Made for Irish television just last year (2002) this special contains so many different variants on an Irish theme as to almost be a showcase of their unique culture. Contained herein we have traditional Irish dancing, singing in many formats of traditional and contemporary, conversation, piano, and even a reading by Frank McCourt from his award winning novel Angelaís Ashes.
Itís an interesting affair as we are welcomed and invited to dinner with notaries of the Irish arts as they enjoy their Christmas dinner amidst warm candlelight and wine and some interesting cultural discussion. Phil Coulter, Irish singer and pianist, is our host and leads topics of discussion with members of the gathering telling tales and stories of their own experiences with Christmas and the traditions of old. Interspersed are performances of songs from leading Irish groups and soloists that include The Voice Squad (cool name!), The Celtic Tenors, Maura OíConnell, Roma Downey and Moya Brennan (of Clannad).
Itís a warm yet sedate meeting as the guests speak from a round table in Slane Castle (where some folk will know U2 recorded The Unforgettable Fire). Over its 91 minutes we are truly entertained in Irish style by some very talented folks and this will make a very nice background piece to enjoy in the evenings of the Christmas period. Such a varied array of differing talents is sure to find something for everyone and there are very few pieces among some 18 chapters (each with headline act) that fail to impress.
Delivered in 1.78:1 with 16:9 enhancement, the picture quality here is soft and ambient. Perfect gentle lighting sets the mood beautifully, although it is mostly secondary to the vocal or musical talents. There are some compression problems among the darker and deeper blacks and shadow detail isnít any good, but I daresay thereís nothing there to see if it was. There is also a funny oval shape visible over the width of the screen, especially during the darker pieces when it becomes more pronounced before disappearing again amidst the well lit. Flesh tones are all natural enough as well, although that Frank McCourt should get himself some sun. And apparently he lives in New York. Surely they get more sun there than Ireland? Oh well. Otherwise, a perfectly captured mood among the subtle lighting and one that suits the variety of the program.
As to that all-important sound, we get multiple choice here with DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1 or stereo. Having had a listen to each, itís safe to say that the DTS is the better pick, though the others are more than adequate in themselves. Itís especially nice when shows of this calibre are attended well with DTS and it really does bring the sound to a fuller life. In fact, herein the sound is pretty much perfect and has been treated very well indeed.
For extras we get but a short 9:23 interview with the dude who owns Slane Castle, Lord Henry Mount Charles. He seems like a personable enough fella and gives us a bit of a backstory on the castle itself and his extensive family tree dating back a century or two (or three). This is presented in 1.78:1 with enhancement and is worth the look for a little more info on the historic castle.
For fans of the Irish, this is a rather nice collection of performances and impromptu anecdotes from the cream of Irish culture and arts. Particular highlights that stand out for me here are in the spoken word blessings of Roma Downey, the Ďriverdanceí of Anom Feat Derbhla Lennon (thankfully just going by the one-word name of ANOM) and the Celtic Tenors singing that ever-popular Danny Boy. For some reason, I donít care how many times I hear that song, I just like it.
This is a very nice DVD for that background ambience as your family are arriving home for Christmas at your place or something without a real need to concentrate on to enjoy while youíre trying to digest the indulgences of Christmas lunch. Very nice stuff and well worth a look for those seeking to appreciate some of the finer arts this Christmas.