The Forsyte Saga-Series 1 (Universal) (2002)

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Released 28-Nov-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-On Location
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 428:44 (Case: 424)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Christopher Menaul
David Moore
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Damian Lewis
Gina McKee
Rupert Graves
Ioan Gruffudd
Corin Redgrave
Gillian Kearney
John Carlisle
Barbara Flynn
Amanda Root
Ben Miles
Wendy Craig
Judy Campbell
Ann Bell
Case ?
RPI $49.95 Music Geoffrey Burgon


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Bryn Terfel singing end titles song

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

If you are looking for a nineteenth century soap opera along the lines of Dallas or Dynasty (or maybe even Sylvania Waters!), welcome to The Forsyte Saga! This TV mini-series is a period drama that chronicles the ups and downs of three generations of the Forsyte family in the Victorian era around the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries. The Forsytes represent an interesting case study for an analysis of the English class hierarchy as they sit in the middle class uncomfortably between the true "gentlemen" and the merchants. The first generation arose from humble obscurity by amassing wealth through manufacturing, the second generation became professionals and artists, and the third generation finally became accepted into the "leisured classes".

This Granada production is based on a trilogy of books (also entitled The Forsyte Saga) written by John Galsworthy (1867-1933). His parents were a wealthy solicitor and a manufacturer's daughter so he intimately understood the particular niche that the Forsytes fitted into society (including the stigma against those in trade and manufacturing). Apparently the first novel, A Man Of Property, is loosely based on his own life experiences: abandoning a career in law to turn to writing, and also loving a woman (Ada Pearson Cooper) who used to be married to his cousin Arthur, against his father's disapproval.

The Forsyte Saga was so successful that John eventually wrote another six books collectively called The Forsyte Chronicles before he died. In 1932, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature for "his distinguished art of narration, which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga". The story was first adapted to a film called That Forsyte Woman in 1949, starring Errol Flynn and Greer Garson. In 1967, the BBC produced a 26-episode black and white TV series of The Forsyte Saga, which became so popular pubs would close and streets became deserted on Sunday evenings as millions of viewers tuned in.

This latest adaptation, over six 1.5 hour episodes, is written by Stephen Mallatratt and Jan McVerry and covers about half of the trilogy. It is deliberately not a pedantic chapter by chapter, word for word adaptation, but the major highlights of the story are covered reasonably faithfully. The first episode dramatizes events such as young Jolyon leaving his wife for his governess details of which are only gradually revealed in the book and highlights both Soames' and Irene's feelings and motivations a little bit more clearly during their initial courtship.

One of the fun aspects of watching the series (if you have not read the book before or watched previous dramatizations) is being surprised by the twists and turns in the plot. Therefore, I would encourage you not to read the episode synopses before you watch the series - these are are all hidden unless you select the text with a mouse.

Episode 1 (74:21)

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Old Jolyon Forsyte (Corin Redgrave) confronts his son, Young Joylon (Rupert Graves) it appears his son is rapidly falling in love with the governess of his daughter June. Young Jolyon decides he can't repress his feelings for governess Helene (Amanda Ooms) and elopes with her, abandoning his wife, daughter, respectability, wealth and the entire Forsyte clan in the process.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) In the meantime, cousin Winifred (Amanda Root) marries Montague Dartie (Ben Miles) and her brother Soames (Damian Lewis) falls obsessively in love with beautiful Irene Heron (Gina McKee) who unfortunately can't stand him although she desperately needs his wealth.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Irene eventually agrees to marry Soames on condition he will release her if the marriage doesn't work out. June (Gillian Kearney) has now grown up to be a young woman under the care of her grandfather, and has fallen in love with the artistic but headstrong architect Philip Bosinney (Ioan Gruffudd). Old Jolyon decrees that June may not marry unless Philip has an income of at least four hundred pounds a year, so she encourages Soames to hire Philip to construct a country mansion at Robin Hill. Soames reluctantly agrees as his marriage isn't very successful (Irene has recently demanded separate beds) and he hopes living in the country will improve the situation.

Episode 2 (70:11)

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Old Jolyon starts to rebuild his relationship with his estranged son, and Monty's gambling and womanizing ways are starting to embarrass the Forsytes. Soames and Philip start arguing over the escalating costs of building the house at Robin Hill. Irene and Philip begin to fall in love. Their respective partners, Soames and June, find out by watching them dancing at the ball.

Episode 3 (69:50)

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) The house is finally finished, but Soames and Philip have a big argument over the construction costs, ending with Soames threatening to take Philip to court. The lawsuit has the potential of ruining Philip as none of his clients want to engage him until it is over and Soames wants to win at any cost. Irene and Philip begin an affair and make plans to elope. One night Soames rapes Irene out of frustration. When Philip finds out he erupts in a wild rage and seeks out Soames to confront him. However, he gets run over by a coach on the way, just as Irene finally decides to leave Soames.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Soames emerges as the victor in the lawsuit given that Philip didn't show up. Gradually everyone learns that Philip is dead, but unfortunately June and Irene are the last to know. Devastated, Irene has no choice but to return to a smirking Soames.

Episode 4 (74:21)

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Irene leaves Soames for a second time, and disappears. Old and Young Jolyon have finally reconciled with each other. Old Jolyon buys the house at Robin Hill from Soames and moves in there with Jolyon and his family. However, Helene tragically dies of pneumonia, and June and Young Jolyon goes abroad. One day, Old Joylon spots Irene at the opera, thus the two start seeing one another.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Just as Old Jolyon is about to confess his love for Irene, he dies of a heart attack, but not before leaving Irene with 15,000 pounds in his will.

