Bonekickers (Blu-ray Review)

Led by the fiery Dr. Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham), an intrepid team of archaeologists finds mud, blood, and death-defying adventure when they start digging.  Combining historical mysteries with modern forensics, each episode focuses on a particular period in history, from the Crusades to Joan of Arc, King Arthur, and soldiers fighting in World War I.   Set in the beautiful ancient city of Bath, England, the series blends modern forensics with historical mysteries for exciting entertainment.  Broadcast on BBC, this 2008 action-adventure series follows a motley team of archaeologists as they unearth secrets from the past.  The first-rate ensemble cast features Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Iris), Julie Graham (Survivors, The Bill, At Home with the Braithwaites), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Undercovers, Larry Crowne, Doctor Who), and Adrian Lester (Hustle, Primary Colors), with guest stars Eamonn Walker (Oz) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood). 


Bonekickers has been described as being a mixture of Indiana Jones, Doctor Who, and CSI, which is why I agreed to review it.   Whoever came up with that description should go back and watch the source movies they are referencing.  Yes, the movie does contain some high profile archaeological artifacts but that’s where the comparison ends between them since I don’t remember Indiana Jones constantly screaming at Sallah or crying, or talking to an excavation instead of actually excavating it.   The show was written and executive produced by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh, co-creators of Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes, which I’ve heard was good but haven’t seen.

To put it simply, this show is a mess.  Meandering plots, melodramatic characters, and the show is unable to achieve a consistent tone.  The people behind the show don’t seem to know what kind of show they want it to be, as the show veers from political finger-wagging episodes to a bitchy soap opera with a little digging included.  While the show did improve slightly over the course of the six episodes, it’s conception was flawed from the beginning which I’m sure is part of the reason why this show only lasted one season.

The ostensible lead of this show is Dr. Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham), a supposedly legendary archaeologist who in actuality is a terrible one as she is constantly breaking relics and ignores the most basic rules of archaeology.  She is also a moody bitch for most of this season, always screaming at someone about something.  She is rude to her team, orders her intern to constantly get her tea, and honestly really doesn’t seem to have a clue about much of anything.  The way this role was conceived is one of the reasons this show doesn’t work.  Magwilde is as unpleasant as she is unprofessional (she is also rude to other archaeologists).

The one man who almost single-handedly saves the show is Hugh Bonneville as “Dolly” Parton, who is  a misogynistic relic of the past himself.  Bonneville is very good in his role, somehow pulling off the politically incorrect role with charm, while also appearing to be a believable archaeologist.   The rest of the team is a mixed bag with Adrian Lester doing the best he can with his lame dialogue and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the much abused intern who also contributes to the melodramatic aspect of the show.  This might sound sexist, but this show would have been a lot better without these two females included, or even better with two different female characters.

The plot lines are ridiculous and each episode begins with a flashback to the past and then we see the same place today.  Then the first half of the episode is made up of bitching and yelling and the second half gets down to solving the mysterious finds (with a little more bitching and screaming).  Some of the finds that the team investigates are interesting but they are ruined by the rest of the show.  This show had a good concept but the execution of that concept failed dismally.

Part of what made the X-Files work so well was that it doled out the show’s mythology over years and didn’t cram it all into six episodes.  This show’s conceit of exposing that two of the colleagues on the show are actually sisters (Dum dum dummmm!) but they didn’t know it because their mother can no longer talk!  The show is utterly ridiculous and be aware that since this aired on British TV, there’s occasional nudity and more graphic violence shown than American viewers are used to seeing on TV.  If you want to see some cool archeology, then you should watch Indiana Jones and not this watered down melodrama that wants to be too many different things at the same time.


The six episodes are presented in 1080i (1.78:1) and were shot in 24 frame high definition video.  The detail offered is very impressive, with only very minor noise and compression artifacts.  Colors are reproduced well and flesh tones natural and consistently accurate. The black levels are nice and dark with only an occasional burst of noise.  All in all, this is a very nice transfer.


