Acorn Media // 1997 // 500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 15th, 2013
"If someone doesn't get murdered, you'll only get tetchy." -- Joyce Barnaby, to husband Tom
Way back in 1997, when Inspector Tom Barnaby cracked the case of "The Killings at Badger's Drift," British viewers wouldn't have dreamed of streaming video, digital television, and DVD box sets; even the width of the screen was narrower. They did have VCRs, but most of them probably caught the opening TV movie of Midsomer Murders in real time -- with commercials -- on ITV. Two of the unknown actors they saw -- Emily Mortimer and Colin Farrell -- later became movie stars.
Enough viewers watched Midsomer Murders in real time back in 1997 for the series to last to the present day, with Inspector John Barnaby recently stepping in to keep the investigations at Causton CID in the family. Anyway, Tom Barnaby had little time to get tetchy over the years. That also means that a lot of viewers might not be familiar with Inspector Tom Barnaby's early cases. Thus, Midsomer Murders: Series 1 presents the first five TV movies anew. The stories are drawn from Caroline Graham's novels.
* "The Killings at Badger's Drift" -- A flower could grow into a clue in a retired teacher's murder, with Emily Mortimer (Match Point) and Selina Cadell (Doc Martin) as suspects.
* "Written in Blood" -- The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a candlestick can render anyone -- even a writer -- "not quite recognizable." David Troughton (New Tricks) guests.
* "Death of a Hollow Man" -- Joyce Barnaby gets into the act in a local play, but chances are good that husband Tom will find she's not the one who put a real knife in place of a prop.
* "Faithful Unto Death" -- At the fair, Barnaby wins a coconut and breaks up a fight, while Cully meets a well-known actress. Soon, a missing person investigation turns up a buried shepherd's pie.
* "Death in Disguise" -- One of the founders of the Lodge of the Golden Windhorse commune wants to end his "journey of discovery," but not with the fall that puts him "in a different shade of gray." Colin Farrell (In Bruges) guests.
If you're a Midsomer fan, and you came in late, you'll want to see "The Killings at Badger's Drift." It's a typical case for Inspector Tom Barnaby, with a death toll that hits seven, guest stars hamming it up, and a preoccupation with sex. "Death of a Hollow Man" also provides a series first, as Joyce Barnaby is on hand for her first murder; Barnaby knows some of the suspects in "Faithful Unto Death" and "Death in Disguise."
The initial stories are all strong, with barbed dialogue ("No, but don't worry, I'll get over it," is how a suspect denies committing a murder) and offbeat touches (writers' words in voiceover as they're introduced). There's a tendency for filler gags, such as Barnaby catsitting without realizing he's allergic, though.
John Nettles' style as an investigator is tougher. Barnaby seems to make suspects sweat more than in later episodes. He's also very visibly observant, slyly looking for clues as he helps a suspect make tea. Barnaby's partner in the early cases is Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey, The Wingless Bird), a youthful detective with knacks for bad driving and jumping to conclusions.
According to Acorn, these TV movies had previously been released as part of Set 5. "The Killings at Badger's Drift" and "Death of a Hollow Man" are also included the Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10 collection (and turn out to be the best cases in the first series). They also might turn up on Acorn's streaming service. So you might have seen some or all of these early mysteries; be careful to avoid unintended double dips. Librarians might consider it an essential for their TV-on-DVD shelf. As usual, expect quite a bit of sexuality, including incest, often as motive for murder.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the picture quality on Acorn's transfers is good but not spectacular. Given these were filmed in the pre-digital era, I can't say I'm surprised. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track complements the visuals just fine. In terms of bonus features, there's not much here. A Midsomer map appears in two sizes, both a little difficult to read. Production notes tackle the theremin theme, show's budget, and their filming schedule.
Somehow, I doubt Tom Barnaby had a chance to get tetchy. Somewhere, his wife is still getting involved in the community -- and running into murders. If you haven't run into all of his cases, you might want to look back on Midsomer Murders: Series 1.
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 500 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Notes
* Midsomer Maps