Life is full of mysteries. It’s chock full of them, in fact. Everyday, the human race encounters puzzles, enigmas, and riddles galore — which we are usually unable to cope with. The vaults of Acorn Media are also full of mysteries (albeit ones from British television). The only difference is that they’ve decided to do something about it. Take, for example, the new box sets of both The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection, two repackaged sets of British television dramas.
The first set, The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, is a three-disc set based on the works of Dorothy L. Sayers. Starring the great Ian Carmichael, the collection of early ’70s whodunits bring us the often hilarious exploits of nobleman and amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey. Although his aristocratic upbringings would automatically cause most people to classify him in the “snob” category (and, after meeting his family in “Clouds Of Witness,” the five-part episode that opens this two-episode set, one might even suspect the Wimsey family tree of being partially inbred due to their peculiar mannerisms), Lord Wimsey is not your average peer of the realm: there’s nothing he loves more than a good mystery.
Well, actually, a better way to phrase that would be: “there’s nothing he loves more than diving headfirst into a good mystery and then throwing all caution to the wind in order to solve it with the valuable aid of his faithful and well-read manservant (all good sleuths need one, you know) Bunter (played to the hilt by Glyn Houston).” A bit of a mouthful, I admit, but it’s a decent way of describing the fun that classic and modern detective story lovers will have watching these classics.
And then, there’s The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection. Normally, I’m a sucker for these sort of things. But, in the case of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection (based on the works of author Ruth Rendell), I’m afraid it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While the dramatic and technical aspects are as pleasing to see as they were with the previous entry, I found the writing in what was previously issued as Set 1 to be mediocre at best. Early appearances by now-familiar faces such as Colin Firth, James D’Arcy, and Amanda Redman don’t add a lot of weight to the initial episodes in this 11-disc set (which contains 17 feature-length mysteries).
Fortunately, the collection picks up the pace when we get to the later entries (many of which feature George Baker as Inspector Reg Wexford, one of Rendell’s more celebrated characters — the earlier episodes do not feature a “detective” per se, but rather, an average Joe or Jill who take it upon themselves to solve the crime of the hour). In spite of the fact that this is a hit-and-miss set, I can’t really discourage anyone from checking it out; there’s a good 29 hours of non-stop entertainment here that still outranks most of the crap that’s on TV nowadays (and, truthfully, only the earlier episodes really riled me up — the others were quite pleasing).
Both sets are presented in their original 1.33:1 television standard aspect ratios (with the exception of the final entry of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection) with two-channel English soundtracks. In terms of quality, The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries offers understandably lesser audio and video transfers, owing to the fact that these gems were produced for British Television in the 1972. Episodes for The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection, on the other hand, were produced from 1987 to 2000, so they reflect the audio and video technologies of their various production years. All in all, though, there’s nothing too terribly obtrusive to be seen or heard here. The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries benefits from having English SDH subtitles available (should you so desire them), while The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection earns another strike against it for not featuring any subtitles or closed captions of any kind.
The final tally: The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries wins by an upturned aristocratic nose, while The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection comes in second.
But both are well worth your time and money.