A.K.A. Murder Most English: A Flaxborough Chronicle
Despite warning both potential and imminent viewers on the box (as well as at the start of all three DVDs contained therein) that the video quality of this classic BBC 1977 series may contain "occasional flaws in the image and audio... that were beyond our ability to correct from the original materials... due to the age," which I'm assuming was most likely due to poorly preserved master tapes-- honestly, that's the least challenging aspect of Murder Most English.
By now a hopeless devotee of the BBC and ITV who proudly admits to a definite "Acorn Addiction" after relishing in the superlative collections of some of the finest home entertainment releases over roughly the course of a year since my initial discovery of Acorn Media via the dynamite miniseries presentations of First Among Equals, Rain Shadow, Affairs of the Heart, The Last Detective, The Shiralee, and Mobile (among others)--the perhaps less than ideal digital presentation of the works is something I'll gladly take in stride.
Moreover-- and now especially considering the fact Acorn has seemed to make a concerted effort to provide subtitles on a large majority of their recent offerings which goes a long way to clarify any poor audio hurdles not to mention give us Yanks on this side of the pond the added translation of some of the tougher accents and slang-- it seems to be a fair exchange.
By putting up with some less-than-first-rate transfers of wondrously amusing works like The Beiderbecke Affair, we can likewise relish in the company's continuing dedication to going into the archives of (mostly) UK releases previously only offered by way of other DVD Region Codes and bringing the titles to the states.
No-- all polite but overly unnecessary disclaimers about quality aside-- my greatest obstacle in regards to Murder Most English was on the most basic level of just having a hard time developing either an affinity for the beloved characters in Colin Watson's Flaxborough series of detective novels along with the labyrinthine narrative structure of the series.
Honestly I found the episodes so confusing that at least in the case of the opening two-part mystery Hopjoy Was Here, I was largely unable to comprehend just whom exactly we were following and what was going on until finally thirty minutes in when it finally hooked me.
However in retrospect, the mysteries-- despite the lackluster staging and my ardent belief that knowledge of Watson's source material is definitely required-- are all top notch and the set includes four detective tales spread out over the course of seven episodes including Hopjoy Was Here, Lonelyheart 4122, The Flaxborough Crab, and Coffin Scarcely Used. And as the titles themselves go, I'd highly recommend both Hopjoy which boasts an unexpected twist as well as the wickedly ingenious and surprisingly funny Flaxborough Crab which is definitely timely in our Viagra era as men in the town begin behaving like crabs after experimenting with a masculine virility supplement.
Yet all the same, I found myself mixed on the collection overall, wishing that instead of a technical warning, the box set would've come with a cheat sheet to offer a bit more background regarding the characters. While luckily our series lead we encounter in the form of the mild-mannered, level-headed, happily tweed attired pipe smoking Detector Inspector Purbright (Anton Rodgers) seems pretty straightforward, I was especially curious about the bright but mischievous fan-favorite Miss Lucilla Teatime (Brenda Bruce) who always seems to have a few tricks up her sleeve and never fails to get involved in ways that I think would've worked much better on the page than the screen.
So in the end, Murder Most English gets a tentative recommendation with my favored technical warning that a trip to the library or your favorite mystery book shop may be in order before you venture to the televised version of Flaxborough.