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November DVD reviews

Fancy a night in front of the box? Simon Evans has some great ideas from the latest batch of home entertainment releases

All_Creatures_Great_and_Small_Complete_DVD_Box_setAll Creatures Great and Small Series Four - Complete Series One to Four box set

(Acorn Media International, DVD)

There have been many pointless reboots of popular shows from the past, some more clueless than others, but it’s unusual for one of these revivals to actually surpass the original.

Four series in and that seems to be the case with All Creatures Great and Small. Somehow it has managed to combine many of the best-loved features of the original show (right down to the homage to Johnny Pearson’s distinctive theme tune) with all the advantages of modern technology, including those wonderful drone shots of the Dales that open every episode.

Unlike the original, James – wonderfully played by Nicholas Ralph – has retained the Scottish accent of the real-life Herriot, and Sam West’s masterful Siegfried has all the crustiness of Robert Hardy’s original but with more delicate shading of his essential generosity and decency. Even the housekeeper Mrs Hall, as expertly played by Anna Madeley, has become less a cypher who made the tea and answered the phone and more a fully rounded and important character.

There’s the occasional jarring concession to the box-ticking that mars so many period dramas these days, but nothing that involves too much suspension of disbelief. It’s a feel-good drama in the best sense of the word, sentimental without being soapy, involving without being melodramatic.

It’s no surprise that All Creatures is Channel Five’s top rated show and this season – which has had the likeable Tristan away serving in the war, and even James absent towards the end for the same reason – has been every bit as enjoyable as what has gone before.

Ghost stories for Christmas DVD front coverGhost Stories for Christmas Volume 2

(BFI, Blu-ray)

In the Seventies the Christmas Eve countdown to the big day was not complete without a televised ghost story and this second collection of chillers – all remastered and available on Blu-ray for the first time– is a real festive treat.

It includes two adaptations of stories by that master of the ghost story, MR James, the 1974 Treasure of Abbot Thomas, and The Ash Tree, first screened in 1975. Both were masterfully directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, who managed to conjure up, in each case, an atmosphere of malevolence and foreboding.

It also includes one of the most fondly-remembered of all the Christmas ghost stories, Lawrence Gordon Clark’s 1976 adaptation of the Charles Dickens short story The Signalman, starring Denholm Elliott as the occupant of a lonely signal box tortured by visions of disaster. Clark also directed the 1977 Stigma, a modern-day horror concerning an ancient curse, with the final film on the three disc set, The Ice House, being directed by Derek Lister. First shown in 1978, this was a more elusive mystery, in the tradition of Picnic At Hanging Rock, that kept viewers guessing right to the end. It’s a story that certainly repays repeated viewings, as, indeed, do all the stories on this wonderful set.

Extras include introductions by Lawrence Gordon Clark to his four productions, newly recorded commentaries, archive footage and later adaptations, From A Hill and Number 13.

Creation stories DVD front coverCreation Stories

(Dazzler, Blu-ray and DVD)

This excellent biopic charts the rise and fall of independent music entrepreneur Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records, perhaps the single most important label of the Britpop era and home of Oasis in the band’s early years. It perfectly captures the excitement of the mid Nineties – British pop’s last golden age – as well as the shattered hopes and dreams that almost inevitably followed. Ewan Bremner, Jason Flemyng and Suki Waterhouse star, and the film is executive produced by Danny Boyle.

Daliland DVD front cover


(Kaleidoscope, DVD)

Like Andy Warhol, the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, in his last years, became known simply for being famous than for this art; he was the very definition of celebrity as we now know it. In this enjoyable, if rather by numbers, film Mary Harron, the director of American Psycho, focuses on Dali’s later years, when he inhabited New York society as a kind of eccentric uncle figure. It is told through the eyes of a young gallery assistant, whose wide-eyed view of Dali and the wider art world changes as he realises the essential hollowness behind the glitz and glamour. Ben Kingsley is superb as Dali, conveying the fragility and insecurity that was masked by the artist’s flamboyant persona and eager band of followers, and Barbara Sukowa also impresses as Dali’s terrifying, controlling wife Gaia.

Dark Winds Season 1 DVD front coverDark Winds, Season One

(Acorn Media International, Blu-ray and DVD)

With Robert Redford and Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin as executive producers it’s fair to say this six-part TV adaptation of Tony Hillerman’s series of mystery novels has considerable weight behind it. Justifiably so, for apart from being ground-breaking in its use of a largely Native American cast, director and writer, set in the Navajo Nation of the Early Seventies and filmed in New Mexico, it’s a terrific take on an often predictable and formulaic genre.

When a double murder takes place on the reservation Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) finds himself having to work with slick new deputy Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon) and an FBI special agent with an agenda of his own to get to the bottom of a mystery that has far-reaching implications for the community, and for Joe. The series covers a lot of issues but is never preachy and apart from being a cracking story it is a fascinating portrait of a rarely seen world.

 Also available…

The holiday season is under threat from a rebellious elf and a villainous toy manufacturer in the newly restored 1985 family favourite Santa Claus: The Movie, starring Dudley Moore and John Lithgow. It’s available on Blu-ray and DVD through Studiocanal and Park Circus and extras include deleted scenes, a making-of documentary and an interview with Mrs Claus, aka the actress Judy Cornwell…

Michael Powell’s lost masterpiece Bluebeard’s Castle – an adaptation of Béla Bartok’s expressionist opera – has been painstakingly restored and, after being unavailable for many years, has been released by the BFI. The new Blu-ray edition marks the film’s 60th anniversary and includes both its original broadcast format and its revised 1978 edition, featuring selected English subtitles added by Powell…

The digitally restored director’s cut of Peter Bogdanovich’s landmark early Seventies film The Last Picture Show is now available as part of the Criterion Collection. Extras include the film’s sequel, Texasville, audio commentaries featuring Bogdanovich and key members of the cast, and documentaries about the making of the film…

The elite murder squad return in series four of London Kills (Acorn Media International, DVD), with the team tackling more monstrous crimes and facing dissent in the ranks, with maverick detective DI David Bradford (Hugo Speer) suddenly disappearing without trace. A box set of the complete series one to four is also available…

Lucy Lawless returns as tenacious retired cop turned private detective Alexa Crowe for the third series of the Australian crime drama My Life is Murder (Acorn Media International, DVD) and Emilia Fox takes time out from dissecting corpses in Silent Witness to star as the eponymous lead in Signora Volpe, playing Sylvia, a disillusioned British spy turned amateur detective. The four-part crime series also features another refugee from a long-running crime series, Waking the Dead’s Tara Fitzgerald, as Sylvia’s estranged sister. The first series is available on DVD through Acorn Media International…

Fresh from its screening on BBC2, the excellent television adaptation of Anne Rice’s celebrated 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire is now available on Blu-ray and DVD through Acorn Media International and an ex-marine turned mob enforcer has a crisis of conscience when he is forced to clean up after a botched assassination attempt in the thriller White Elephant (Dazzler Media, DVD)…

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