'Time For Murder'
(Janet Suzman, Jane Asher, Ian Ogilvy, Patrick Allen, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / (1985) 2008 / Acorn Media)
Overview: In original screenplays specially commissioned for this series, Fay Weldon, Antonia Fraser, Gordon Honeycombe, Frances Galleymore (the novel Widow Maker), Michael Robson (The House of Eliott), and Charles Wood (Iris, Help!) deliver six devilishly clever tales. These are no ordinary stories of mystery and suspense. Each author gives the genre his or her own peculiar twist, with results ranging from the darkly humorous to the truly macabre. You’ll visit not only conventional English drawing rooms, but also a boy’s prep school, a luxury health spa, and a snowbound hotel—all settings for murder and other surprises.
DVD Verdict: Presented by Britain's Granada Television, the weekly anthology "Time for Murder" consisted of six hour-long dramas with the emphasis on mystery and mayhem. Among the authors represented herein were such literary heavyweights as Fay Weldon and Antonia Fraser. Individual episode titles include "The Murders at Lynch Cross", "This Lightening Always Strikes Twice", "The Thirteenth Day of Christmas," and more.
Originally aired in 1985 - and boy does it show - the series ran from November to December that year on ITV. The 'video on soundstage' element is obvious. The lighting is a bit too bright and flat, the colors muted; the sound echoes at times, while becoming muddy in the lower registers. The sometimes unintelligible dialogue was less of a problem on my newer TV/DVD than when played on my beloved old clunker of a television. Still, other DVDs did not have an audio problem on the same equipment, so I think the fault lies in the original videotape recording, not the equipment the DVD played upon and not the DVD transfer itself.
It crept close to annoying at times, but the series pulled me in more than the technical problems put me off. Still, I feel compelled to add that subtitles would have been a very, very welcome addition to this box set.
As to the stage sets, costuming and makeup, those are all well done, if the tight budget does show a bit in the set construction. At one point, a staircase railing jiggles when a character places her hand upon it. It's supposed to be a sturdy old mansion, so it can't have been deliberate. Still, maybe I'm weird but I liked that slightly cheesy element to this collection. It means the acting had to be that much more earnest to get the viewer past the slapdash elements. And it was.
Most of the episodes in this collection are standard TV mystery fare. In one, a collection of seeming strangers becomes stranded at a bed and breakfast. "The Murders at Lynch Cross" has an Agatha Christie feel to it. Of course, the group are not truly strangers to each other - they have all crossed paths in some past tragedy they took scarce notice of. But since this is a mystery/suspense series, we know someone will have to pay for this transgression.
In Antonia Fraser's teleplay "Mister Clay, Mister Clay," the storyline concerns a schoolmaster whose young students tease him daily to the breaking point. The plot is a bit muddled and long in unraveling, but it does seem prescient, echoing in a way it could not have known, today's school violence as result of bullying. Joan Hickson co-stars in that episode. She brings to life a very strict older schoolmarm, with wildly uncombed hair. The pity is that Hickson isn't given more to do in the slightly unwieldy storyline. Despite this collection's flaws, I couldn't help but love it - it's a good, fun, campy, cheesy set of engaging mysteries. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs but does not come with any Special Features.