The BBC's The Onedin Line is a grand drama of seafaring commerce and trade, and business rivalry and downright skullduggery. It's great stuff. If you missed it on its various television runs and reruns, as I did, don't miss it now.
The series began in 1970, and ran for 91 50-minute episodes over nine years.
James Onedin, played with amazing veracity by Peter Gilmore, is a shrewd sea-captain who invests his entire capital (25 pounds) in buying a single sailing ship -- as part of the purchase-price, he also gains a wife, Anne (Anne Stallybrass).
Tension builds steadily as he parlays this into what will eventually become a mini-empire. His slow, erratic rise is marked by high drama on the high-seas, as he faces mutiny, undertakes American Civil War blockade running and all the 'normal' day-to-day risks of life at sea. My own grandfather was a sea-captain in the late 19th Century, skippering one of the last steam-assisted sailing-clippers; this show lets me appreciate what he went through, in his career from cabin-boy to captain in the Merchant Navy.
While Onedin faces his battles on the waters, aided by his trusty mate Baines (Howard Lang), we also become enmeshed on land in the affairs of his extended family. His brother Robert (James Garbutt) and wife Sarah (Mary Webster) become reluctant partners of James' business. But most family drama centres on James' beautiful and wilful sister Elizabeth (Jessica Benton). Will she do it before she's married? If so, will she get up the duff? Who dun it? And who will she marry? High drama indeed, in those straitlaced Victorian times.
The final episode of this first series leaves us on a cliff-hanger, with James Onedin poised near financial ruin. Will he pull through? Vanquish his business enemies, or find himself on hard financial rocks? The fact that the series ran for nine years in all suggests we should stay watching...
This television-video production varies considerably from scene to scene, and stock-footage shows out quite a deal from studio shots.
But overall, the quality is reasonable considering its age -- especially since this series dates from a period of corporate vandalism at the BBC, when people within the organisation seemed determined to destroy its past achievements.
Don't expect quality comparable to today's productions. But you can expect a reasonable quality that lets you enjoy in full the series' fine writing, direction and casting.
The individual DVD episodes have been edited from the original 50-minute episodes, to make each of the four discs contain a single extended episode. The first two discs are 176 and 174 minutes respectively, while discs three and four run to 140 minutes and 139 minutes each.
The sound is respectable considering its mono source. And it does reasonable justice to the sweeping theme music, which was appropriated from Aram Katchaturian's ballet score, Spartacus.
This is great television drama, which seems not to have dated at all, even though it was first screened more than three decades ago.