New This Week
Inasmuch as this is my 700th DVD Report, it’s as good a time as any to take a look back at my first column which appeared on May 8, 2007 when the DVDs released that day were spiffed up re-releases of The Caine Mutiny, To Catch a Thief, The Guns of Navarone, and Dirty Dancing. All of them have, of course, since been released on Blu-ray, some of them several times over.
Noted in that initial report were twenty-one Oscar-winning performances that had not as yet been released on DVD, Since then, all but Emil Jannings’ Oscar-winning lost film The Way of All Flesh and George Arliss’ Disraeli have been released while Olivia de Havilland’s To Each His Own remains unreleased in the U.S.
Twelve and a half years ago, DVD had long since replaced VHS and Laser Discs as the pre-eminent home video platform. The DVD has since been succeeded by the even more hi-definition Blu-ray and various streaming services, with few films released nowadays on original DVD only.
The biggest advantage of streaming is that it doesn’t require physical storage space. The biggest disadvantage is that if you are a collector, your collection is as secure as the owners of the streaming platform allow. That applies to digital downloads as well as on-demand TV suppliers, which can discontinue access at whim.
Pre-pandemic, most major films were released first to theatres, then to physical media, then to streaming. Netflix upped the ante last year with three major releases, of which Marriage Story has since been released on Blu-ray, another of which (The Irishman) will be released on Blu-ray next week, and the last of which (The Two Popes) seems to be headed the way of most Netflix streamers, i.e. kept in rotation on their platform for a couple of years and then forgotten. One wonders what they will do with the plethora of year-end 2020 releases making their debut on Netflix now in lieu of previously planned theatrical releases.
Netflix, as well as other streaming services, have been more apt to release DVDs and Blu-rays of TV series which either made their debut on their platforms or migrated there following their initial showings elsewhere. With holiday gift giving about to enter a serious phase, here then are five TV series available on Blu-ray and DVD and one available only on original DVD that I highly recommend:
A Place to Call Home, Seasons 1-6 (2013-2018)
I discovered this Australian series, which streams on Acorn TV, when released in a limited gift box edition earlier this year. I liked it so much I repurchased it as gifts twice since and then replaced my own initial copy with single set Blu-rays of all six seasons that had been previously released. I must have watched it five times now. It’s very addictive.
Seasons 1-4 take place in 1953 and 1954, season 5 in 1958, and season 6 in 1959, with the last ten minutes of the last episode bringing us up to date through mid-2018.
Marta Dusseldorp (Jack Irish) stars as Sarah Adams, a nurse in 1953 returning to Australia after an absence of twenty years. She makes her way back working on a ship on which she meets the wealthy Bligh family that she will be inexorably linked to for the next 65 years. It consists of a matriarch (Noni Hazlehurst), her son (Brett Climo), grandson (David Berry) who Sarah saves from attempted suicide, granddaughter (Abby Earl), and new granddaughter-in-law (Araianwen Parkes-Lockwood). One will be at her bedside when she dies at 104. Along the way we meet other fascinating characters including the doctor Sarah goes to work for (Craig Hall), the matriarch’s bohemian daughter (Sara Wiseman), the son’s conniving sister-in-law (Jenni Baird), the salt-of-the-earth farmer who gives Sarah a home (Frankie J. Holden), the town gossip (Deborah Kennedy), an Aboriginal painter (Aaron Pedersen), and two major gay characters, a surgeon (Tim Draxl) and a farmhand (Dominic Allburn), with ties to Sarah and the Bligh family.
Six of the series’ stars (Berry, Parkes-Lockwood, Hall, Kennedy, Draxl, and Heather Mitchell (Prudence Swanson)) have guest-starring roles in various episodes of Australia’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-2015) set in the 1920s. Allburn and Mitchell play an Australian Dick Clark and his station manager in an Australian version of American Bandstand in an early episode of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (2019) set in 1963.
Outlander, Seasons 1-5 (2015-2020)
Originally shown on another platform, Netflix then streamed the previously televised first three seasons before debuting Season 4 in 2019 and Season 5 in 2020.
This is another addictive series that began with a World War II English combat nurse (Catriona Balfe) being swept back to 1743 where she meets the love of her life (Sam Heughan). Tobias Menzies (the current Prince Philip in The Crown) played her husband in 1945 and the principal villain in 1943. A Place to Call Home’s David Berry plays the enigmatic Lord John beginning with Season 3. With the characters now in the American colonies, the series is now on the brink of the American Revolutionary War.
The Crown, Seasons 1-3 (2016-2019)
This Netflix series provides a fascinating look at Britain’s royal family from 1947 forward. Claire Foy and Matt Smith star as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the first two years with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies taking over in the third. Imelda Staunton and Jonathan Pryce take over in the yet to be filmed Season 5.
Foy and Smith are superb in the first two seasons, Colman and Menzies not so much in the third, but they do seem more comfortable in the fourth season, now streaming.
Midsomer Murders, Series 1-21 (1997-2020)
The granddaddy of the current British mystery series, which streams on IMDb TV, originally starred John Nettles (1997-2011) as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and Daniel Casey (1997-2003) as his young Sergeant. Nettles was succeeded by Neil Dudgeon as Tom Barnaby’s cousin, Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby (2011-present). Casey was succeeded by John Hopkins (2004-2005), Jason Hughes (2005-2013), Gwilym Lee (2013-2016), and Nick Hendrix (2016-present).
This series has a lot of macabre humor to go along with the intricately plotted mysteries. Both the original Barnaby’s family and the current Barnaby’s family become involved in the always intriguing storylines.
Murdoch Mysteries, Seasons 1-13 (2008-2020)
Beginning in the late 1890s Toronto and progressing to the early twentieth century, this Canadian series, which streams on Acorn TV, is remarkable in that the five principal players have been with the series from the very beginning. They are Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch, Helen Joy as Dr. Julia Ogden, Thomas Craig as Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, and Laclan Murdoch as Detective Henry Higgins. Daniel Maslany was added to the cast as Detective Llewellyn Watts in 2016.
Unique to this series is the number of real-life personalities passing through the city of Toronto who become involved in the various murders. Among them are Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Nikola Testa, Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, The Prince of Wales, Jack the Ripper, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his fictional Sherlock Holmes, the latter in the form of a delusional, albeit convincing, mental patient.
Vera, Sets 1-10 (2011-2020)
Starring two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn, this series, which steams on Acorn TV, has only produced four episodes for each of its ten seasons thus far, but they’re all of high quality in this series which releases only on original DVD.
Belthyn’s DCI Vera Stanhope leads a team of intrepid detectives in solving murders in the area in and around Newcastle in Northern England. Early episodes reveal her complicated family life and her struggles with the bottle, but more recent episodes have concentrated more on the complex lives of the murder victims and various suspects.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include The Irishman and The Lost Weekend.