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The Cult of .... 'Emmerdale Farm'

Title: Emmerdale Farm Volume Three
Emmerdale Farm Volume 3 - DVD cover
Original transmission dates : Twice weekly from 23nd April 1973 to 7th August 1973
Run time: 800 mins (32 episodes of 25 minutes)
Produced: Yorkshire TV for syndication via ITV regions throughout the UK.
Picture: Colour Sound: Mono
DVD Release Date: 30th May 2011
Format: DVD (4 disc set)
Classification: PG
Barcode ref: 5027626353643
Availability: DVD released by network label








Emmerdale Farm - Volume 3 DVD review

Emmerdale Farm - the prince amongst men of soap opera.

The Prologue - A hangover from the Soap Awards 2011.

The hackneyed Eastenders may scoop all the Soap Awards it can muster, but it is no pretender to the throne. In fact with its circular plots that are carried along on a whirlwind of hot air, and where volume and its own patented constructed accent has become both a ridiculous, and now a ridiculously familiar, parody of itself, Eastenders vies with Hollyoaks for 'Worst Soap'. With a patented style of acting all of its own invention meaning which 90% of the characters are obliged to ape either the Mitchell brothers (gruffly talking into one's own chest), or Kat (nasty unbalanced and shrieky) and Alfie (by turns cheeky chappie / doleful put upon - very 'Barrymore-esque'), one can only assume the producers of the show believe their viewers are unable to rise to the challenge of dealing with any kind of meaningful light and shade or balance. In truth, there should be a new categories exclusively for Eastenders at the Soap Awards I would suggest 'Loudest Speech', 'Best acting in the style of Eastenders acting', and, most importantly, 'Most Repeated Storyline'. To me, Eastenders is just a poor man's Eldorado.

So what alternatives are there to Emmerdale? Hollyoaks is nothing more than a joke (and not a particularly good joke either). Coronation Street is a faded facsimile of a once great show, lots going on but nothing of interest happening. That leaves in opposition just the daytime soap (or continuing drama as we believe it serves to be called) Doctors. Over its 10 year existence it has continually kept plugging away with some great drama writing and acting, and (shock horror) actual attempts to explore the human condition. Great stuff, Doctors is the pretender to the throne. But then Doctors is on during the day and that doesn't seem to count for much. (Suggestion to the BBC - sack Eastenders writers and bring in Doctors writers - and show Doctors in the evening in place of The One Show).

That leaves the field (no pun intended) clear for Emmerdale, to, by default it seems and despite the soap awards Eastenders bias, claim the laurels as truly the best soap in the land. But even venerable old Emmerdale (don't call me Emmerdale Farm), has had to move with the times. In these days where the advertisers pound is absolutely vital to the survival of both shows and channel alike, and viewing figures are sustained by big plots announced in the media weeks in advance, Emmerdale itself has to play by the same rules in order to compete on a level playing field.

It is difficult not to hark back to the mid-eighties when 'Soaps' where able time to breathe, to explore the characters in largely everyday situations (as opposed to continual string of death defying crises) and also deal with important issues of the day (early Brookside and to a certain extent Albion Market both achieved this balance). It was a long time previous to that Corrie had ceased to have any more than passing social relevance.

Emmerdale Farm itself was the catalyst for this new direction in the early 90s when the much hyped plane crash exploded onto our screens (and onto the village) heralding the way for the ('Mutually Assured Destruction') sprialling arms race in soaps dealing regularly in ever more frequent spectacular and perilous plots, ensuring that soaps could never be the same again.

But it hasn't always been this way, luckily the evidence has been preserved and archived for all to see and enjoy.

Which brings me nicely on to the DVD release of Emmerdale Farm Volume 3.

Emmerdale Farm Volume 3 - the DVD review.

I hereby advise you that, by modern soap standards anyway, practically nothing happens in these 32 episodes of Emmerdale Farm (comprising episodes 53 to 84 taken from 1973). Whereas the previous 26 episodes of Volume 2 (our Cult Of TV review of that release is here) included a suicide, a sexual assault and murder, attempted murder and a big fire (all almost entirely incidentally) there is but one single biggish storyline here (the death of a central character). By modern soap storyline standards that does not sound particularly exciting or enticing, in fact it is enthralling and that is exactly its very strength.

In place of big storylines we are treated to some very well written pieces of 'realistic' drama, where the plots are not only believable, but also could be considered unremarkable in that the dramatic tension is achieved by following the everyday ups and downs of the village folk, without the need of some wholly remarkable danger-filled backdrop to each scene.

What also is done very deftly in these episodes, is the space (or slow pace if you will) that the characters are given to grow and develop. We see in their unremarkable everyday lives how, little by little, each of the character's personality continually, realistically and organically, develop. The 'lead' character of Jack Sugden perfectly exemplifies this. In the very earliest episodes Jack is portrayed as an angry, impatient, 'know it all' who constantly baits anyone who doesn't see things his way, a good if familiar starting point. By the time we get onto the episodes included here, that character has developed with his experiences - no longer agitating, now subtly and stealthily exerting his influence and planting seeds, whether it be a against the new intensive farming pig unit planned for the farm or trying to smooth over his relationship with younger brother Joe.

Also deserving of a mention is the wonderful interactions between the members of the Sugden family, which is a testament to the skill and insight of the writers who demonstrate their perfect understanding, not only of the individual characters themselves, but also the complex web of relationships that exist within the family.

In a lighter vein we are treated to more servings of one of the most endearing and genuinely amusing characters ever to appear in a soap - namely local licensed victualler Amos Brearley, the magnificently be-whiskered landlord of the premier hostelry in the whole of Beckindale - The Woolpack Inn. Not only does the writing absolutely hit the spot every time, the performance is practically a comic masterclass in how to underplay comedy for greater effect.

Special mention also has to be made of the great ensemble cast we have here. The main cast and peripheral cast meld so beautifully together, with every performance on a consistent measured level with that of colleagues - which is no mean feat in a production with a fast turn around.

That fast production turn around, allied to what I imagine was the haphazard commissioning and scheduling of the series, provides an explanation to the only minor criticism I have of these episodes - that is the matter of the inconsistent narrative of some of the continuing storylines. I can only surmise that a requirement for hastily completed scripts by the number of different script writers in this series, was in fact so hasty that little discussion took place between the individual writers working on their own individual episodes, with regard to moving story threads along. To this end, at times, we get major characters disappearing for many, many, episodes and re-appearing without explanation, and also storylines being introduced and later suddenly cut adrift without any semblance of resolution or reference.

This is but a minor gripe. The quality of the episodes available in this volume Emmerdale Farm shines through both bright and clear, with entertainment in abundance and a definite uniqueness. Thankfully every episode of Emmerdale that has ever been made is safely preserved (unlike a many of its drama series contemporaries), and I hope that eventually we get to see releases of all the remaining episodes of this unique series from the times when Emmerdale was simply Emmerdale Farm, and a mere soap opera was in fact a truly great drama series.

The first series and second series of Emmerdale Farm are also available from Network DVD.

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