequently and deliberately describes him in the books as an ugly man, and I’ve read interviews where she says she initially had reservations about Baker because she thought he was too handsome. Louie Ramsey too, and even the minor characters and guest stars.

    Apart from Ravenscroft’s Burden, the other bit of casting I consider to be a bullseye happened in the short-lived TV dramatization of John Harvey’s police procedurals featuring Charlie Resnick. They cast Tom Wilkinson in the lead, which I think was absolutely spot on: Wilkinson was exactly how I had pictured Resnick.

    It’s just a pity that the rest of the casting wasn’t so hot: not much attempt was made to fit the actors to the characters as they are described in Harvey’s novels.

  • Gerry

    It’s interesting to read different perceptions of people! To me, George Baker fits Wexford really well because I don’t see him as conventionally handsome–I know he was apparently a bit of a heartthrob in his younger days, but I don’t get that vibe from him. I get the bluff avuncular big man with craggy features. Baker seems to me to be attractive mostly because of his personality, which is a good fit with Wexford, because despite the apparent ugly features, he was always attractive to women. So, Baker always worked for me. But even so, Christopher Ravenscroft is even more perfect for Burden.

    I’ve now read Resnick (thanks to a suggestion from you!) and I agree that Wilkinson was a wonderful pick.