A new British spy thriller and a ’60s miniseries with a very young Judi Dench lead these TV shows on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
“Spies of Warsaw” (BBC, 2013, $19.98, two episodes, featurette). David Tennant (best known for playing the 10th “Doctor Who”) stars in this adaptation of Alan Furst’s novel, an espionage tale set in pre-World War II Europe.
Tennant is a French attaché in Poland, a World War I hero who becomes a reluctant spy. He also begins an affair with a Parisian lawyer (Janet Montgomery) who works for the League of Nations.
Filled with colorful characters, it holds interest most of the way, though as a two-part miniseries it feels a bit padded. (Also on Blu-ray, $24.98)
“Parade’s End” (BBC, 1964, b/w, two discs, $24.98, three episodes). Ford Madox Ford’s soap-opera novel was adapted last year by the BBC for a well-received five-part miniseries, but this three-part version, featuring a very young and enchanting Judi Dench in a prominent role, came nearly 50 years earlier.
Dench is a delight as a sweet but feisty suffragette at the beginning of World War I. Hers is a secondary character as she embarks on a rather chaste affair with an unhappily married, genteel statistician (Ronald Hines) whose wife (Jeanne Moody) is wealthy, spoiled and promiscuous. It was staged more like a play than a film, and many of the performances are far too broad. (The box says the show is in color, but it’s actually black and white.)
“Women in Love” (BBC, 2011, $24.98, two episodes). This two-part miniseries combines D.H. Lawrence’s eponymous novel and its prequel “The Rainbow,” which were made 20 years apart as separate films by Ken Russell. Here, the tenor of the material is a bit more sly, with Rosamund Pike and Rachel Stirling as the Brangwen sisters in early 20th century England, whose complicated relationships with two best friends (Rory Kinnear, Joseph Mawle) ultimately lead to tragedy.
“Last of the Summer Wine, Vintage 1998” (BBC, 1998, two discs, $34.98, 10 episodes, Christmas special: “There Goes the Groom”). More comic misadventures with aging delinquents Compo, Clegg and Truly Truelove ranging from the simple (attempting to roll down a hill as they did when they were children) to more adventurous endeavors (skydiving). Funny long-running British sitcom.
“Shakespeare: The King’s Man” (Athena, 2012, two discs, $39.99, three episodes, 1983 BBC production of “Macbeth”; 12-page booklet). Documentary series featuring American scholar James Shapiro who puts forth his thesis that the Bard’s later plays, including “King Lear,” “Macbeth” and “The Tempest,” represented the changing royal life during that period. Bolstered by Shapiro’s entertaining manner, this is ideal for Shakespeare buffs.
“Sugartown” (Acorn, 2011, $29.99, three episodes). Odd hourlong comedy about a struggling candy factory is strictly a matter of taste and your tolerance for truly offbeat British humor. The focus is on two brothers, played by Shaun Dooley and Tom Ellis. One wants to save the family company and the other wants to shut it down and open a leisure resort.
“Ironman: Rise of the Technovors” (Sony, 2013, $26.99, featurettes). Made-for-DVD animated feature has Iron Man being blamed for a terrorist attack and tracking the real villain. Also features Black Widow, Hawkeye, the Punisher and other Marvel characters. (Also on Blu-ray, $30.99)
“The Magic School Bus: All About Earth” (Scholastic, 2013, $12.95, three episodes, bonus episode). Animated episodes educate children 4-10 about gardening, volcanoes and air pressure.