Acorn Media // 2008 // 372 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // May 19th, 2010
"It's a murder investigation. Everything is my business." -- Inspector Tom Barnaby
"I'm a police officer. Suspicious mind is in my CV." -- Sgt. Ben Jones
Are you a Midsomer Murders fan? Then you have something in common with Queen Elizabeth, for whom Executive Producer Brian True-May tallied up the Midsomer murders. At the time, the death toll topped 150, but it's gone up a bit, since there's apparently a two-death minimum in each movie-length episode. Famous fans who have at least shown an interest in appearing in future episodes include Roger Moore and Johnny Depp.
The series is seen in more than 220 countries. I couldn't find exactly where it ranks, but a quick Wikipedia scan suggests that it's in an elite category, up there with CSI: Miami and Lost in global reach. Although no network in the United States has carried it for years, Midsomer Murders is a strong seller on Amazon.com.
Midsomer Murders was drawn from seven novels written by Caroline Graham, starting with 1987's The Killings at Badger's Drift. Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles, who spent a decade on another detective show, Bergerac, before taking on the role) first came to television in 1997, greeted by 15 million viewers in Britain. His job is to investigate all those homicides in rural Midsomer County. Many of the county's villages have "Midsomer" as part of their names: Midsomer Parva, for example. I'm guessing that one's named after a biological weapon first used in a murder in Midsomer County, but that's just idle speculation.
If you're a Midsomer fan, Midsomer Murders: Set 15 is made just for you. The first mystery, "Blood Wedding," finds Barnaby giving away his daughter Cully (Laura Howard) in matrimony, which was undoubtedly a special event to viewers in, oh, two hundred or so countries. The three Midsomer cases in the set are accompanied by Super Sleuths: Midsomer Murders, a 47-minute documentary on the series, not to mention text features with background on the series. In these, you'll find all the facts I've noted above, and more.
Midsomer Murders: Set 15 has three mysteries, plus a bonus documentary:
* "Blood Wedding"
"Only a hundred suspects. That's good."
Barnaby's distracted from preparations for Cully's wedding by the murder of a maid of honor at another wedding. He's got a mansion full of weapons and archers to sort through. Meanwhile, groom Simon's plans to detour to Germany for a band gig on the honeymoon are giving Cully second thoughts -- until she lands an acting gig of her own.
* "Shot at Dawn"
"Feuding is an Olympic sport around here."
The name of a soldier falsely accused of cowardice in World War I is finally placed on the local memorial. Next thing you know, Barnaby's breaking up a fight between two elderly men in wheelchairs brandishing loaves of bread at the local pub. Soon, someone will commit murder by remote control. If you're a fan of British drama, look for Malcolm Sinclair (Pie in the Sky) and George Cole (Minder).
* "Left for Dead"
"I can sense what happened here, Inspector, and it won't be the last."
Lynne Fox (Maggie Steed, Pie in the Sky) finds two bodies as she's going door-to-door to collect signatures for a petition to block a bypass. Later, Ben's on hand when a bypass protester is roughed up. Somehow, this is connected to a boy's disappearance nineteen years earlier -- and to Ben's latest love interest, a beautiful photographer.
* Super Sleuths: Midsomer Murders
"There's nothing particularly special about him. That's his quality."
John Nettles gives that modest description of Inspector Tom Barnaby, the protagonist of Midsomer Murders, in a documentary that includes interviews with cast and crew, original TV writer Anthony Horowitz, and Caroline Graham, who wrote the Inspector Barnaby novels.
The three cases here feature a skewering, a dying woman covered with cigarette burns, a body thrown in a well, a remote-controlled machine gun, and lots of fast-flying arrows, none of which were shot by Cupid. The Barnaby family's preparations for Cully's wedding, with the requisite caterer troubles and forgetfulness on Tom's part, along with Cully's habit of calling Tom's partner, Sgt. Ben Jones, on his cell to discuss her doubts, are the main plot in "Blood Wedding." Fortunately, Cully's wedding goes off without blood, although there is a car accident. The plot in "Left for Dead" is convoluted beyond adequate description -- or logic -- but there's a strong performance by Maggie Steed and a strange encounter with the killer at story's end. It also finds Ben Jones as best man at a wedding where everyone's a suspect. The real mystery, of course, is why murder suspects would ask a detective-sergeant to be best man. As for why he accepts, there's an explanation in Barnaby's Midsomer logic, but I doubt it would hold water in any other district.
The real highlight, though, is the documentary, which gives the series' history and introduces the main people involved with the show. You'll also hear the jokes about the show's clichés, such as British morning DJ Terry Wogan's joking claim that the appearance of Cully Barnaby anywhere is followed by murder. It shows that Nettles and company don't take Midsomer too seriously, but at the same time, they do work hard to make it a well-crafted series. There's also discussion of some of the strangest murders in Midsomer history and the series' Theremin score, which is unforgettable once you've heard it. Text features include a Caroline Graham bio that's been featured on earlier sets, and comments from executive producer Brian True-May, John Nettles, and Laura Howard. The package is wrapped up with Cully Barnaby's photo gallery, which shows how the actress has looked over the years, set to the show's theme.
Picture and sound quality are excellent for the 2008 TV episodes.
Watching John Nettles, Laura Howard, and Jane Wymark calmly talk about all those murders in Midsomer County might, just for a moment, make you wonder if they're all psychos, even though the crimes are purely fictional.
"It might not be edgy, contemporary drama, but it's relaxing entertainment with interesting characters," executive producer Brian True-May says in his text comments. That would just about sum up Midsomer Murders, and it would fit in a Twitter tweet.
If you're a Midsomer Murders fan, buy this set. You'll get three strong mysteries, plus a welcome chance to meet the people behind the mayhem. Newcomers will likely want an earlier volume to get their introduction to Inspector Barnaby. Of the three volumes I've reviewed, I'd suggest Midsomer Murders: Set 14.
Unlike just about everyone in Midsomer County, not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 372 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Text Features