Judge Kristin Munson welcomes you to the English countryside, where the men are pigs, the women are shrews, and love means a tragic plot twist is waiting just around the corner.
Love means never having to say you're sorry for sleeping with her sister, already being married, coveting his father, leaving her pregnant, or throwing acid in their face.
The DVD case for Country Matters leads me to believe that the copy writer was either having fun with the April Fool's street date or occupies a bizarre alternate universe where the Marquis DeSade writes books about rainbow-belching bunny rabbits and Uwe Boll cares about filmmaking. Describing the series as "provocative and heartwarming" and hyping actors from PBS staples like Fawlty Towers and Are You Being Served? prepares you for a light period drama and is about as accurate as a Medieval pregnancy test.
Country Matters was an anthology of H. E Bates and A. E. Coppard adaptations that aired on Masterpiece Theatre throughout the '70s, and the dramatizations are a Bingo game of Masterpiece cliché, including starched acting, longing glances, endless rain, and pauses so pregnant they're three weeks past their due date. Bates may best be known for nostalgic country fare like My Uncle Silas and The Darling Buds of May, and Coppard for his slightly Gothic rural tales, but producers ignored the authors' usual in favor of rape, death, betrayal, and life's crushing disappointments. You can't take a step without stumbling over an unwanted infant or dishonorable lover, making for a relentlessly and unnecessarily miserable experience.
The DVD collects eight randomly selected episodes from both seasons. Stories are so sparse that sometimes a single sentence can give away the entire hour, but they all boil down to the same plot: Boy meets girl, romance ensues, things end badly. Wash with bitter tears and multiply by eight. Episodes don't close so much as cut off. Not only are the endings abrupt, but they're all dreary and confusing in a way that makes Finnegans Wake seem like Finian's Rainbow.
The box's promise of romantic period dramas isn't entirely a lie. There's the occasional sweet story, like the slow romatic dance between a lonely, illiterate farmer and his honest and worldly housekeeper in "The Little Farm" or the slightly madcap "The Sullens Sisters," but they're hard to enjoy when you're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Once you realize that every tale is going to finish with an unhappy twist, watching becomes an exercise in masochism. "The Mill" spends an agonizing 22 minutes following the daily routine of a servant girl before going straight to the most obvious plot device, and the whole time it's dragging its feet, it's kicking the simple-minded main character around like a brain-damaged puppy.
The one bright spot is the talent involved in making the series. Recognizable faces like Ian McKellan, Gods and Monsters, Peter Firth (MI-5), and Pauline Collins (Harriet Jones of Doctor Who, Shaun of the Dead) get to play in meticulously designed sets and real country locations. The costumes range from Gibson Girl illustrations to filthy farm togs filled with authentically grimy people.
Because it was made in the early '70s, Country Matters was recorded on a combination of film and video. The video sequences may be stagy and claustrophobic, but at least you can see and hear. The filmed portions are murky and spattered with visual debris; a discolored line sits dead center through most of the "The Mill," and several scenes filmed in authentic country houses are so dark you can't see what's going on. The audio is quiet and muddy, and there are no subtitles to help you out.
Ultimately, Country Matters is an unlovable mess. After one episode, I was a puzzled; after three, I was ready to head into the bathtub with a toaster and the complete works of Radiohead; by seven, I'd figured out if I fast-forwarded through the scenery and the silences, the shows were a less suicide-inspiring half an hour. Even if you do enjoy bleak drama, Koch hasn't done a thing to clean up the picture or the sound. Factor in zero extras, and the fact that the set contains eight shows from a series that only ran for 13, and this is a sloppy, incomplete set. Invest your time and money in something more cheerful, like one of those movies where someone spends two hours dying of an incurable disease.
Guilty of misrepresentation without restoration.
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Studio: Koch Vision
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