Case Number 02804

THE PIGLET FILES

BFS Video // 1990 // 171 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // April 18th, 2003

The Charge

A spy...in search of a clue!

Opening Statement

If you blinked at the wrong moment, you may have missed The Piglet Files, which may be one of the best comedies you have never seen. In punchy half-hour episodes, The Piglet Files cheerfully demolishes the James Bond legacy of unassailable spycraft with sharp writing and piercing British wit.

Facts of the Case

"A Question of Intelligence"
MI5 makes Peter Chapman (Nicholas Lyndhurst) an offer he can't refuse, but only Peter is to blame for insisting on his codename "Piglet." Of course, not every new hire gets to help his boss defect to the Russians!

"A Room With a View"
Covert surveillance is much easier when you are watching your target from an innocent location, and not the other way around. Even the help of Peter's electronic wizardry is of limited help when you must make small talk with Russian agents over a fine English tea.

"Fair Exchange"
Having an attractive Eastern Bloc defector over for a sleepover is all in a day's work for Peter, even if it infuriates his wife. Slightly complicating matters is the Russian decision to kidnap Peter's wife as a bargaining chip.

"The Iceman Cometh"
Peter's quiet life takes an interesting turn when a mix-up in the Russian bureaucracy marks him as a successful British spy, and therefore a target for assassination. He takes it well, considering his inexperience in having a good solid panic.

"Now You See It"
A French super-stealth device for aircraft is up for grabs. The CIA (whose agent watches far too many Clint Eastwood movies) and MI5 are more or less allied as they compete to retrieve the maguffin...from the Swedes?!

"A Private Member's Bill"
When a reform minded MP (Member of Parliament) sets his sights on the Security Service (MI5), the proper response is obvious. Blackmail, burglary, and sleaze, oh my!

"The Beagle Has Landed"
When the Clueless Brigade fails to infiltrate an animal fanatic group, sheer bloody chance puts Peter on the inside to monitor their schemes. That should be a safe place for a Piglet, wouldn't you say?

The Evidence

James Bond is the ultimate British gentleman/spy, a suave killer with nerves of steel and a flawless array of technology and technique.

Piglet is a technology geek, saddled with an embarrassing codename, who is blessed with unfortunate luck, bureaucratic red tape, and a collection of coworkers ranging from the possibly competent to the exceedingly dim.

Poor Piglet. He so wants to be James Bond, but reality keeps intruding into his fantasies.

The Piglet Files is a refreshing comedic sorbet, cleansing your mental palate of the half-wit detritus accumulated from too many Wonder Bread sitcoms. This happy result springs from a finely managed blend of source material, well chosen actors, and fine writing that just sparkles. The spy genre is wonderfully rich soil for comedy, and for the British, the addition of the James Bond franchise is a shot of rich fertilizer. The creators of The Piglet Files had this in mind, with clear and subtle Bond references salted among the episodes (starting with the first episode's hilarious Chapman, Peter Chapman and banana scene that ends up in the DVD cover art). This choice of source material is particularly refreshing if you name the other "spy comedies." I'd say that's a pretty short list when measured against the Mt. Everest piles of "relationship," "workplace," or "family" comedies.

Nicholas Lyndhurst (David Copperfield (1999)) has a gawky physique and horrible Presumed Innocent haircut calculated to drive all thoughts of James Bond from your head. This is surely by design, as Lyndhurst uses them to establish his average-intelligent-Joe (bloke?) credentials. He makes "Piglet" a sensible chap, aghast at the breathtaking density, though his own Bond-ian fantasies are apt to get him in trouble. This contrast between "Piglet" and the astonishing absurdities of his colleagues and his missions is the font of comedy for The Piglet Files, one that Lyndhurst uses to full advantage.

Though "Piglet" (AKA Peter Chapman) is the focus of the show, equally responsible for the comic joy of The Piglet Files is co-star Clive Francis (Longitude, Masada, A Clockwork Orange). Complimenting Nicholas Lyndhurst's modesty, Clive Francis is simply sublime as Piglet's perpetually exasperated superior. His sartorial flair and aristocratic air make his litany of acid-tongued reprimands a glory to behold as his verbal judo lays waste to his block-headed underlings. Adding to his talents as an actor, Clive Francis is also an accomplished caricaturist. His humorous drawings of himself and Nicholas Lyndhurst grace the show's credits.

The full-frame video transfer is quite clean and free of defects and dirt, though digital edge enhancement rears its ugly head from time to time. The colors vary from moderate to slightly oversaturated, but the overall effect is pleasing and vivid. As for sound, the best part is the catchy theme song, a nice bit of thump and synth. In other respects, a competent television soundtrack, meaning clear and distinct but otherwise fairly mono.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Until I began writing this review and did some research, I had no idea that this DVD release of The Piglet Files is not the whole of the series. Rather than just a flash in the pan sort of show, The Piglet Files apparently lasted for three seasons, with this release merely encompassing the first season. Unfortunately, the packaging does not make this at all clear, as it should. I can only hope that in due course we will be graced with the appearances of the other two seasons!

With my taste for a number of British television shows, I am unfortunately familiar with the general production values of BFS Video product, which continue in The Piglet Files. This is not a comment on the technical quality of the shows themselves, but rather the frosting on the cake, so to speak. That is, scant extra content, no insert in the keep case, and not even English subtitles (or American subtitles, for that matter). Actually, the fact that The Piglet Files contains any extra content is a surprise, given the bare-bones discs (i.e. Sharpe's Rifles) I have seen in the past.

While any extra content is better than none at all, damning with faint praise is the best that I can do for The Piglet Files's content. There are biography and filmography profiles for Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Francis, and a short history of the MI5 counter-intelligence service. That's it.

Closing Statement

A well-blended combination of farce, physical comedy, razor-sharp wit, and spy genre satire, The Piglet Files comes in family-friendly, half-hour sized chunks to brighten most anyone's day. Anglophiles or spy-genre fans with a sense of humor should just pick this set up ($40 list), but I'd recommend The Piglet Files for a general audience as well. If you want gritty, deadly serious British spy fare, check out the excellent series The Sandbaggers available on DVD.

The Verdict

The Piglet Files is released without charge, with the thanks of the court for its service in the name of comedy. BFS Video is guilty of excessive bean counting, which we can only hope will be remedied in the future.

Review content copyright © 2003 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 86
Audio: 80
Extras: 4
Acting: 90
Story: 92
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: BFS Video
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 171 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Cast Profiles
* Brief History of MI5

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0098895/combined

* MI5 Official Site
http://www.mi5.gov.uk/

* Clive Francis Fan Page
http://www.geocities.com/GastropodGraphics/FrancisFiles/Critiques.html