In 1996, John N. Smith directed the chilling docu-drama The "Boys From St. Vincent," and this ambitious mini-series, for the CBC. "Dieppe" manages to cover a lot of ground within its tight running time of 3 hours (a time span most networks would pad with irrelevant scenes to add an extra evening for ad revenues), and though made for a modest budget, the production looks very rich.
In 1993, the CBC was still broadcasting in mono, so while there's no stereo field to enhance the drama (and battle scenes in particular), it's a good mix with clean dialogue, and peripheral sound effects and ambience.
Another convention was the misguided use of time compression, slightly speeding up the show, and giving the performances an unnatural affectation. "Max Headroom" helped pioneer the process as stylistic veneer, but in "Dieppe" it seems the quickening was used to squeeze as much material as possible. (Other networks would choose to apply the speed compression to static scenes, with wafting cigarette smoke always a dead giveaway.) The visual trickery, however, doesn't affect the overall clean transfer, and in spite of some obvious grain, "Dieppe" looks quite good for a 'vintage' CBC drama. The blue screen effects are surprisingly convincing, sometimes belying the budget limitations.
For this DVD release, CBC has wisely chosen to dig into their vaults and added an excellent array of extras. The most arresting is the inclusion of a 1962 "Close Up" episode. In under an hour, we're treated to interviews with Lord Mountbatten, General Bernard Montgomery, and Major-General Hamilton Roberts (whose active military career was effectively dead following the Dieppe tragedy). The aging kinescope looks pretty awful, with a centered scan line, visible warping, and muddy sound; but the narrative's exploration of key events, assigning blame, and a diverse assembly of interviews makes this program invaluable.
From a 20-year examination, we flip to the 50th anniversary of the landing, "Return To Dieppe," following three survivors as they visit the beautiful coast (one of the men, for the first time), recalling vivid memories. Originally part of the CBC's "The Journal" segment, Patrick Watson asks the difficult questions, and it's hard no to be moved to tears as the veterans detail some of the horrors and emotional trauma from their first battle.
For the mini-series, the DVD contains an excellent featurette with the series' clever production designer, Arthur Herriott, who takes viewers on a guided tour of the main sets - marble hallways, the war room, battleship interior, and troop dockyard - and explains how some of the fine set details were achieved (mainly with plastic and wood). Originally produced for the network's Sunday Arts program, the picture is a bit soft, but quite clean, with adequate mono sound.
From the network's now-defunct "Midday" show is another behind-the-scenes featurette, full of key production interviews and film clips. The picture is also soft, and colour registration is less solid, with reds bleeding somewhat in what's essentially an old video dub from the network's archives.
Though the DVD sleeve mentions Cast and Crew Bios, the feature apparently was dropped, although a modest production Still Gallery is included, with captions for each image.
The only frustrating aspects to this release are lack of chapters for the lengthy documentary and the "Close Up" episode, and a CBC "Canada: A People's History" trailer that must be played through to get to the Main Menu; there's no way to bypass the trailer besides shuttling, and the trailer is an anamorphic image stretched to fill a standard 4:3 screen. The Menu system, though, is clearly laid out and easy to navigate, with large icons and images.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan