Judge Paul Pritchard would pay, but he left his wallet at home.
"In a lifetime, in every act, among the seeds we sow, is the seed of tragedy."
Originally broadcast by the BBC in 1977, Who Pays the Ferryman? is the story of ex-British soldier Alan Haldane (Jack Hedley), who returns to the island of Crete having served there during World War II. Hoping to find some meaning in his life following his forced retirement, Alan begins searching for Melina, the woman he fell in love with during the war. Instead of finding Melina, Alan meets Annika (Betty Arvaniti), and the two form an instant bond. However, a visit to his old friend, Babis (Neil McCarthy), who served with Alan during the war, turns his life upside down. Alan learns that Melina has passed away. Not only that, but she also bore a daughter—Alan's daughter—a young woman named Elena (Mairi Sokali), who runs a local taverna with her husband, Nikos (Nikos Verlekis).
Alan is at a loss as to why Melina would keep such important news from him, and is similarly perplexed when Babis assures him that Melina did not receive any of the letters he had sent her. The shocks are not yet over, for Annika, whom Alan has growing feelings for, is Elena's aunt, and Melina's sister. Frightened of losing Annika, and wanting to form some sort of relationship with his daughter, Alan opts to keep his secret. However, any happiness Alan might find is threatened when vengeful ghosts from the past rear their heads.
Who Pays The Ferryman? (Region 2) collects all eight episodes of the miniseries.
While it would be true to say Who Pays the Ferryman? occasionally veers dangerously close to soap opera-like melodramatics, it would also only be fair to stress how these moments—though occasionally grating—do little to erode the obvious craftsmanship that has gone into it.
Unlike many TV miniseries, Who Pays the Ferryman? makes little effort to conceal its secrets. Before the opening episode has drawn to a close, the viewer is fully aware of what is going on, and has a good understanding of each of the characters and their motivations. In what is something of a bold move, Who Pays the Ferryman? isn't solely devoted to the main plot thread, which centers on Alan's seemingly doomed romance with Annika. Instead, around half of the eight episodes are effectively standalone stories, with only the briefest amount of time possible spent on developing the main plot. However, what these individual stories are able to do is provide a better understanding of the characters. For it is the characters that are most important in Who Pays the Ferryman?, not the story. During these standalone episodes we are able to learn as much about Alan from his interactions with these seemingly inconsequential characters as we are from his time spent with Annika or Babis. This in turn affords the series a depth that would otherwise be lacking, lending it a richness and a feeling of a fully realized world. This is best exemplified in the episode, "Receive the Light," in which Alan is challenged to a boat race by local fisherman Xenophon. Though he does nothing to advance the plot, Xenophon is an essential addition to the series, as the bond he forms with Alan beautifully conveys the show's exploration of how two very different cultures can come together.
Over the course of these eight episodes, it's remarkable how invested the viewer becomes in these characters. In what could be described as a paradox of sorts, I desperately wanted Alan, Annika, Nikos, and Elena to find true happiness together, and yet it was the inevitability of tragedy descending upon them that kept me hooked to the TV for the duration of the miniseries.
The cast is truly first-rate. Betty Arvaniti instills Annika with such amazing strength, yet still reveals an endearing vulnerability. Such quality stretches to the smaller roles, such as that of The Major, played by Stefan Gryff. In lesser hands, the monologues The Major is prone to breaking into could become tiresome, but in Gryff's hands they feel honest and true.
Another star of the series is undoubtedly the stunning natural beauty of Crete. Throughout the eight episodes we get to see much of the island, taking in such contrasting locales. The show also takes the time to explore the customs of the island, which includes a beautifully captured Easter procession. The flipside of this are one or two moments that offer a less flattering, almost stereotypical, view of Crete, with toothless, xenophobic locals who quickly turn on "foreigners." Thankfully these moments are fleeting, yet they are still there and hard not to notice.
The DVD itself is something of a mixed bag. Presented in its original 1.37:1 full frame aspect ratio, with a Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack, Who Pays the Ferryman suffers from an inconsistent transfer. Undoubtedly a byproduct of its age, there are numerous instances of damage to the print, and—most notably during location shots—a softness to the picture. Still, detail levels are generally good, with interior shots also benefiting from a cleaner, more colorful, image. The mono soundtrack is clear, with crisp dialogue. The three-disc set is completely bereft of extras.
It's disappointing that Eureka has been unable to offer any supplemental materials for this release, as a retrospective or cast interviews would have been welcome additions to this set. Regardless, the quality of the series itself is beyond repute, and worthy of consideration by the more discerning DVD collector.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
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