Acorn Media // 2008 // 347 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 29th, 2009
Maurice (Anthony Stewart Head, Repo! The Genetic Opera) and Syd (Warren Clarke, A Clockwork Orange) have returned to England after decades of absence in retirement on Spain's criminal coast. With their appetite for the high life whetted (and their bank accounts shrinking), the pair each get an apartment in a condo. When they discover that the local barman (Dean Lennox Kelly, Saving Grace) is the son of one of their former partners, the trio finds a reason to reform their once-famous gang, The Invisibles. Of course this leads to numerous problems, including the objections of Maurice's wife, run-ins with the law, and difficulties with getting old.
This set includes all six (untitled) episodes from the show's first series distributed evenly across two discs. These discs are each housed in their own keep cases, and the pair is enclosed in a cardboard slip.
The Invisibles is easily one of the most impressive series I've seen from British television. The premise is simple and compelling: a pair of aging crooks fall back into their old ways after vowing to retire. Obviously it's been done before, but what sets apart The Invisibles is the tone. Most shows would have taken the idea in one of two directions, either making it a dark, bitter meditation on morality or a light, slapstick yarn about old folks getting into trouble. The beauty of The Invisibles is that it takes bits from both ends of the spectrum, offering a show that can be light and funny one moment and a serious commentary on aging in another. For instance, during a later episode, Maurice is dealing with a particularly sticky family situation, and he makes a beautiful, impassioned speech about love and family that sets everything right -- except, he's covered in blue because a dye pack from the job he's just pulled has exploded all over him. It's this blending of the comic and the serious that sets this show apart.
However, the mixture of serious and comic would not be nearly as effective without the stellar cast on display here. Anthony Head anchors the show as Maurice, and he gets to show a range that not many of his other roles have been able to exploit. The rest of the cast are his equal, and they are faces that many film fans will recognize. Syd, Maurice's partner, is played by Warren Clarke, who Kubrick fans will recognize quickly. Although he's not as flashy or mercurial as Head, he brings a down-to-earth quality that makes the pair compelling. Maurice's wife is ably played by Jenny Agutter of Walkabout fame, and Dean Lennox Kelly deserves points for playing the "muscle" character both smartly and sympathetically. Finally, Head's daughter Emily plays Maurice's daughter in a few episodes, and she's frightfully talented.
I was also impressed by the show's attention to the crimes. Other shows in this position might have shortchanged them in favor of more family drama or comedy. Instead, The Invisibles makes a robbery the center of every episode, and the production values are surprisingly high. Even more impressive is the thought that went into each job. Every one of the episodes provides a compelling reason for the team to don their kit, while the challenges while on the job are clever. It's not quite Jonathan Creek or Ocean's Eleven, but The Invisibles doesn't shortchange crime fans by providing too much drama.
This set from Acorn Media is technically efficient even if it lacks in bonus materials. The video transfers look good, with no source or compression problems. Detail wasn't spectacular, but I was impressed by the overall look of the show. The audio keeps things simple with easily audible dialogue and music. Subtitles are helpfully provided, however, for we Americans who sometimes can't catch every word in certain accents. The lone extra is a collection of cast filmographies.
As is often the case with the limited "series" approach of British television, I'm left wanting more of The Invisibles. I know the limited run allows for better actors and higher budgets, but darn it I want more of Maurice and Co. Luckily, this series ends on a good note (no obnoxious cliffhangers) that is self-contained, but could allow for more episodes in the future.
The almost utter lack of extras on this set is a bit of a disappointment. I'd be very curious to hear what the actors thought of playing such self-consciously "old" characters, and I'd be interested to hear what the creators had to say about the genesis of the show.
Although The Invisibles clicked with me, its mixture of comedy and drama might turn some viewers off, especially those looking for more edgy British crime shows.
Although each episode is relatively similar (setup, robbery, fallout), the strong characters and acting, as well as the willingness to deal honestly with the rigors of aging make The Invisibles a must-watch for fans of British TV. Although the set from Acorn Media leaves a bit to be desired in the extras department, it's otherwise a strong release with a fine audiovisual presentation.
No one can seem to catch them, so The Invisibles are not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 347 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated