Mischief, mayhem and mystery characterize some of British television's most enduring series. Unlike modern American suspense stories, where forensics takes center stage, these mysteries teem with traditional whodunit ingredients: character, location and (usually) logical plots. Many have made their way across the pond, such as these DVD releases, all issued through Acorn Media of Silver Spring.
"Agatha Christie's Marple, Series 1" (four-disc DVD, $59.99, available now) and "Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Classic Collection" (12-disc DVD, $199.99, available now) Christie, possibly history's best-known mystery writer, created two sleuths who are complete opposites.
Geraldine McEwan is Miss Jane Marple, a 1950s amateur detective with youthful friends, lots of energy and instincts that are always a few steps ahead of the authorities'. The four-episode set includes a look at the history of Miss Marple adaptations, a one-hour behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews, plus a photo gallery.
David Suchet is the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. With a roll of his eyes and a droll expression, Suchet captures the wit and irreverence that are hallmarks of the man with the mustache. The cases are set in 1930s England, and these 36 episodes are filled with the art-deco details of that period. Extras include cast filmographies and biographies of Christie and Suchet, who also provides an introduction.
"The Cadfael Collection" (13-disc DVD, $149.99, available now) The devout Brother Cadfael (Derek Jacobi) resides in a 12th-century English monastery but possesses a keen wit and a knack for solving crimes that intrude upon his insular world. The series is based on Ellis Peters's bestselling novels, and the set is packaged to look like a leather-bound book. Extras include Jacobi's audio comments on the filming of the series, broadcast on PBS in the mid-1990s.
"The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, Set 1" (four-disc DVD, $59.99, available now) The thoughtful, deliberate detective Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, played by Patrick Malahide, is at the center of this series that aired on PBS from 1992-94. Set in post-World War II London, the mysteries are based on the novels of Ngaio Marsh. Alleyn collects clues with the help of his assistant, Detective Inspector Fox (William Simon), and his future wife, Agatha Troy (Belinda Lang). No extras are included, but production quality and settings provide a theatrical-feature feel.
"Hetty Wainthropp Investigates: Season 2" (three-disc DVD, $59.99, available Aug. 9) Patricia Routledge portrays Hetty, the sensible sleuth whose adventures originally aired on PBS in the late 1990s. Her cases include going under cover in a shelter for battered women, looking into a musical competition whose contestants lose their voices and investigating a medium who separates bereaved believers from their money. Helping Hetty crack the cases are husband Robert (Derek Benfield) and her youthful sidekick, Geoffrey Shawcross, played by Dominick Monaghan (ABC's "Lost"). Two episodes not broadcast on PBS are included, along with cast biographies.
The series's original pilot, "Missing Persons," which never aired in the United States, also is now available (DVD, $24.99, not rated). It features a surprisingly blond, funny Hetty, complete with outlandish hats, and a different actor as her husband.
New on DVD:
Alexander (Warner Home Video: two-disc DVD $29.95; rated R; available Tuesday) Oliver Stone's epic on the man who had conquered 90 percent of the known world by age 25. Extras include commentary from Stone, cast interviews and a making-of featurette.