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Jason Isaacs is wonderful in a series that is more character study than detective thriller.

DVD Review: Case Histories

Jason Isaacs (best known to U.S. audiences as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies) stars in an intriguing six-part detective series, Case Histories. Based on Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie detective novels, the series is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and features Isaacs as Brodie, a former soldier and policeman who works as a private investigator, helping people who have as difficult personal histories as he does.

Jackson has an ex-wife and an adorable young daughter Marlee (Millie Innes), whom he is trying to convince not to leave Edinburgh for faraway New Zealand. Case Histories features stories which involve dead or missing girls, echoing Jackson’s own troubled past and the imminent loss, at least in proximity, to his daughter.

[Jason Isaacs with Millie Innes]

The DVD includes subtitles and a nice behind-the-scenes feature with Isaacs and other key crew discussing the character and the making of the series. The series was originally aired in the U.K. as three two-hour episodes, but when they were shown on PBS they were broken into two parts, which is how they appear here — Disc One includes Case Histories Parts 1 & 2 and One Good Turn Part 1, and Disc Two includes One Good Turn Part 2 and When Will There Be Good News? Parts 1 & 2.

Each story in Case Histories weaves into the next. The emphasis of the series is less on solving mysteries than the relationships between Jackson and the people he tries to help. Isaacs is wonderful in the leading role, as are all of the supporting players.

Although Jackson helps many men and women in his investigations, his most significant dealings are with women throughout the series. He’s haunted by the drowning death of his sister, which colors all of the cases he works on. This personal history draws him to the case of the disappearance of three year-old Olivia Land, who went missing thirty years go. Sisters Amelia and Julia Land want closure on the case and Julia, played by Natasha Little, forms a bond that later in the series deepens into a relationship with Jackson.

Jackson is a man of deep feelings. He cares for ex-colleague DC Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington) and he will have to deal with her sooner or later. But his most important relationship is with daughter Marlee, about to move to New Zealand and out of his day-to-day life. Jackson is furious when he first learns his ex-wife intends to take a job and their daughter so far away from him. But he gradually makes the adjustment, getting used to communicating with Marlee via video phone calls.

[Isaacs with Gwyneth Keyworth]

Another wonderful relationship that develops over the last two episodes is with Reggie (a superb Gwyneth Keyworth), a teenager who quickly becomes his new sidekick. Jackson, trying to save a woman injured in a train wreck, becomes injured himself, and is saved by Reggie, who quickly turns his debt to her into a new case and virtual partnership. They have great chemistry as she definitely fills the void in his life left by Marlee’s absence.

The look of the Case Histories is dark and brooding, to match its characters’ obsessions with their pasts. By the end of the series, viewers will be wanting to see more of Jackson and the beautiful Scottish countryside that he is constantly jogging through, never able to completely escape his painful memories. Series 2 is currently in production and will air in 2012.

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