I've been impressed with the 'George Gently' series in the past, but it's really upped its game this time around. The fourth series of the BBC detective drama is not only the best the show has been up to this point, it's also some of the most compelling police procedural I've ever watched.
Detective Chief Inspector George Gently (Martin Shaw) has a calm demeanor. He rarely raises his voice, even though he often finds himself sitting across the interrogation table from some pretty reprehensible human beings. He's a man of great patience, while his partner Sargent John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) rushes to conclusions, Gently waits it out. He slowly pieces the crimes together from subtle clues. So subtle are these clues that both of the episodes featured here are almost impossible to figure out until the end. The series usually does a marvelous job at keeping all of its cards close to its chest so as to avoid revealing the true nature of the crime, as well as the suspects, until the last possible moment. The real genius at work here is that it never feels like a ploy or a cute plot device – I like the many episodes of 'Poirot' that have been released, but him gathering everyone together at the end of every mystery seems far too staged for its own good. 'George Gently' has a much more organic feel.
The fourth series of the show has two episodes, both of which are feature-length. Being as long as many movies, these episodes are really able to shed light on the many characters that populate the mystery. They don't feel like stand-ins to run the plot through, instead they feel like living, breathing characters. It's a most welcome change from the standard 40 minute procedural that we see on U.S. television which hurries through as many characters as are called for to get the plot solved.
The first episode, "Good-bye China," is the best 'George Gently' episode to date. Gently is forced to investigate the suspicious death of his close friend and confidant, China. The old man in previous episodes who has supplied Gently with information from the street for a small fee. When China is found dead, apparently from a fall, Gently is immediately suspicious. Just earlier he'd sent China on his way because he was sick of his constant boozing. China promised to right his ways. Gently, ever the detective, looks into China's death with some startling results.
It wasn't just that the mystery itself was tightly woven, which it was, but it was the emotion that was injected into this episode that made it so good. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, this episode caused me to tear up at the end.
The second episode deals with death of a local Durham girl. My wife made the comment that this episode feels a lot like 'The Killing.' Indeed it did. It was moody, grief-stricken, and full of dour characters who were all reeling after the death of this bright young girl. The only difference though was that this episode was infinitely more enthralling than 'The Killing' has ever been. Somehow they were able to pack more emotion, angst, grief, and sense of loss into one hour and a half episode than 'The Killing' has managed to create for almost an entire two seasons.
'George Gently' is set in the 60s, but it doesn't use that as a crutch. It's another aspect of the show that could've been gimmicky, but instead it simply adds a bit of retro flavor. Out of all the British shows I've reviewed from Acorn Media, I think that 'George Gently' is the most beautifully shot. Not only does this show have splendidly complex mysteries, deep characters, and emotional underpinnings, but it also looks breathtaking while doing it. It just keeps getting better and better.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
There are only two episodes in this set. Together they total around 178 minutes of runtime. 'Series 4' comes on one 50GB Blu-ray Disc packed into a regular sized keepcase. A standard cardboard slipcover is also provided which matches the rest of the 'George Gently' releases so they look uniform on your shelf.
Each season of 'George Gently' that Acorn has released has been released in 1080i, the same goes for this season. That may scare some people off, but I'm here to say that it shouldn't. 'George Gently: Series 4' looks remarkably good on Blu-ray. So good in fact that if you were to place it side-by-side next to something displaying at 1080p I'm sure you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
I only ever have one complaint about the image that is produced in the 'George Gently' seasons, which is the shimmering that takes place on suit jackets, car grills, and other objects that have tightly packed lines or patterns – which is nothing new for high definition, there are plenty of 1080p titles with the same problems. Besides the shimmering, there is nothing else to complain about. The video presentation looks damn near perfect as far as I'm concerned.
Fine detail is some of the richest I've seen. Close-ups feature more detail than you'll find in many big budget movies. Every age line, crack, blemish, mole, and fine hair is visible on every character. Colors pop exceedingly well. The second episode features a lot of colorful 60s dresses. The oranges, blues, and pinks all appear vibrant and well. Whenever Gently and Bacchus travel out to the country we're treated to some wonderfully lush countryside feature deep, rich greenery. The stonework of country houses produces earthy browns and grays. Blacks are always inky. Shadows are never crushing. There are times that Gently stands in the shadows during an interrogation and the perfectly delineated shadows hug his outline and accentuate facial and textual details.
This is another stellar video presentation for 'George Gently.' People who have picked up this show on Blu-ray in the previous seasons know what to expect. People who haven't, well, you're in for a treat.
I've always found the 2.0 Stereo PCM mixes for 'George Gently' quite underwhelming. The show is quite new and I see no real reason why it shouldn't have a full surround sound mix. Sadly 'Series 4,' like the others that have come before it, has no surround mix. We're stuck with the 2.0 track.
It's lossless, yes, but it lacks that immersive presence. However, this time around I thought that the audio experience was a little more engaging. Sound effects seemed to have a bit stronger presence this time around. Dialogue sounded slightly clearer. The musical score had more heft to it, making the episodes – especially the second one, which was particularly music centric – more emotional.
I will forever hope that 'George Gently' gets surround tracks, but I'm not holding out for any. The lossless stereo tracks will have to do for now.
'George Gently: Series 4' is simply fantastic television. Its characters, both recurring and new, are deep and well-written. The mysteries spin and weave as the plot unfolds. It's almost impossible to guess what is actually going on, but once it's revealed it makes perfect sense. Even though the mysteries are intriguing, the show doesn't rely on its plots to carry it. The show lies directly on the shoulders of Martin Shaw, who carries it stoically. If you haven't had a chance to get into 'George Gently' you really should. This is as good a time as any. Highly recommended.