KEENE, N.H.

"William & Mary" is not about the married monarchs of England from 1689 to 1694, but a love story about an undertaker and a midwife. Ahem!

"William & Mary, the Complete Collection" has been released as a six-DVD set by Acorn Media, and it proves to be one of the best series I have seen in many years.

The 18 episodes of about 48 minutes each are so packed with incident that anything I say about the plot would be a "spoiler." So here is the basic setup.

William Shawcross (Martin Clunes) is an undertaker and a single parent with two daughters, Kate (Peta Cornish) and Julia (Georgina Terry). Mary Gilcrest (Julie Graham) is a midwife, divorced from Reuben (Paterson Joseph), an Afro-Anglo, to coin a phrase, and mother of two sons, Brendan (Ricci McLeod) and Terence (Dominick Baron).

Living with her on a temporary yet seemingly permanent basis is her interfering mother Molly (Cheryl Campbell), who encourages constant visits by Mary’s old boyfriend Rick (Michael Begley). Secondary characters are William’s assistants at the funeral parlor, Arnold (James Greene) and Jane (Catherine Terris), while another midwife, Doris (Claire Hackett), is Mary’s confidant.

In the first episode, William and Mary meet on a blind date, set up by an agency that advises him to conceal his occupation for this first encounter. And that is all I can say about specific events. Needless to say, the two families become close enough to move into the same house -- and that is the crucible in which all the chemical reactions take place to keep this event-filled series at a boil.


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My only quibble is that many of the sudden plot twists seem too contrived for the sake of keeping the series going for the three seasons included in this set. But the acting saves the day on that score.

I expected a sort of light comedy and was surprised and happy to see that it was mostly filled with serious moments about coming into and leaving this world. Although there are weird things happening at three or four funerals, the doings are otherwise treated with dignity.

More harrowing are the birthing sequences in which Mary suffers nearly as much as the mothers. In fact, one wonders if her obsessive devotion to her patients does not make her job really the one for her. (I am not the only one to consider this.) I would appreciate if any midwife reading this would let me know how emotionally attached they get to each and every one of their mothers-to-be.

I have never seen Clunes do a finer acting job; and although I have seen Graham in small roles now and then, I have grown to respect her acting skills greatly. (How many other romantic leads have a gap in their bottom teeth -- since then removed -- and body tattoos?) Graham is utterly believable as Mary, especially when she knows her emotions are controlling her better judgment but prefers to let them do so. Don’t we all at times?

Cheryl Campbell is cast against type as a royal pain in the nether regions, but her character develops as the series progresses. Paterson Joseph’s Reuben is the kind of person whose love for himself is shared by few others, except perhaps his sons. But he too is somewhat redeemed by the last two episodes.

I must admit that William is always shown singing in a choir, but he seems to have no vocal talents at all when he sings solo. Still, the sight of him in a clowning Elvis Presley outfit is worth the price of the set alone! You see, one of his other commitments is to "The Band" (The Emerald Dogs, in real life), headed by Billy Two Hats (David Kennedy).

One more point. I know that real life is like this, but the incessant calls many of the characters get on their mobiles become predictable and (to me) annoying. I realize that both William and Mary are forever "on call," but so many of these calls strike me as being plot devices to break up a scene that would have gone differently had the call not been made.

Need I say it? All in all, a Grabbit.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.