'The Ruth Rendell Mysteries: Set 4'
(George Baker, Christopher Ravenscroft, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2009 / Acorn Media)
Overview: Like Agatha Christie, the name Ruth Rendell has become universally recognized as a quality British mystery “brand.” With intellectually challenging plots, unique psychological depth, and clear-eyed social observations, these Inspector Wexford mysteries, Simisola and Road Rage, reinforce the brand’s sterling reputation.
DVD Verdict: Ruth Rendell, nay Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, the much revered British mystery author, has written countless whodunits over the past four decades. Not all have stood the test of time, and some (created for TV ones especially) have just been a huge snoore bore!
With many of her novels requiring the stalwart Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford (George Baker) to investigate all the mess of twisted alibis and devious motivations, it's no shock to discover he's back amongst the pigeons in these two mysteries. But you see, therein lies the problem, as these episodes are far from new. Indeed, both episodes have been out on single DVDs for many years now, so why the need to create a special Set 4 for them is quite beyond me.
'Simisola' tells the story of CI Wexford’s Nigerian-born physician asking him to look into the abrupt disappearance of his 22-year-old daughter. The trail eventually leads Wexford (Baker, whose first major film role was in the 1950s swashbuckler, 'The Moonraker') and DI Mike Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft, who himself starred in 1989's 'Henry V') to two murders, where the investigators become entabgled within an emotionally charged case - one further complicated by racial and class misunderstandings.
The only thing that really still strikes me about this film is the British accents. They are very deep, grounded, earthy - especially when lower class characters are speaking. And so it makes the wonderful, UK-born dialogues difficult to understand at times, especially snared in the midst of argumentative moments!
However, 'Road Rage' (taken from season 11 in the UK TV series run) is the story of environmental activists. Disrupting the construction of a highway bypass, a girl's badly decomposed (and strangled / sexually assaulted) body is found, and cabdriver Stanley Trotter is suspected of murder. As clashes between protesters and security forces escalate into violence, a radical group engineers a series of kidnappings, with Wexford’s beloved wife among the hostages.
Originally split into a three-parter, in its own box-set too, the film explores how a righteous cause becomes clouded with violence when a militant eco-terrorist group called "The Sacred Globe" soon emerges on the scene in Kingsmarkham. Featuring a lot of moments of upper-class involvement in eco-terrorist movements, 'Road Rage' may well be trying to overly-state a point (from back in time now, of course) but is still wonderful visual Rendell entertainment. These are both Full Screen Presentations (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Features of:
Super Sleuths: Inspector Wexford, a documentary featuring George Baker
Ruth Rendell Biography