Who Pays The Ferryman? DVD

Saturday, 25 February 2012 13:24

Originally broadcast in 1977, Who Pays the Ferryman? is a dramatic and deeply tragic mini-series set on the picturesque island of Crete in the same decade. Jack Hedley (Colditz, “For Your Eyes Only”) stars as Alan Haldane, an ex-soldier who fought alongside the local resistance thirty years ago and is now returning to mourn the death of Melina, an old flame. Soon after his arrival, Alan bumps into Annika (Betty Arvaniti – The Dark Side of the Sun) and they instantly hit it off.

It is only later that Alan discovers that Annika is Melina’s sister, a fact he keeps secret because he fears she will blame him for deserting Melina, even though a meddling third party was to blame for their separation many years ago. To complicate matters further, Melina had a daughter, now grown up with a son of her own – Alan’s grandson. Standing between Haldane and his newly discovered family, and a successful relationship with Annika, is Katerina - matriarch of the family and a bitter opponent who will stop at nothing to be rid of him.

Who Pays The Ferryman? Welcomed on DVDOver the course of eight episodes, Alan and Annika grow ever closer whilst he struggles to keep her at arm’s length because of his past with Melina. He gets to know his daughter and her partner who run a seaside taverna, and his grandson. Advising him all the while is Babis, an old friend and confident from wartime and now a successful lawyer, played by the stalwart Neil McCarthy (“Where Eagles Dare”, “Zulu”, Doctor Who – “The Power of Kroll”).

On the opposing side is scheming Katerina (Patience Collier – “Countess Dracula”), a woman stuck in the past and full of hatred for foreigners, even when Alan is recognised by most other islanders as a folk hero. She also carries a lot of weight in the region because of her family’s wealth, their numerous businesses and a property empire. Her right-hand man is Matheos (Takis Emmanuel – “Zorba the Greek”), a man who takes an instant dislike to Alan not least because he was in a relationship of sorts with Annika before the Englishman’s arrival.

In the middle of this maelstrom is a police Major (Stefan Gryff – The Lotus Eaters). The Major is a stern but calming force, determined to uphold the law but shrewd enough to know when it can be bent slightly to achieve a fair result.

I’ll make no bones about it: This series is superb! Created by Michael J Bird (also responsible for the similarly Greece-bound The Lotus Eaters and The Dark Side of the Sun), the drama plays out in such a tantalising and interesting manner, and with such fantastic characterisation that you will be hooked within the first ten minutes. Haldane is a classically flawed lead, at once an outsider and also an inseparable part of Crete, as warmly hospitable and prone to fits of rage as the locals. On Crete, vendettas are never forgotten, only put on ice.

In Arvaniti’s hands, Annika is a strong, beautiful, patient and passionate woman, dedicated to the island and her family but at the same time prepared to stand up for what she believes in. Her mother is deliciously evil and manipulative, engineering events from behind the scenes and always keeping just within the boundaries of believability, rather than veering into pantomime villainy.

The drama is perfectly balanced between the overarching storyline of Alan and Annika’s romance, and more episodic one-off stories about people and happenings on the island. For example, one episode deals with a tetchy old man who is fighting to keep a remote village’s water supply going, but who has a dark past that is threatening to catch up with him.

The regular characters get enveloped by these mini-plotlines and the stories help to develop their personalities further, especially by illustrating that Haldane is committed to the island and its people, and willing to sacrifice his time and money for causes he supports. The most interesting moments are when his values clash with those locals he is so fond of.

Time and time again, the storylines demand that Alan and others must make tough moral and personal decisions, about their relationships, loyalties and beliefs.

The tone of the series constantly shifts from romance, action, tense drama and occasional light comedy, as when a cocky, proud local challenges Alan to a boat race, believing that the vessel Alan has lovingly repaired cannot possibly be a match for his Cretan handiwork. The tension and character conflict brought to my mind the 1970s version of Survivors.

Plenty of time is spent drinking in the gorgeous landscapes and sampling the local culture and customs, such as plate smashing, vigorous dancing and observing the Greek people’s strict religious ceremonies and festivals. As in Bergerac, you really get a sense of place.

Guest stars familiar to Cult TV audiences include Blake’s 7 regulars Gareth Thomas and Sally Knyvette, Doctor Who’s Romana II actress Lalla Ward and Star Trek: The Next Generation Betazoid, Marina Sirtis. Do not blink or you will miss the latter’s fleeting appearance, though!

The theme tune and soundtrack music that accompanies the series is wonderfully evocative. Giannis Markopoulos’s closing theme was a top-ten hit at the time, and once you have heard it I can guarantee that it will bounce around in your head for weeks. The only problem with it is that if an episode happens to end on a downer, the cheery, upbeat tune feels a little out of place!

In summary, I wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone who appreciates top quality TV drama. It is gripping from beginning to end, exceptionally well made and acted, and even though the location shots are a little fuzzy around the edges, it brings out the best in the Cretan environment.

I do have to raise two caveats, however. Firstly, there are no special features included in this release at all. Secondly, and definitely the more strongly-felt misgiving is the steep asking price of £40.00. It would be a real tragedy if this ‘ferryman’s toll’ put people off such a brilliant piece of TV.

Who Pays the Ferryman? – The Complete Series (1977) is out now on DVD, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The 3-disc box set has a running time of 393 mins approx, carries a ‘12’ certificate and retails for £39.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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