In today’s science-minded world, most police procedurals are ruled by the irrefutable clues of fingerprints, tire tracks, and hair samples. The make of the villain’s car somehow becomes as important as the contents of the victim’s stomach. And, after all, “if the glove doens’t fit, you must acquit” we’ve been told time and time again in hundreds of novel variations. Long gone are the days when hard-driving detectives had to use their minds – instead of their microscopes – to get to the bottom of an inescapable mystery … but, thankfully, Inspector George Gently (played by Tony nominee Martin Shaw) is a different breed of copper. He’s far more concerned with the “passions and planning that lead to murder,” and, with his cocky young partner, Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), he’ll overturn every stone to get the man, woman, or child responsible for breaking the law on his watch.
(For the purposes of clarity, I’m happy to explain that these GENTLY telefilms play out like two separate features.)
“Goodbye China ”: Gently receives word that a former confidential informant of his has passed away from curious circumstances. To Bacchus, it only looks like the ‘old drunk’ died of an unfortunate accident, but Gently isn’t convinced. After casually looking into the matter, he realizes he’s only struck the tip of an iceberg that very well may involve the entire local police force.
“Gently Upside Down”: The body of a promising, young schoolgirl turns up lovingly buried in a city park. When it appears as if her fellow classmates may know more than they’re willing to divulge, Gently and Bacchus uncover that a few of their instructors may also be involved in some very inappropriate relationships. Eventually, they get a confession, but that doesn’t deter them from exposing the real culprits!
What I found so particularly inspiring about these GENTLY telefilms is the fact that they’re heavily grounded in the period. It’s the mid-1960’s, and all the world’s a-changing. The youth were embracing ‘free love’ and social structures were being put upon by hundreds of new influences and distractions around the world. Into the heart of this chaos, novelist Alan Hunter introduced his two leads – two upstanding police professionals – who followed their gut to get to the heart of whatever puzzle presented to them. When everyone else was socially abandoning their principles, Gently and Bacchus were sticking to theirs. While they certainly didn’t agree on the proper course of action, they always stuck with the case until the villains were exposed, even if it meant capturing old friends and associates who’d lost their way in those treacherous times. Both of the leads are exceptional, both bringing something unique to their respective ‘age’ to the stories, and it’s their winning chemistry – albeit brief – that fuels these narratives.
Also, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out that this series boasts production values oft-times only seen in feature films. Everything is shot crisply, and most – if not all – of these episodes are photographed on location. And the shooting locations are terrific. Everything appears vintage from the era. This is such a welcome change from the police procedurals I watch in the U.S. , where so much is clearly shot on-set in a studio. These features ‘breath’ real life, and that strongly elevates the tone of realism, especially given the fact that these do end up being mild ‘period’ productions.
Again, this is ‘old school’ detective work wherein the inspectors had to rely on their own skills and their own intuition and NOT what the science lab told them. Autopsies only helped to establish a probably motive. Otherwise, it’s up to their own wit and wisdom to solve the crime, and, on that front, GEORGE GENTLY is a fascinating throwback to a time when men were men and women loved (or hated) them in spite of it. Both of the features focus in on specific criminal profiles only uncovered once the questions are asked and the answers are given. The drama here comes from the people involved, and it’s nothing short of the highest quality.
GEORGE GENTLY: SERIES FOUR is produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Company Pictures, Element Pictures, and the Irish Film Board. DVD distribution is being handled (stateside) by Acorn Media Group. The picture looks stunning, and the sound is excellent. (Note: English subtitling is available for those us who have any trouble with the dialect.) Alas – as is common with many foreign releases – special features are slim; there’s only a brief (15 minute) ‘making of’ featurette to cover this season’s production efforts.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. I’ve had the luxury of viewing only two (2) of Acorn’s latest releases, but both have been phenomenally entertaining to both me and my wife, and I’ve been told that we’re both fairly picky consumers when it comes to television programs. GEORGE GENTLY: SERIES 4 is a terrific ‘old school’ procedural that relies on the detecting skills of the police detectives – not a lot of high-minded physical forensic sciences like fingerprints and DNA. Therefore, it bucks the current trend nicely with engrossing narratives, impressive production values, and immensely likeable, believable, and even humanly flawed characters. I can say – without a doubt – that this will not be the only GENTLY series we invest our time with.
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