Bonekickers’ PCM 2.0 stereo mix is also pretty impressive.  The front channels provide clean and intelligible dialogue, with the rest of the channels providing the music and effects.  There is some decent directionality between the channels and the music and effects are well balanced.

Special Features

There is a surprising amount of extras on here that cover just about every aspect of production.

Disc One:

  • The Show Idea – Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah discuss what inspired them to create the series and how long it took to develop it.
  • Army of God
    • The Script (2:48):  Matthew Graham, Ashley Pharoah, and Director James Strong discuss developing the script for the pilot episode.
    • Visual Effects (4:10): Effects Producer Will Cohen, Sr. Compositor Simon Holden, and Digital Matte Painter David Early discuss how they created the effects for the episode’s climax with the multiple crosses and fire.
    • The Shoot – Matthew Graham, Ashley Pharoah, and Director James Strong discuss the difficulties they faced shooting the episode’s climax was inside an abandoned hangar.
    • The Edit – Editor Adam Recht discusses the complexities of editing the episode when many of the effects shots haven’t been completed.
    • Production Design – Bryan Sykes shows us early storyboards, concept drawings, and miniatures that were created to visualize the final sequence for this episode.
    • The Edit – Live Cut –  Editor Adam Recht introduces a side-by-side comparison of two different edits from this episode.
  • Warriors
    • The Script (4:29):  Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah discuss the evolution of the story for this second episode.
    • The Shoot – Director James Strong discusses his process on blocking the shootout sequence and talks about how Michael Mann’s Heat is his inspiration for this part of it.
    • The Audio Mix (6:25): Re-recording Mixer Graham Wild and Supervising Sound Editor Ian Bown show us how the episode is mixed for the shootout sequence.
  • The Eternal Fire
    • The Script – Matthew Graham discusses writing for the show, using other writers, and trying to add some back-stories for the characters.
    • The Shoot – Director Sarah O’Gorman talks about the steps she took to film this episode.
    • The Audio Mix –  Re-recording Mixer Graham Wild and Supervising Sound Editor Ian Bown discuss mixing a scene and the use of sound effects to transition between sequences.
    • The Colour Grade – Colourist Kevin Horsewood shows us how changing the lighting and coloring of scenes can change the mood of a scene.

Disc Two:

  • The Cradle of Civilization
    • The Script – Matthew Graham talks about the use of modern issues to give context to the historical past events.
    • The Shoot – Director James Strong talks about his decision to use a CGI snake for this episode and the reasons for it.
    • The Costume – Costume Designer Pam Downe talks about the different costumes she made for the show and what material was used to make them.
    • Foley – Foley Artist Richard Hinton and Foley Recording Mixer Richard Crosby talk about how the sound effects for the snake were created.
    • Visual Effects – VFX Producer Will Cohen and 3D Supervisor Jean Claude Degaura talk about how the CGI snake was created.
  • The Lines of War
    • The Script – Matthew Graham talks about how the script had to be rewritten right before filming.
    • The Shoot (5:02): Location Manager Dee Gregson and Standby Art Director Maxine Carlier talk about preparing for the episode and having to adjust to all of the last minute changes.
    • The Music – Composer Ben Bartlett talks about the different themes he created for the show and how they sometime don’t meet with the director’s expectations.
  • Follow The Gleam
    • The Script – Matthew Graham talks about trying to achieve his vision despite budget shortcomings.
    • The Shoot – Director Iain MacDonald, Julie Graham, Adrian Lester, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Hugh Bonneville discuss filming some scenes at Wales Cathedral.
    • The Music – Composer Ben Bartlett talks about the recurrence of the main theme and how the music can be used to emphasis the suspense of the story.

Final Thoughts

The show had a good premise but between the poor script choices, an uneven tone, and some miscasting, the show was in trouble from the start.  It had some good moments with some of the historical MacGuffins and Hugh Bonneville is fun to watch, but overall the show is too melodramatic for it’s own good and the unlikable characters and silly dialogue hinder the show.

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