The Jane Austen series “Sanditon” and a miniseries of the classic E.M. Forster novel “Howards End” are among the titles coming to disc and digital from PBS Distribution in February.
Writer-executive producer Andrew Davies completes Austen’s last piece of work — unfinished due to her death in 1817 — with the PBS “Masterpiece” series “Sanditon,” due on Blu-ray, DVD and digital Feb. 4. Davies (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Les Misérables,” “Little Dorrit”) takes the first 11 chapters of the final Austen masterpiece and creates an epic drama. Set during the Regency Period, the story follows Tom Parker (Kris Marshall), who is obsessed with turning the sleepy seaside village of Sanditon into a fashionable health resort. He enlists the financial backing of the local, curmudgeonly wealthy widow, Lady Denham (Anne Reid). Through a mishap while traveling through the countryside, Tom and his wife Mary (Kate Ashfield) make the acquaintance of the Heywoods, a local farming family. While describing his plans for Sanditon, their eldest daughter Charlotte (Rose Williams) is intrigued and excited and Tom invites her for an extended stay at the seaside town. Upon her initial arrival, the sensible and naive Charlotte observes hypochondria, avarice and attempted seduction run amok. Lady Denham is playing matchmaker for her destitute nephew, Sir Edward (Jack Fox), who is determined to seduce Lady Denham’s ward, Clara (Lily Sacofsky), and become the primary heir to his aunt’s estate. The arrival of wealthy, mixed-race heiress Miss Lambe (Crystal Clarke), under the guardianship of Tom’s upright brother Sidney (Theo James), due to a promise he made to Lambe’s father on his deathbed, adds an interesting complication. Eligible men naturally find Miss Lambe fascinating, while Charlotte is intrigued by Sidney. Charlotte Spencer also stars as Sir Edward’s scheming sister, Esther. Even as Austen was succumbing to her fatal illness, she chose to lampoon the contemporary fad for tonics, sea water cures and other medical remedies. Undiagnosed at the time, her malady was probably Addison’s disease, which today is easily treatable. Austen died at age 41, on July 18, 1817.
Also due Feb. 4 from “Masterpiece” on DVD and digital is the four-episode miniseries “Howards End,” starring Matthew Macfadyen, Julia Ormond, Hayley Atwell, Philippa Coulthard and Tracey Ullman. The series follows Margaret Schlegel (Atwell), an intelligent, idealistic young woman who is courted by the older Henry Wilcox (Macfadyen), a self-made conservative businessman. After his wife Ruth (Ormond) dies unexpectedly, he becomes the owner of Howards End. Meanwhile Margaret’s passionate and capricious younger sister Helen Schlegel (Coulthard) takes up the cause of Leonard Bast, a young bank clerk who falls on hard times at work and at home with his partner Jacky. In the absence of their late parents, the sisters’ loving but interfering Aunt Juley (Ullman) tries to keep the young ladies and their brother Tibby on the straight and narrow. The adaptation is written by Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea, Gangs of New York).
Coming Feb. 11 on DVD and digital is American Experience: McCarthy, chronicling the legacy of Joseph McCarthy’s relentless search for anyone he deemed a communist or enemy of the state. The Wisconsin Senator’s crusade is now the centerpiece of any conversation involving the government’s role in decency, democracy and ethical conduct. This witch hunt, completely free of restraint or oversight, led to the trials and imprisonment of many celebrities, Americans and immigrants. This program details the rise of McCarthy’s political life which led to his belief that there was a great conspiracy threatening America, culminating in a chilling campaign full of groundless accusations, bullying intimidation, grandiose showmanship, cruel victimization and a web of lies to keep public opinion on their side.
Due Feb. 4 on DVD and digital is Nova: Decoding da Vinci. On the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, with guidance from historian Walter Isaacson, the program pulls back the curtain to investigate what led to da Vinci’s ahead of his time, legendary successes. The program examines how his scientific studies, from dissecting humans to studying optics, led to a host of brilliant inventions, such as hang gliders, armored tanks, parachutes and many others. The program further explains how this deep scientific curiosity was behind the most captivating work of art in history, The Mona Lisa.
Coming Feb. 11 on DVD and digital is Nova: The Violence Paradox. Violence is ubiquitous in our everyday lives. We see it in the news, in movies, on TV and video games so why do some experts say that violence is decreasing and that we’re living in the most peaceful time in history? The program addresses these questions and explores the intricacies of how violence permeates our life, psychology and everyday thoughts and actions. The program takes us through time and the human mind to investigate what impacts the violence rates and what people are doing now to reduce violence in the world.
Finally, on Feb. 18 comes Nova: Animal Espionage on DVD and digital. With the technological advancements of the camera industry, experts and viewers get an intimate look at hard-to-view species behind closed doors during their everyday lives. Camera traps and drones, completely hidden from the animal’s view, allow viewers to get closer than ever before to animals such as whales, tigers and elusive giant armadillos. The recordings featured on this program capture everything from the unexpected to the comical.