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Midsomer Murders: Set 23

Release Year:         2012
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour; NTSC
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:         3 / 3
Running Time:         278 minutes plus bonus
DVD Release Date:         February 4, 2014
Screenwriter:         Michael Aitkens, Elizabeth-Anne Wheal, Rachel Cuperman, Sally Griffiths
Director:         Alex Pillai, Nick Laughland, Renny Rye
Actors:         Neil Dudgeon, Jason Hughes, Eleanor Bron, Kerry Fox, Murray Melvin
DVD Features:         SDH Subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         9 / 10

Acorn Media Write-up:    
The cozy villages of Midsomer County reveal their most sinister secrets in these contemporary British television mysteries. Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery, the series stars Neil Dudgeon (Life of Riley) as the capable Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby, with Jason Hughes (This Life) as his earnest, efficient protege, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones. Guest stars include James Callis, Kerry Fox, Paul Ritter, Sinead Cusack, and Harriet Walter.

THE MYSTERIES
The Dark Rider – sightings of a headless horseman doom members of the aristocratic DeQuetteville family as they plan a Civil War battle reenactment.

Murder of Innocence – The return of a convicted murderer to Midsomer sparks a series of revenge killings, but the top suspect soon becomes a target.

Death and the Divas – Tensions between a Hollywood superstar and her actress sister come to a head amidst murders modeled on the sisters’ horror films.

BONUS Audio commentary for The Dark Rider with star Neil Dudgeon and director Alex Pillai and behind-the-scenes featurette for Death and the Divas (15 min.)

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
How many times can you write “they’ve done it again”? And yet that is what MIDSOMER MURDERS does over and over. The consistency of quality of the series (with the occasional exception) is remarkable and comes from a willingness on the part of the producers to spend wisely and well, securing good writers to create outstanding scripts, followed by excellent casting and production values.

True, by this time in the life of the show they’re not exactly breaking new ground, but then most watchers of MIDSOMER don’t watch the show for innovation, they watch because the familiarity and formula are so much fun. And as police procedural programs become more and more graphic, the soft-around-the-edges style of MIDSOMER is always a welcome return to a purer form of entertainment–one that does not rely on shock value. There are still gory bits, but always done with tongue-in-cheek good humour.

The first mystery in this 3 mystery set features a headless rider who terrorizes his victims prior to their death. Ken Russell alumnus Murray Melvin, an actor with a classic-looking face perfect for period pieces, makes a cameo appearance at the top of the show as victim #1. His presence adds a touch of the macabre to the proceedings.

The second mystery has a wonderful twist to it which really mixes things up and keeps the viewer guessing. Close call for Mrs. Barnaby!

Mystery #3 is the star of this set, an absolutely wonderful tale of two movie star sisters whose long-standing feud reminds of real-life sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, who recently made the news when Ms Fontaine passed away, feud still in place. The brilliance of this episode is that one of the sisters plays a former star of Hammer-like horror films from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a great touch which allows for some scenes to be imitative of actual Hammer films, utilizing two former Hammer stars, John Carson and Caroline Munro. It seems that John Barnaby is a fan of this genre and it is a quality which really endears him to MIDSOMER fans, most of whom undoubtedly have a soft spot for the Golden Age of British film making. John plays his emotional cards close to his chest and seeing him get excited about the films of his youth is quite a lot fun, making him just that bit more human and accessible, arguably the biggest challenge about replacing John Nettles on the show.

Complementing this unique and entertaining episode is a 15 minute behind the scenes featurette on the making of the show. The care taken to replicate the Hammer atmosphere and the fun of playing those outrageous, bordering on camp Hammer horror bits involving vampires and evil high priestesses is so much fun to watch. One error for the purist, however. The director of this episode mentions that John Carson played Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter in the underrated Hammer film of the same name. In truth, Carson played the second lead, Dr. Marcus, while German actor Horst Janson played Kronos. Unfortunately, Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter bombed at the box office and the proposed series of films it was supposed to inspire never came to pass. In light of the film’s failure, it is remarkable that this almost-forgotten film is referenced in one of the latest episodes of MIDSOMER MURDERS so many years later.

One other note re: the Hammer Films connection. Dame Harriet Walter, who plays diva Diana Davenport, is the real-life niece of the great Christopher Lee, who of course graced so many Hammer films. A fitting touch!

MIDSOMER MURDERS fans will not be disappointed as Neil Dudgeon continues to grow into the role of John Barnaby and makes his own mark on this wonderful series.

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