A new box set that includes six epic made-for-TV historical dramas leads these new DVDs on store shelves this week.
“The Epic Drama Collection” (A&E, 2000-03, nine discs, $99.95, six movies/miniseries, bonus programs on Benedict Arnold and World War II). These lavish TV biographies about historical figures are wonderfully realized with fine performances from an array of familiar players.
“Shackleton” is the chilling tale of Ernest Shackleton (Kenneth Branagh), the explorer who took his ship The Endurance to the South Pole in 1914 where it eventually became frozen in the ice. “Napoleon” is an overview of the French emperor’s life told in flashback, with Christian Clavier in the title role, Isabella Rossellini as Josephine, and support from Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich, among others.
“Longitude” is the fascinating story of country carpenter John Harrison trying to crack the problem of measuring longitude at sea, told in tandem with the less fascinating story of a modern-day character (Jeremy Irons) trying to restore Harrison’s original clocks. “The Crossing,” about George Washington’s crossing the Delaware River, benefits from a sterling performance by Jeff Daniels.
“Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor” stars Aidan Quinn as the title character and Kelsey Grammer as Washington in this retelling of the story of the Revolutionary War traitor. Rick Schroder stars in “The Lost Battalion” about 500 U.S. soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in France during World War I.
“Call the Midwife: Season One” (BBC, 2012, two discs, $34.98, six episodes, featurettes). Enjoyable period series about midwives attached to an order of nursing nuns in a poverty-stricken area of London during the 1950s. Colorful characters, good casting and liberal doses of humor make this one worthwhile. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, played by Jessica Raine, with nice support from Jenny Agutter and Vanessa Redgrave.
“Diff’rent Strokes: The Complete Fourth Season” (Shout! 1981-82, three discs, $29.93, 26 episodes). More comic misadventures with Arnold (Gary Coleman) and Willis (Todd Bridges) in this ’80s sitcom favorite. With Dana Plato and Conrad Bain in support.
“Les Miserables In Concert, The 10th Anniversary” (BBC, 1995, two discs, $34.98, documentary, featurette; replica ticket, 12-page booklet). Stars of the original London and Broadway productions come together for this concert adaptation of the popular musical version of Victor Hugo’s oft-filmed novel (the movie version arrives Christmas Day).
“Shipping Wars: Season One” (A&E, 2011-12, two discs, $19.95, 10 episodes, deleted scenes). Reality show follows six independent shippers transporting items rejected by traditional carriers, ranging from a food truck to military tanks to live animals and birds.
“Storage Wars: Texas: Season One” (A&E, 2012, two discs, $19.95, 16 episodes, deleted scenes). Five Dallas-based storage-unit hunters seek treasures in this reality series.
“Ancient Aliens: Season Four” (History/Blu-ray, 2012, two discs, $39.95, 10 episodes). More explorations of theories about aliens having visited Earth millennia ago and whether the Mayan calendar truly predicts doomsday.