DVD review: Inside No. 9 – Series Three

inside no 9 s3 dvd

Cert: 18. BBC Worldwide

Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Philip Glenister, Keeley Hawes, Tamzin Outhwaite, Peter Kay

Continuing in the richly darkly comic vein of the previous two series, onetime League of Gentlemen Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith write and perform in six more one off stories, all linked by the fact that they involve the number nine.

For the 2016 Christmas special The Devil At Christmas, we join the Devonshire family (including Pemberton, plus his pregnant wife played by Jessica Raine and mother-in-law Rula Lenska) as they embark on an alpine holiday in 1970s Austria. Ingeniously, the episode is presented in the form of a 1970s film apparently being accompanied by a DVD audio commentary supplied by the production’s director (voiced by Derek Jacobi). There’s thus more than a shade of Acorn Antiques or perhaps Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace as continuity errors within the slightly shoddily made film within the film abound. But this not detract from an undeniably dark undercurrent. As local guide Klaus (Shearsmith) tells of the legend of Krampus (a sort of demonic anti-Santa), it becomes apparent something very sinister is going on both within the film but also behind the scenes. Ironically, this episode also comes with its own audio commentary on this actual DVD.

The second episode, The Bill deals with a perhaps more familiar setting as a group of businessmen including two played by Philip Glenister and Jason Watkins, meet for dinner. Matters escalate dramatically and alarmingly during negotiations over payment of the bill at the end of the night.

Series Two’s third episode The 12 Days of Christine starring Sheridan Smith was the standout episode and the same may well be true of The Riddle of the Sphinx in Series Three. Both terrifically clever and ultimately quite horrific, the story sees Pemberton playing a legendary puzzle compiler known as “the Sphinx” tutoring a wayward student (Alexandra Roach) who has broken into his quarters in the ways of the cryptic crossword. Like most such crosswords, nothing is quite what it first appears to be.

Empty Orchestra is, of course, as cryptic crossword fans will know, the literal meaning of the Japanese word karaoke. Set at a somewhat turbulent office party situated in a karaoke bar, the increasingly acrimonious mood amongst the work mates, all under threat of redundancy, is cleverly matched by the selection of songs.

To say the penultimate episode of the series Diddle Diddle Dumpling dealing with a husband (Shearsmith’s) obsession with a stray number nine shoe which he has found, is the weakest of these six episodes is no insult. The standard is very high.

Finally, Private View set in a sinister art exhibition features the distinguished likes of Morgana Robinson and Felicity Kendall, plus a bizarre cameo from Peter Kay. It combines horror and comedy just as brilliantly as Series Two’s finale Séance Time did and satisfactorily brings to an end another superb series.

 

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DVD review: Inside No 9 Series 2

Inside cover

The premise behind Inside No. 9 is so thin that it barely amounts to a premise at all. Every story occurs inside a different “No.9” usually a house number although sometimes something else, for example, as in the first of this series, a railway carriage. That’s it. But from this, writers and performers Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have found the perfect vehicle for their brilliantly judged macabre humour.

Anyone who has ever fancied travelling on a sleeper carriage may well be put off the idea forever by “La Couchette”. This first episode sees Shearsmith’s doctor increasingly disturbed by first, a flatulent drunk (Pemberton), then a noisy middle aged couple before finally a pair of randy young backpackers (Jack Whitehall and Jessica Gunning) discover something which changes the nature of the journey for everyone.

The 12 Days of Christine starring Sheridan Smith is a more sober but hugely effective piece. As we see Christine’s life pass before her rapidly before our eyes  from  the night of her first meeting her future husband, through to marriage, motherhood and then divorce, an element of horror seems to be threatening to creep in. But the end when it comes, packs a huge emotional punch.

The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge is much funnier, sending up the real life insanity of the 17th century witch trials. Having taken minor performing roles in The 12 Days of Christine, Shearsmith and Pemberton return to the fore in this, the most League of Gentleman-esque episode with veteran actor David Warner (The Exorcist/Time Bandits/Tron) also taking a role.

None of the episodes are weak although the quality perhaps decline very slightly with Cold Comfort set in the offices of a busy phone helpline and Nana’s Party which suffers slightly from barely any normal characters in it at all. Yet even these contain moments of excellence.

The series finale Séance Time (broadcast on BBC 2 just last night) is brilliant, however. With some vaguely insightful behind the scenes featurettes for each episode, this is ultimately a superb series of comic anthologies. Let us hope there will be more.

Release date: May 4th 2015

Bonus features: Behind the Scenes Featurettes on Each Episode

Certificate: 15

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jack Whitehall, Sheridan Smith, Claire Skinner, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Alison Steadman, Jane Horrocks, David Warner

BBC Worldwide

DVD review: Mapp & Lucia

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It’s 1930 and the peace of the village of Tilling is unsettled by the arrival of two outsiders. The duo: Mrs. Emmeline Lucas (Anna Chancellor) and her male companion Georgie Pillson (Steve Pemberton) are an odd pair but, it soon becomes clear, nowhere near as odd as the people of Tilling itself. For this is truly a world of eccentrics, peopled by drunken majors, vicars with fake accents, intriguing lifestyle choices and of posh women who though ostensibly polite rarely say what they actually mean. Chief of them all is Miss Elizabeth Mapp (a toothsome Miranda Richardson), a social tyrant in the guise of a benign village spinster. It is only a matter of time before she and her new tenant Lucas (known as Lucia) become locked in a battle of wills.

Do not be fooled. This may be filmed in genteel village surroundings and was screened in three parts over the Christmas period, but do not assume this is gentle stuff. A clue should be evident in the fact that it was written by the League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton adapting it from E.F Benson’s classic series of inter-war novels. He and fellow Royston Vasey resident Mark Gatiss (he plays the Major), make up a stellar cast. There is undeniably a dark underbelly to this village too.

Although Blackadder II fans will already know she can play a tyrant called Elizabeth (she played Elizabeth I as a dangerously volatile spoilt brat in the 1985 classic TV comedy), here Miranda Richardson (plus added teeth) excels as the megalomaniac Elizabeth Mapp. Thirty years after the well received Channel  4 version of the stories (featuring Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne), this new version is a triumph.

Mapp & Lucia

DVD out now.

BBC DVD