STANDING ON GUARD

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Trial & Retribution: Set 5

Release Year:         2008

Studio:         Acorn Media

Format:         Colour; NTSC; Widescreen

Rated:         Not Rated; Contains nudity, disturbing images, and coarse language

# of Discs/Episodes:         2 / 4

Running Time:         368 minutes

DVD Release Date:         June 19, 2012

Creators:         Lynda La Plante

Actors:         David Hayman; Victoria Smurfit; Dorian Lough; Kerry Fox; Kate Buffery; Gemma Jones

DVD Features:         SDH subtitles

E: Top Picks Rating:         8/10

Acorn Media Write-up:
Akin to “Law & Order”, TRIAL AND RETRIBUTION takes viewers from the crime scene to the forensics laboratory and from police headquarters to the courtroom. As DCS Mike Walker and DCI Roisin Conner, David Hayman (“Sid and Nancy”) and Victoria Smurfit (“About a Boy”) lend steely credibility to cases ripped from today’s headlines. From a man who may have been wrongly convicted of murder to a seemingly untouchable Ukrainian billionaire, these four feature-length episodes take an unflinching look at criminal investigations and the scars left on the survivors.

In SET 5’s four feature-length mysteries, police investigate a call girl’s murder, the murder of a famous pediatric surgeon, an ex-con’s innocence, and the search for an old friend’s missing sister.

TRIAL AND RETRIBUTION: SET 5 episodes aired in the UK in 2008 as “Volume XV: Rules of the Game”; “Volume XVI: Kill the King”; “Volume XVII: Conviction”; and Volume XVIII: The Box”; but they have never aired in the US.

The series premiered on ITV in the UK in 1997, and aired for twenty-two mysteries, ending in 2009. Acorn previously released TRIAL & RETRIBUTION: SETS 1 – 4 (Volumes I – XIV) as well as several other series from Lynda La Plante including “Prime Suspect”, “Above Suspicion”, and “The Commander”.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:
It’s been a long wait since the last North American release of episodes of the long-running TRIAL & RETRIBUTION police drama. It’s been well worth the wait, but it has also served to provide a bit of distance from the previous, stellar episodes, and the more recent, still very good, but somewhat declining-in-quality later episodes.

This set contains four two-part dramas from the show’s 11th and penultimate season. Hopefully we will soon have the final release from Acorn Media, which will, if the pattern continues, feature the last four two-part dramas in the series. This will include the fifth two-parter from season 11, and the three two-parters from the last season, season 12.

Confused? It took me some digging to figure all that out, but it was worth it to be brought up to speed.

At the centre of this fine drama is the excellent David Hayman as Det. Supt. Mike Walker, a tough, tormented and thoroughly watchable protagonist who is just a little bit shady sometimes. Since way back in the second set of episodes released in North America, Victoria Smurfit as DCI Roisin Connor has been Hayman’s main professional antagonist, though they are supposed to be colleagues.

This is the most obvious area of the writing starting to bog down. Their conflicts are no longer heady criticism between two strong personalities; suddenly we have two immature, foul-mouthed teenagers going at it hammer and tong. Hayman can usually get away with it because Walker’s world-weariness is the obvious source of his aggression. But Smurfit has no obvious motivation (although a personal issue is brought in as some sort of explanation, by the time it comes up it feels like a tacked-on excuse), and young Roisin comes across as ice cold and mean-spirited. She seems to argue for the sake of arguing, and it’s irritating.

That is why it was such a welcome relief in this set to have a reprieve from Roisin’s histrionics. In the gripping double episode “The Box”, Mike Walker goes home to Glasgow on leave to deal with family obligations. He gets caught up in a gruesome series of killings and briefly partners with DI Moyra Lynch, played by Kerry Fox, who is a wonderful breath of fresh air after Smurfit’s unrelenting anger. Fox’s scene when she announces that she wants pizza for breakfast is hilarious, and shows that she can be just as interpersonally contrary, but without all the sneering — easily the most annoying trait about Roisin Connor.

All four episodes are tightly-written and complex, though to be truthful they lack the spark that only Lynda La Plante herself can bring to things. Her sharp dialogue is sorely missed. The violence is still very strong, but justified by the intense plots.

The bad language content increases with each season of production, which is a shame. Profanity is, 9 times out of 10, an indication of weak, unimaginative writing. Yes, people talk like that in real life, but this isn’t real life, no matter how much such shows purport to be “realistic”. The fact is, entertainment is always heightened reality. Otherwise most people would be sickened and outraged at the horrible proceedings (or bored to tears at the mundanity of all the “real” details). In a world of heightened reality, intelligence is one option – expletives is the other. Clear, taut communication of ideas is paramount when time is of the essence, as it is in serial TV drama. Profanity suggests strong emotion, but communicates nothing about what that emotion might be, much less the cause of it. It’s a waste of time and opportunity. The easiest route for the writer rarely leads to the best experience for the audience.

There’s still life in TRIAL & RETRIBUTION, no question. Enough to warrant significant anticipation for the final four films. This is due in some part to the change of scene in “The Box”, but quite apart from that, Mike Walker is a compulsively watchable protagonist. Hayman’s decision to use his real-life scar above his left eye says volumes about the tough, diminutive Scot who one wouldn’t want to meet in a back alley. He is completely believable in this role and when we’ve seen the last of TRIAL & RETRIBUTION it will be this short man’s long shadow that we’ll remember.

One final note: if, like me, you have become enamoured of British programs to the point where you purchase shows that are not yet available here, be advised that many UK DVD format shows do not have closed captioning. This is important for dialogue clarity (those accents can sometimes be hard to catch). And if you have hearing issues (like this reviewer), it can be crucial. To their everlasting credit, Acorn Media continues to provide captioning in their ongoing commitment to reaching as wide an audience for their superior product as possible. Sometimes you have to wait for it, but it’s worth it.

 

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