As the BBC series George Gently embarks on its sixth series, Acorn Media have been helping us catch up with it. The first step was the George Gently Collection Series 1-4 box set, which we recently reviewed. That 11-DVD collection contains all 11 episodes of the first four series of the program. Series Five has also just been released, as a four-DVD set. Each series (“seasons” in the United States), consists of two, three, or four 90-minute episodes, hence the odd number of series in the box. There were four programs (really TV movies) for the fifth series, and a full DVD is devoted to each.
Although the pilot is not included here, a brief mention of it would help in setting up the premise of the show. “George Gently” introduced us to the titular character, played by Martin Shaw. The year is 1964, and Gently is considering retiring from the Metropolitan Police force in London. Through a series of events he leaves, but goes to work in Northern England as a police inspector. Gently is old-school, and has no time for stupid, or lazy cops. He also has no interest in being bought off, as do so many of his fellows. Gently’s manner is gruff, to say the least, but he gets the job done.
He is an interesting character to be sure, and the setting is great too. The first two seasons were in 1964, with Series Three and Four set in 1966. Series Five takes place in 1968, which was one of the most eventful of that decade. I have had the opportunity to watch all 15 George Gently episodes now, and the show just gets better and better.
“Northern Soul” is the title of the first entry, and puts us right into the racial turmoil of late-'60s England. There has been a murder of a young black woman, and nobody but Gently and his partner Detective Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) seem to be bothered by it. In “Gently With Class,” the two investigate a murder among the aristocracy. “The Lost Child,” is an emotionally complex story involving the kidnapping of an adopted child. All eyes are at first on the birth mother, but as we soon discover, there are dark secrets and very sinister forces at work.
“Gently in the Cathedral” is the jewel of the series. A vicious criminal that Gently put away in 1964 has been released due to a technicality, and comes looking for Gently. As we later discover, he has deep ties inside the police department, which are used to strip Gently of his badge, gun, and dignity. Bacchus is unwittingly pulled into the plot by being led to believe that cooperation will help him land a position with the Metro Police. They tell him that Gently is out for revenge against the criminal, and must be stopped. The title "Gently in the Cathedral" comes from the most action-filled George Gently sequence I have ever seen, a running gun-battle that takes places inside an ancient cathedral.
The main bonus feature in the set is a three-minute piece about the filming of “Gently in the Cathedral.”
Although it is a relatively straightforward thing to describe these episodes, there are a great number of elements to them that simply do not translate well to the page. For one thing, there is the scenery of Northern England, which is beautiful. Then there is the way Shaw plays Gently. He is an older man, but tough as hell. And the way he treats people is just astoundingly bad.
I found the fifth series of George Gently to be the most intriguing, and intense one so far. It is an excellent mystery/police drama, with a lot of action, all set to the fascinating backdrop of England in 1968. Worth checking out, especially now that we are in the summer doldrums for television.