Eureka Entertainment // 1986 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // April 3rd, 2013
Where can Eddie run?
When petty crook Eddie Cass is presented with the chance to make some quick money he jumps at it. The job seems simple enough: transport a package across London. When Eddie arrives at the drop-off point to find nobody there to collect, he lets curiosity get the better of him and opens the parcel. The contents -- a severed woman's head -- causes Eddie to panic and dump it in the River Thames.
Hoping that will be the end of the matter, Eddie is horrified when he is picked up by a mysterious group who apparently represent the real killer, and advise him that he has been chosen -- apparently at random -- to take the fall for their client. As Eddie attempts to go off the radar, he is shocked to find friends and family apparently involved in his framing; when the newspapers name him as the chief suspect in the murder, his "own private atom bomb" goes off.
Were it not for its juxtaposition of 1980s Britain with film noir, there would be very little to really recommend about the BBC miniseries Dead Head.
The opening episode is admittedly excellent, presenting a likable lead in the form of chirpy chappy Eddie Cass (Denis Lawson), whose witty narration is perfectly balanced with what is an otherwise rather dark story. The opening episode moves at a furious pace, with a large cast of characters introduced, and an intriguing plot laid out -- with a nice mystery element to it. The supporting cast, which includes the excellent George Baker (Ruth Rendell Mysteries) and Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral), brings undoubted class to proceedings, seemingly setting up a cracking little thriller. Sadly, and all too quickly, the show begins to fall apart.
It's roughly the midway point of Episode Two where Dead Head begins to lose its way. It quickly becomes evident that the large cast is full of incidental characters, and as the plot begins to introduce a seemingly endless series of twists and turns, the entire production devolves into a confusing mess. Like Eddie, we the viewer begin to feel we are being played with. The final episode, which is infuriatingly ambiguous when it is time for the big reveal, suggests that the entire plot is built upon an unnecessary ruse, with Eddie's apparently dire situation being easily resolved. Had there been a greater emphasis placed on the murders which set in motion the show's events, such a fatal shortcoming may have been more bearable, as when the show focuses on them it soars. Alas, this is not the case.
Perhaps the one element of the show -- beyond its excellent cast -- that holds one's attention throughout is the way it probes the British class system, and its effects on patriotism. Eddie is a working=class man prepared to go to great lengths for Queen and country. Throughout his ordeal, he has his faith put to the test. However, the message that is ultimately given -- which is apparently that blind faith in the upper classes is the key to upward social mobility for the working class -- is hardly fitting when taking into account the events we have witnessed.
Director Rob Walker and writer Howard Benton should be commended for their efforts to build such a bleak atmosphere, as despite my personal reservations, the series certainly nails this one important element. Unfortunately other important factors, such as plot and dialogue are often found wanting, with the latter suffering from some extremely heavy handed moments -- with a final scene bad enough to make you cringe.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Eureka's DVD release of Dead Head is hindered by a lackluster transfer. The picture often appears murky, with detail levels definitely below par. The mono soundtrack is a similar affair, with a flat mix occasionally losing some clarity due to the show's age. The only extras included are for episodes one and two, with writer Howard Benton discussing the series.
Bearing in mind that Dead Head has never been repeated since its original airing in 1986, it's questionable as to how much of a demand there actually is for this release. I commend Eureka for giving putting their money behind what is a rather strange production, but struggle to see who this will really appeal to.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated