Judge Gordon Sullivan's next project is a dramedy about a DVD reviewer in a small English village.
A gentle British drama
I have been wracking my brain trying to think of an American equivalent to Stephen Fry and I just can't do it. Sure, we Americans know a bit about Stephen Fry—he's been on primetime television (Bones) and in blockbuster movies (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)—but he's less well-known here than contemporaries Hugh Laurie (House, M.D.), Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), or even Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean). Part of the reason there's no American equivalent for Mr. Fry is that no one in American has taken it upon themselves to wear quite as many hats as Mr. Fry doffs on a regular basis. Though lots of stars cross over—from music to movies, from stand-up to television, from television to movies—no one I can think of can be labeled a talented comedian, dramatic actor (for stage, screen, and radio), audiobook narrator, and documentary producer/presenter.
It's all the more remarkable given that Fry did not get his start until after the golden era of the BBC, when it could rely on steady government funds before the age of Thatcher. Nevertheless, Fry has seemingly made his career by appearing in one after another staple British show. He's done sketch comedy a la Monty Python (A Bit of Fry and Laurie), a quiz show (Q.I.), and several documentaries and travelogues (The Secret Life of Manic Depression and Stephen Fry's America). Which brings us to Kingdom, where Mr. Fry gets to check "comedic British pastoral" off his bucket list and give viewers a taste of life outside the bustling metropolis of London.
Facts of the Case
In Kingdom, Fry plays country solicitor Peter Kingdom in Market Shipborough, a fictional small town northeast of London that's populated by a whole series of eccentric characters. Naturally, these characters have problems that only Kingdom can solve, with the help of his assistants. The series is given its dramatic weight by Peter's search for his brother after a mysterious disappearance. This two-disc set includes all six episodes of Kingdom: Season One.
Kingdom is essentially an episodic dramedy in the British tradition of showing viewers what it's like outside the big cities of England. This time, of course, it's about a solicitor instead of a vicar or doctor, but essentially the formula is the same. Each episode begins with some legal problem that Kingdom must be consulted on, usually an eccentric problem brought to him by one of the colorful locals. In each 60-minute episode, Kingdom largely solves the problem, with much misunderstanding and hilarity in between. Some of the stories can be a bit heavy (as when a woman shows up claiming her baby has been kidnapped), but the show is largely gentle and good-humored, even with its more dramatic stories.
The one major thing that separates this show from its earlier counterparts is that Peter Kingdom, for all his charm and success, is burdened with a dysfunctional family in addition to his kooky neighbors. Peter has a missing brother and a half-sister who moves in with him after rehab, so he's got problems of his own to deal with in addition to those of his clientele.
The show is also a pretty strong tourist ad for its shooting location. It's shot in Swaffham (at least for the exteriors), and it makes the area look positively inviting. The shot-on-location feel also gives the show a leg up in terms of variety as well, since not every scene must take place on a soundstage with fake trees out of the windows. I can easily imagine viewers getting lost in some of the exteriors rather than focusing on the show's plots.
This DVD set from the BBC does a fine job presenting the show. Each disc gets three episodes, and the show's slightly dreamy look is well-replicated on this set. The standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has a slightly glowing look about, and is somewhat soft-focus, so don't go combing the frame for loads of detail. That said, colors are appropriate (especially skin tones) and no serious compression artifacts crop up to mar the presentation. It's as good as recent broadcast television of this type can look in standard def. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo tracks do a fine job balancing the dialogue-heavy nature of the show with its use of music.
The set's lone extra is a 46-minute making of featurette that includes a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the cast and crew, and moments from the show. It's a solid doc that gives a sense of the atmosphere on location.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Kingdom is a very, very English show. The genre is particularly English, the humor is particularly English, and pretty much all the actors are English as well. For anglophiles, that's a glowing recommendation, but for those new to British television in general, and especially this kind of country doctor genre might feel a bit lost now and again. Similarly, the show's not-quite drama, not-quite comedy approach could be alienating as well for those raised on shows that are either funny or dramatic. Finally, it's easy to grow frustrated with British television, where six episodes constitutes a "series" and there are only three series of Kingdom so far. So, if you love the show and the little world it builds, you actually don't have that much of it.
I've yet to see a Stephen Fry production that hasn't delighted me in some small way. Though he's had his share of less-than-successful outings—I'm not a huge fan of Stephen Fry in America—even his lesser efforts are worthwhile for his charm, wit, and sense of good humor. Kingdom fits perfectly into that mold. It's a small-town dramedy that won't change anyone's life, but at least with Kingdom: Season One, viewers can while away six hours getting lost in the problems of an eccentric cast of characters. The presentation is solid enough to make this worth buying for fans, and worth renting for the curious.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.