The Fragile Heart
R2 - United Kingdom - Simply Media
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (22nd November 2018).
The Show

Nigel Hawthorne stars in this BAFTA-winning 1996 Channel 4 series about corruption, greed and medical ethics.

Nigel Hawthorne's celebrated portrayal of Edgar Pascoe, a prominent heart surgeon corrupted by physical weakness and moral ambiguity, won the 1997 BAFTA for Best TV actor.

While Edgar's wife Lileth (Dearbhla Molloy) is a dependable and respectable country GP, drawn to the art of holistic healing popular in the East, Edgar heads up a delegation to China to promote new high-tech advancements in medicine, where experts in the West carrying out operations via satellite link.

Their daughter Nicola (Helen McCrory), who wishes to follow in her father's footsteps, begins to show a ruthless approach to her own career progression, and starts dabbling in some controversial practices.

Edgar faces an ethical dilemma over the practice of Chinese organ sales, and possible human rights abuses that have occurred as a result. He also attempts to conceal his daughter's despicable actions as she attempts to climb the career ladder. Whatever decisions he makes, there are likely to be disastrous consequences.

This powerful three-part drama written by Paula Milne (The Politician's Wife / Endgame) was filmed expertly on location in the UK, Australia and Taiwan.


We have three very '90s, Digibeta, standard definition productions presented in native standard definition on these DVDs; all three date from before filmisation of Digibeta tape productions became the norm. This was the process that became the norm over the next few years whereby the 40 fields per second Digibeta, standard def video would be treated in post production to ensure a film-like appearance by altering the frame rate to resemble 24 frames per second film.
Sadly, they also date from the days when 4:3 TVs were the norm and although shot in widescreen (1.78:1) are presented letterboxed within a 1.33:1 / 4:3 frame. This means that approximately 1/3 of the available picture area is taken up with black bars and thus the resolution of the image is reduced.

Colours are mostly natural without any of the digital desaturation grading often applied to dramatic productions in the 2000s, so they have a well-lit, matter of fact quality similar to light entertainment or news broadcasts of the time. That said, the colour palette is slightly naturally desaturated when compared to the norm of a few years previously; this may be down to how this off the shelf master has been handled downstream rather than a choice made at the time, but equally the reverse is possible; I don't recall ever seeing these at the time of broadcast. Flesh tones are pleasingly natural.

Black levels are deep and rich where intended with no signs of black crush. Contrast is bright and designed to help these programmes "pop" in standard definition. However, detail has suffered appreciably due to the letterboxing. The lower resolution means you will see aliasing and bleeding when zoomed on a modern widescreen display to fill the screen. It's not egregious and the discs remain very watchable.

Shy of a complete rebuild from the original elements in 16x9 widescreen and presented upscaled on Blu-ray, we aren't going to get to see these prestigious and popular productions in anything like the true glory they could be seen in. These are off the shelf masters and taken from the dark ages of the late '80s through the early 2000s where TV was letterboxed and / or assembled on videotape in standard definition.

PAL / Letterboxed 4:3 (1.78:1) / (198:11)


English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: None

Good basic Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks that represent the original NICAM stereo of the original broadcasts; they have been taken directly from the lossless originals. As such it lacks fine detail and depth; the more you increase the volume the more you'll be able to tell it's lossy. It's efficient and gets the job done.

Sadly, there are no subtitles on this release so the hearing impaired are out of luck.


Nothing, not a bean ... no making of or behind the scenes, no interviews. Nada.


Solid, very basic barebones renderings of '90s drama productions from the era when widescreen productions were presented letterboxed within the 1.33:1 frame. These discs are what they are and are agreeable as budget releases. Picture and sound are as good as can be for the format with only a total rebuild of the original productions in proper 16x9 enhanced widescreen being the way to improve. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon as the commercial potential will preclude the cost of doing so.

The Show: C+ Video: C- Audio: B+ Extras: F Overall: B


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