Episode 5 (70:11)

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Soames decides to look for another wife, and settles for Annette (Beatriz Batarda), the daughter of a restaurant owner and far below him in class. However, he still can't let go of his obsession with Irene.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Monty lands into trouble again, and flees to Buenos Aires. Soames encourages Winifred to instigate divorce proceedings. In the meantime, Monty and Winifred's son Val (Julian Ovenden) starts developing a relationship with Young Joylon's daughter Holly (Amanda Ryan). Her brother Jolly (Christian Coulson) disapproves of and dares Val to enlist in the upcoming Boer War.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Soames decides to make one last attempt at winning back Irene. In his usual loathsome way, he takes the approach of stalking her. Needless to say, this does not go down too well and Irene flees to Paris. Soames hires a detective to track her down.

Episode 6 (69:50)

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Monty returns back from Buenos Aires, much to the consternation of the Forsyte clan. However, Winifred decides to forgive him. In the meantime, Young Jolyon discovers all his children have enlisted for the war and even June and Holly are going to join as nurses. He and Irene develop a relationship in their absence, much to the displeasure of Soames. He finally sues for divorce and marries Annette.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Jolly dies of typhoid fever, much to the grief of his father. However, Val and Holly return safely (although Val gets a bullet in the knee), marry and decide to settle down in South Africa.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) James is dying and laments the lack of a grandson to carry his name and inherit his wealth. The pressure is on for Soames and Annette to conceive an heir, especially as Young Jolyon and Irene have now married and recently gave birth to a son called Jon. Annette eventually does become pregnant but develops a complication during labour. The doctor poses Soames a difficult choice: to operate and save the mother but kill the baby, or to endanger Annette's life. Either way, Annette will never be able to bear children again. Soames, after much nerve racking, tells the doctor to risk the mother to save the child. Amazingly, she pulls through but gives birth to a daughter.

(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Bitterly disappointed, Soames rushes to his dying father's bedside. Not wanting to deliver the bad news in his father's last moments, Soames lies and says that Annette gave birth to a boy and James dies happy. Soames returns to Annette. After one look at his new daughter Soames falls hopelessly in love with her and decides to call her Fleur.

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Transfer Quality

Video

This is a widescreen 1.78:1 transfer , 16x9 enhanced. The series appears to have been shot on 16mm film, which means that it looks somewhat soft and grainy even though it was made recently.

Colours are slightly under-saturated and contrast is mediocre. Many scenes in the early episodes seem to have a greenish tinge for example, around 14:21 in Episode 1 (which is only observable if you have a display with good colour accuracy like a projector) it reminded me of watching The Matrix.

Funnily enough, the quality of the transfer seem to improve as we progress through the episodes. Episode 1 looks the softest with the murkiest colours, and by Episode 6 we get acceptable levels of detail (though still looking slightly soft) and reasonable colour saturation.

There are no subtitle tracks.

The episodes are spread across two single sided dual layered discs (RSDL). The layer change on the first disc occurs at 38:15 in Episode 2 and is very well placed as it occurs during a brief period of no sound and dark screen (actually the black of a waiter's waistcoat). The layer change on the second disc occurs at 44:08 in Episode 5 and results in a minor pause.

Despite nearly four hours of video being compressed onto each disc, I did not notice too many compression artefacts apart from occasional macro-blocking in the background (for example, from around 16:30 onwards in Episode 1).

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

There is only one audio track: English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s).

I wasn't sure whether the audio has been surround encoded, but it certainly isn't flagged as such in the bitstream. In any case, turning Dolby Pro Logic II decoding on steered some foley effects (noticeably the sound of horses trotting) into the rear speakers.

Most of the transfer is pleasant enough to listen to, and I did not have any problems understanding the dialogue or with audio synchronization. Like most TV series, the audio track has been recorded at a fairly high volume level reflecting a high amount of dynamic compression (to make the audio track suitable for broadcast TV).

Background music sounds quite full and warm. The music is composed by Geoffrey Burgon who is familiar to aficionados of British period drama (he also composed the music to Brideshead Revisited). Bryn Terfel sings during the closing credits of each episode.

The main issue I have this the audio is numerous loud and soft clicks which sounds like mastering or encoding errors. Examples include 14:48 and 42:51 in Episode 1, plus 29:40 in Episode 3. Also in Episode 5, the left channel drops out for a few seconds around 22:37-22:40.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Given that there is over eight hours of drama on two discs, there is not a lot of room for extras but they managed to squeeze in a 20 minute featurette.

Menu

The menu is static but 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette - On Location

This is a making of featurette with voice-overs by cast and crew, excepts from the series, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. It is presented in 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 (128kb/s).

Interviews include:

The interviewees mainly talk about the characters in the story.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

I'm a bit disappointed that Region 4 seems to miss out on a few extras, but they are not substantial.

Summary

The Forsyte Saga is a period drama about the loves and feuds of three generations of the Forsyte family. This is a 2002 Granada TV mini series based on the Nobel Prize winning trilogy by John Galsworthy.

The video quality is mediocre but consistent with the 16mm film source.

The audio quality is acceptable apart from a number of clicks.

The only extra is a making of featurette.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Monday, December 23, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDCustom HTPC (Asus A7N266-VM, Athlon XP 1800+, 512MB, Pioneer DVD-103S, WinXP, PowerDVD 4.0 XP), using RGB output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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