BY THE SWORD DIVIDED
Region 2 Edition
Reviewed by Simon Dadd
Henry Hibbert, Brian Farnham
Julian Glover, Rosalie Crutchley, Timothy Bentinck
almost-forgotten BBC English Civil War drama ran for two series between
1983 and 1985. This first series follows the fortunes of the Lacey family,
supporters of the King, and the divisions caused by the marriage of the
eldest daughter to a prominent Parliamentarian. This series starts in 1640
and finishes in 1647 covering the more turbulent parts of the era.
is a lavish costume drama, filmed mostly in and around Rockingham
Castle, and offers an insight into the way the Civil War affected everyday
life. It also has a number of re-enacted battle scenes.
stars Julian Glover, looking very like a youthful Richard Branson, cast as
the patriarch of the Lacey family. A notable performance is given by
Rosalie Crutchley, who had a long career before her death in 1997 (notably
playing Catherine Parr in both Elizabeth R, and The Six Wives of
was one of the last of its kind: a family historic costume drama that was
supposed to be taken seriously. A number of commentators have suggested
that the series was aimed at children; this was definitely not the case.
series consists of the two separate parts in Amray cases, housed in a
cardboard sleeve. An attempt has been made to split a single picture
across the spines of the two cases à la The Professionals,
but they’ve used a poor quality image and it doesn’t really work. The
picture on the box and sleeves has been lifted from a publicity shoot that
was used on the front cover of Radio Times when the series first
started. The set looks and feels like a budget release.
is via a simple static menu with options to Play All, or to access
the individual episodes. Each fifty-five minute episode is split in four
chapters, one of which is for the closing titles. There are ten episodes
in total split over the four discs. Each pack contains one dual and one
single layer disc (meaning the set could have been presented on three
discs). The series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 4:3.
layer discs both have an average bitrate of about 6.18Mb/s. This drops to
5.33Mb/s for the two single layer discs. Audio is Dolby 2.0 mono at
art proudly boasts that the material has been ‘digitally restored’, but
the quality of the image is uniformly poor, to the extent that it is
difficult to see any signs of restoration. Many of the scenes are set
inside buildings or at night-time. These scenes in particular exhibit a
very indistinct picture (some of the screen-shots here have been
brightened and sharpened). Most scenes are very coarse and grainy, and
little better than would be expected from a video tape. When compared with
other material of a similar age, the image is very sub standard.
THE BONUS MATERIAL
are limited to a list of Cast Filmographies and basic background
information about the Civil War. The same extras appear on both parts of
This is an
extremely disappointing release. The series itself is well made and stands
up well to the test of time, but the quality of the picture is dreadful,
especially compared to some far older material that has been restored for
release on DVD. There’s also the matter of extras. There is much material
that could have been added to this (a documentary on the Civil War, or a
commentary, for example). Those that have been included are very limited.
All this might be understandable if this was a budget release, but the RRP
for this set is an eye-watering £50. For this money I would expect far
more. The price from online retailers is more realistic, but further
discounting would be necessary before it became good value for money.
looking forward to seeing this series again. It’s a shame that Acorn seem
to have put so little effort into this release. I hope that if and when
the second series is released, greater attention will be paid to the
restoration of the picture. Aficionados of the series will no doubt enjoy
seeing this again, but only if it is available at a heavily discounted