DVD review: “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries – A Collection” (1987-2000)

“The Ruth Rendell Mysteries – A Collection” (1987-2000)

Television/Drama

Seventeen Adaptations

Created by: Ruth Rendell

Featuring: George Baker, Louie Ramsay, Christopher Ravenscroft, Ken Kitson, Diane Keen and John Burgess

Ruth Rendell: “I don’t get sick of him [Chief Inspector Wexford] because he’s me. He’s very much me. He doesn’t look like me, of course, but the way he thinks and his principles and his ideas and what he likes doing, that’s me. So I think you don’t get tired of yourself.”

Critical Commentary

Released recently as a DVD box set with a selection of the entire series is “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries – A Collection” (1987-2000) which sees seventeen adaptations of the authors work. Ruth Rendell was a British writer of mystery novels, psychological crime novels, and short stories who was perhaps best known for her novels featuring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, who features in these stories.

Inspector Wexford first appeared in the 1964 novel From Doon with Deathand, and his first TV appearance, in the shape of the then 55 year-old George Baker, came in August 1987, with the ITV serialisation of “Wolf to the Slaughter”. This four-part pilot, produced by John Davies and adapted by Clive Exton, set the template for all subsequent Wexford adaptations that has remained largely unchanged. Many episodes foreground Wexford and Burden’s domestic complications, with Burden’s wife Jean (Ann Penfold) appearing throughout the first series. Early on Burden is a widower, left alone to cope with his two young children, John and Emma. Later he meets Jenny Ireland (Diane Keen), his daughter’s history teacher, and the two eventually marry.

The Ruth Rendell Mysteries was a British television crime drama series,. twelve series were broadcast between August 1987 and October 2000. The first six series focused entirely on her main literary character, Chief Inspector Reg Wexford, played by George Baker.

This is a series that many will recognise as the idea of a senior investigator looking into murders is one that has existed for decades and not completely original, however this is a look at life in a particular time as well as place which is what is not only unique to these shows but to all of the successful ones that have come before and after. Rendell had an idea of who she wanted to write about and she went at it which has been translated into what appears in this box set. The stories themselves are not of even quality, some are better than others with individual stories either being thought out better or the directing and writing being of varied quality.

The only real negative is that the entire run of the series is not present in this boxset which is a real shame but that could have come down to rights issues but what is here is fantastically entertaining, like many of its ilk it has great production values as well as excellent all round performances from its leads and guest players, thoroughly recommended.

Episodes

Master of the Moor: An ecology writer finds himself under suspicion of murder after an artist he meets on the moors is found murdered. When a second body is found, the police’s suspicion of Steven continues to grow, despite his psychological issues. A third woman is found dead, but Stephen thinks he can finally identify the suspect he saw on the moor that day.

Vanity Dies Hard: A wealthy orphan who is about to move house disappears without a trace the night before she is due to leave. Further revelations about Nesta’s private life begin to emerge, leading Alice to believe she has been murdered. Nesta’s affair comes to light, while Alice begins to suspect that the letters she received have been faked.

The Double: Two identical women, one virginal and touch-me-not and the other sexy and seductive, vie for the affections of a young stockbroker.

A Dark Blue Perfume: A middle-aged man is still haunted by a love affair from his youth which almost ended in murder.

The Secret House of Death: A lonely divorcée becomes involved with a neighbour whose wife and her lover carried out a suicide pact. Unaware that Bob and Magdalene are the adulterers who murdered their spouses and faked the suicide pact, Susan offers her neighbour comfort, which he pretends to accept in order to find out how much she knows.

A Case of Coincidence: After four attractive women are found strangled in and around the local river, the free-spirited wife of a London doctor is killed while on an extramarital assignation. The investigation leads to Eddie Brannel, a mentally handicapped childhood friend of Sara’s, and although he admits to the other killings, he denies killing her.

Simisola: Wexford investigates a complex case involving the disappearance of a Nigerian doctor’s daughter, which is only made more complicated when the last person to see her alive is found murdered. Wexford arrests his burglary suspect, but a routine search of his house uncovers a body, which he suspects may be that of Dr. Akande’s missing daughter. With his best witness still comatose, Wexford deduces that the unidentified dead girl was an abused servant, so he seeks the truth in the homes of the well-to-do.

Harm Done: Wexford copes with two abductions of teen-aged girls, the disappearance of a three-year-old from her bedroom, and the return of a paroled paedophile to the town.

May and June: After a lifetime of sibling rivalry, mousy May accepts an invitation from her recently-widowed younger sister June, to live with her in her elegant home. After accepting her sister’s offer of reconciliation, May emerges from her mousy shell and seduces her sister’s lover.

Front Seat: When Cecily Branksome retires back to her old home town over her husband’s objections, she becomes involved with her boorish old boyfriend and a 30-year-old murder.

The Orchard Walls: A bright young teenage girl is ‘farmed out’ to relatives in the rural West Country during the Battle of Britain, and makes many astute observations about life there.

The Lake of Darkness: Quiet accountant Martin wins the lottery, but things take a turn for the worse when he meets Francesca, who is not what she seems.

Road Rage: Wexford investigates when a young German girl mysteriously disappears from outside a pub, and a group of environmentalist stage a sit in to prevent a bypass from being built through a forest. Wexford’s wife Dora is released by the terrorists, but young Roxanne is found dead, and young Ryan has apparently defected to the terrorists.

You Can’t Be Too Careful: Prim businesswoman Della Galway has a compulsive penchant for double-locking doors – but her new roommate is careless about security.

The Fallen Curtain: Richard Brazier has a mental block about his abduction as an eight-year-old and is haunted by what may or may not have happened.

Bribery and Corruption: A recent college graduate believes he loves the wife of his father’s former friend, but young Nicholas does not know that she’s having an affair with his father. Nick’s father remains in a coma after a suicide attempt as the police make him a prime suspect in his lover’s murder, but young Nick and Annabel conduct their own investigation.

Going Wrong: A successful businessman runs into his old girlfriend. Although she treats him politely, his rekindled feelings to her border on nothing less than obsession. Guy’s obsession with his old girlfriend Leonora grows and he becomes convinced that someone close to her is poisoning her against him. Invited to Leonora and William’s for dinner, Guy goes mad when he learns that they will be moving to Manchester and attacks William.

Technial Commentary

Video

The transfers – all full-screen, 1.33:1 with the exception of Harm Done, which is presented in an anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfers – are the exact same transfers as the previous individual releases. The transfers have not been altered from previous releases so they are what is expected, not flashy at all but adequate. Although one would argue that this set is purchased for the stories not the technical look of the adaptations.

Audio

The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio tracks are all ok, although listening on an Atmos system the dialogue is a little murky which is odd so in the future if a master set is ever released maybe the audio could be properly remastered.

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