The North of England's most upstanding detective, George Gently, returns to work the beat alongside his trusted partner, DS Bacchus. Together they investigate murder and corruption set against the turbulent tide of 1960s Britain.
'George Gently' has always routinely caught me by surprise. Not that I forget it's good, or forget that I've always enjoyed it, but because it's able to fit so much into what is essentially a standard police procedural.
What sets 'George Gently' apart from other detective shows is the way its hero is juxtaposed against its chosen time period. The show is set in the late '60s, but the title character, Chief Inspector George Gently (Martin Shaw) is essentially a fish out of water. He seems to exist as a progressive moral compass that lights the way for the darkened social views of the past. His morality is born of generations that will come long after he's passed away. Perhaps it's merely an anachronism, or maybe he acts as a mirror for today's social ills while projecting issues of today into yesteryear.
For example, the first episode on this set – “Gently with the Women” – takes on the very public issue of rape culture. What's really peculiar is that Gently's young protégé John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) quite often represents the archaic views of the day, whereas old, gruff Gently more often than not represents social views that won't be accepted until later on down the road.
So, when the first episode begins dealing with a prostitute claiming to have been raped it's Bacchus who thumbs his nose, while Gently listens and believes her. Even today a prostitute claiming rape has a good possibility of not being taken seriously. In the '60s no one would've listened or cared. But here's trusty old George Gently, bucking social norms, understanding the complexity of people's lives and living in a time he has no business existing in. Though I suppose there is one reason Gently loves existing in the '60s, because his views on police brutality are rather old school – even for the '60s. He likes to slap suspects around a bit in the interrogation room.
The show is actually based on a series of novels written by author Alan Hunter. From 2008 to 2015 it's gone through seven seasons. This release is its most recent season. 'George Gently' benefits from the British way of producing television. Each season has two to four episodes each. Each episode clocks in at around 90 minutes or so. This provides more than enough time for the writers to craft character-centric storylines that have time to develop even though many of the actual episodic crime plots remain standalone affairs.
Over the years it's been impossible not to become attached to the various characters that populate the show. Instead of focusing on a myriad of people, the series has always put laser focus on the big three, Gently, Bacchus, and officer Rachel Coles (Lisa McGrillis). Coles finds herself even more involved as the season starts, because not only does the first episode explore rape culture, but it also takes on the topic of women in the workplace. Again, Bacchus is mostly condescending to Coles, whereas Gently is much more accepting of her abilities to work as a police officer. It really is a skewed dynamic given the age difference between Bacchus and Gently, but it works rather splendidly.
I've always found 'George Gently' to be one of the more engaging detective shows. Not because it thinks up elaborate plotlines – although sometimes it does – but because it feels like it exists to comment on social issues plaguing our generation. It's also populated by a small, but interesting cast of characters that grow and progress throughout each episode. They're not simply stagnant like so many other TV detectives. Even after seven seasons the show still manages to crank out some great material.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a two-disc, four-episode set. The discs are 50GB Blu-rays. They come in a standard keepcase from Acorn Entertainment, which also comes with a slipcover that matches the other sets of the show that have been released.
The high-def video quality of has indeed remained consistent throughout each release from Acorn. Though, this particular release seems to have reached the pinnacle of what will be achieved with the visuals of 'George Gently.' That's because earlier seasons have either been compressed onto 25GB discs, or they were released in 1080i. While the series has always looked rather good despite these things, this release comes complete with a 1080p transfer with four 90-minute episodes nicely spaced out on two 50GB discs. Suffice it to say, this is the best the show has ever looked.
Detail has never been better. Close ups reveal all sorts of facial details like freckles, wrinkles, or even small smudges of blood and dirt. Long shots are equally exquisite, providing wonderfully thorough visuals of lush English countryside. Mid-range shots, such as when Gently and others find themselves traversing through city centers, show nicely rendered cobblestone streets and brick buildings worn with age.
Colors, while subdued because of the time period – not to mention the fact that the show is set in England – are bold and earthy. Browns, grays, and greens dominate the color spectrum. However, pops of red, usually blood or lipstick, provide some great contrast to the overall intentionally drab look of the show.
If only we could find a way to provide 'George Gently' with a fully realized surround sound presentation. This is a show that could benefit from one. However, throughout its run on Blu-ray the show has been given the 2.0 treatment. Early on in the process Acorn was giving it a LPCM track. They've upgraded to a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix now, but I can't help but wonder what it would sound like with all channels firing.
As it is the 2.0 mix does a good job filling out the soundfield admirably. The lossless DTS track provides a fuller body of sound, compared to the first series of the show. Dialogue is clearly heard up front, which is nice because Gently has a habit of grumbling and garbling his words. Music never drowns out dialogue and sound effects which is good.
With all the sound coming from two channels the soundscape can sound overwhelmed at times. However, there aren't any egregious errors to report. Just a minor lamenting that there's no reason, really, that 'George Gently' can't be provided with a surround sound track to give the show a more immersive feeling.
Interviews (HD, 8 min.) – There are three interviews in total, none of them hitting the three minute mark. They're short, and not full of much in the way of helpful or interesting information. The three people interviewed are Martin Shaw, Vic Reeves (plays a pawnshop owner), and Lesley Nicol.
'George Gently' provides a lens through which the show's writers can project today's issues onto yesterday's values. It's an interesting dynamic that usually results in Gently not only solving crimes, but deftly navigating issues with some sort of futuristic morality. It great to watch, and never ceases to be interesting. This is one of the best releases of the show considering its video and audio presentations (though, I'm still holding onto a sliver of hope that at some point we get surround sound). As always 'George Gently' is worth a look.