PBS has released their Masterpiece: Classic English Literature Collection, Volume 2 ($39.99 list price) DVD box set for fans of the classic and longstanding PBS television series. Having not seen the first volume, I have to admit that I got a kick out of opening the packaging and poking around the pockets of this box set. This sturdy box opens and closes easily, and contains four slim DVD cases containing the following recent Masterpiece productions:
* Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012), starring Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Freddie Fox, and Tamzin Merchant
* Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (2007), starring Billie Piper (Doctor Who) and Blake Ritson
* Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (2000), starring Jodhi May and Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice)
* E.M. Forester’s A Room with a View (2007), starring Elaine Cassidy and Rafe Spall
Rather than focusing on the productions themselves, this box set highlights the authors that brough us these classics, and the coolest thing about the collection is an envelope of riches that begs you to paw through its contents. Contained are reproductions of rare memorabilia from The National Archives and British Library in London, England. You can inspect and turn over in your hands copies of hand-written letters from all four authors, illustrations, portraits, photographs, and much more. The only problem is that the key to these artifacts is in a separate booklet included in the collection. You might not know that the photo you are holding is of Dickens because you have to match it to the explanatory catalog. Still, it is loads of geeky fun to be able to read a handwritten document by Jane Austen herself.
Masterpiece productions have always been a sort of Cliff Notes to the classics for those who love torrid costumes dramas and stories about wretched 19th century urchins, but are accessible as they star many of the best established (and up and coming) British actors. I’d love to see a handsome box set like this for the most outstanding of the Masterpiece series (I’m looking at you, Bleak House). In the meantime, fans will enjoy this affordable collection.