Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What I've Been Watching....

So, again, I know this blog has been a bit dead. Busy, stuff to do, all that jazz. And also I've been I've been enjoying some pretty good old TV stuff that I just haven't been choosing to review because it isn't something that's exactly reviewable.

But recently I was reminded of something that I *would* like to bring your attention to...

Heat of the Sun.

This British production was aired in America in 1999 as part of PBS's Mystery! series.

Yeah, I just threw that in there because the Edward Gorey art-inspired animations are just so massively cool.

Anyway, while Mystery! built it's reputation on adaptations of famous mystery books by famous writers it did often vneture into original productions and such was the case with Heat of the Sun.

The series consisted of three movie-length installments. For the PBS airing each story was split into two parts, one-hour each. Because the original productions were movies sometimes the places PBS chose to make the splits meant installments didn't end on cliffhangers or even very logical points in the story to make a cut... but this didn't really impact things too much because the stories themselves were just so compelling.

I saw the series first-run in the U.S. and when I got the chance I bought the series on VHS. Of course, several years ago my VCR died and I never replaced it since DVD's were taking over. This meant that I no longer had the resources to watch the tapes.

Recently, I was reminded of the series and then a couple of days ago I spotted the DVD set at my local library. I love my local library.

Sitting down to watch the series again after the passage of years I find that none of the charm has really dulled.

The Premise:
Scotland Yard Superintendent Albert Tyburn breaks the law in a big way in order to see justice done. To avoid scandal and because of his exemplary record in both Scotland Yard and WW I he is offered a choice -- stand trial and go to jail or else be exiled to Africa to the Nairobi police force. For freedom and the chance to keep doing the job he loves Tyburn chooses Africa.

He finds himself thrust into a world of dichotomies -- rich and poor, British expatriots and native peoples, soldiers and civilians -- as well as a surprisingly cosmopolitain community consisting of British, Dutch, Germans, various African tribal peoples, and Arabic peoples; and many of them with secrets, scandals, and desires. It is a world far from the urban sprawl of London but Tyburn proves quickly adaptable.

For Superintendent Tyburn the only thing that matters is justice and Nairobi is a place where that justice can be a very hard thing to come by but he will fight to his last breath for it. The question is, will his quest for justice prove futile? Or perhaps even fatal to him? And can he, perhaps, finally find happiness and a home in Africa?

If you want to know the answers to those questions then watch the series yourself. It doesn't take long to get through it and the whole production is simply wonderful. The series was actually filmed in Africa (although not in Nairobi since, at the time the series was made, Nairobi was experiencing unrest and the area was not safe)and careful attention was paid to getting the costuming, music and settings just right for the time period. From the very first moment of the series, opening in London, the viewer is thrust into 1931 and there is never anything to take you out of that time period.

The characters are also a lot of fun. Tyburn, polayed by Trevor Eve, is, in may ways, a fearless, no-nonsense sort but he also has a sly sense of humor that he allows to slip out from time to time. He also has his rough edges -- he is not a polished fighter but rather a brawler and he does not have a talent for diplomacy -- instead being plain-spoken and straightforward -- sometimes to his detriment.

If there is an area where the series falls down it is that many of the supporting characters are somewhat one-note but they still manage to radiate charm or be the type of jerks one loves to dislike. One of the better supporting characters is Susanna Harker's character of Emma Fitzgerald -- an independent woman who has made her own way in the world and makes her living in Nairobi by being a bush pilot with her own bi-plane. She truly lives life according to her own dictates and she finds something of a kindred soul in Tyburn.

If you love period pieces, if you love well-done dramas and mysteries then definitely seek this series out and put it in your Netflix qeue or seek it out from your local library. I must say this about the DVD set, though, it is very stripped down and the extras are pretty much non-existent which is a little bit of a disappointment. Still, the stories themselves and the characters within them (many based on actual, historical figures) really shine.

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