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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
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The Forsyte Saga

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 429 mins . M15+ . PAL


Welcome back to the convoluted world of soap opera set before they had televisions. In this crazy world of artistocrats and the lower classes, all sorts of tiny things are used to make the days full for bored, rich, white folks in sunny London, circa 1874.

Our main story revolves around the pitifully rich Soames Forsyte and his struggles with everyday living. You know, which top hat to wear, which woman to fall in love with and which orphan to eat for supper. This comprises the first six episodes of The Forsyte Saga, the immensely popular melodrama by John Galsworthy originally screened on the ABC. Each episode runs for around an hour and 15 minutes and does get rather gripping after a while. Auntie played it around two years ago, give or take, yet it is Universal Studios that have released this version.

The eminently capable cast, made up of mostly veteran English actors, portray the upper classes in convincing style. Gina McKee (Notting Hill) in particular stands out, and not just because she’s the love interest of Mr Soames Forsyte (off and on) and gets all the lines. Her particular blend of vulnerability and strength work to dramatic effect in her role as Irene Forsyte, and it’s mostly her we feel for, whilst our feelings over Soames fluctuate as circumstances dictate.

Naturally, being a pomp and circumstance English period melodrama, the sets and props are all meticulously correct in detail, as are the complex costumes. Being a television series though, the same attention to detail movies get hasn’t been applied here in the transfer, and so we get a few visual problems from time to time…


From the first it’s obvious we’re watching a television series (I mean, in case we didn’t know what the hell we were sticking into our DVD players to begin with). That same quality of film that movies get shot on isn’t apparent and the sets are just smaller than movies utilise because, of course, the budget isn’t the same. This travels across to the transfer in that whilst we get the full 16:9 transfer with 1.78:1 widescreen, the compression used hasn’t been up to the same standard as film and causes some colour problems. I guess that’s fair enough when there are seven and a half hours over two discs to view, but even so, it would have been nicer to see a better quality of picture. The aliasing is a little chunky in parts too. For the most part it’s okay and not heavily apparent, but on stuff like top hats and architecture it’s obvious and there is a ghastly incident in Episode One with a coachman’s whip that looks remarkably like an M.C. Escher stairwell.

Blacks and shadows also suffer from the ‘telly treatment’. Shadows get themselves a healthy green palour about them in parts. This is pretty well okay when the characters are in the woods or the park, but interiors and exterior architectural shots could live without the greens. You might also witness a few of the compression clunkers mentioned above in the deeper shadows. Colour, however, is mostly alright. All the pretty colours of the ladies' dresses and men’s underwear are apparent, though around Episode Three there’s a black and white scene from a ball in someone’s memory (memory is always in black and white. Just think back… or ask a dog) that features a rather clumsily colourised red dress. Whilst this is an effective filmmaker’s trick, in this case it looks a little phoned in and unnatural looking (yes, I realise the irony of that statement.)


Dolby Digital 2.0 is all we get for this, and again this contributes to the ‘just a TV show’ transfer. Don’t get me wrong though, for the purposes of this DVD it works alright. In fact, the sound is pretty good - the music and dialogue are both at non-competing levels and the sound effects don’t drown anyone out. Quite a few ball scenes utilise the music to support the scene in parts, whilst just being background sound at others, and they are perfect in both instances.

One thing that bugs me is when studios use stock sound effects for things. Surely they actually recorded the sounds at the time they shot the pictures? There are a lot of very similar sounding ‘coach pulling up on gravel’ and ‘twittering forest birds’ bits. Apart from this pet hate of mine, the sound is relatively good all over and I guess 5.1 surround would have been wasted here anyway.


The only extra included is a 20 minute Documentary entitled On Location, which features interviews and edited highlights to give an overall idea of how the series was put together. It should have been longer, as I found it pretty interesting, but just too short. There is some good information about makeup and costumes, as well as the recreation of sets, shooting actual locations and the inevitable CGI aspects.


This is a fairly well made production with good scripting and a great cast, excellently portraying the class system of the late 19th century. If you can look past the compression flaws you will soon find yourself immersed in a classic story of lust, fortune, power and abuse of power, love and revenge - everything a growing boy needs! And, in this 21st century, a growing girl too. If you liked the show, this one’s for you and if you missed it on the teev but like a good, well-acted period drama, you’re going to enjoy watching this spider-work of plots, backstabbing and top hats.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2152
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      And I quote...
    "A simply capital show treated dashed unsportingly by compression and such, old boy. "
    - Jules Faber
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