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The remarkable first season of Deadwood represents one of those periodic, wholesale reinventions of the Western that is as different from, say, Lonesome Dove as that miniseries is from Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo or the latter is from Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur. In many ways, Deadwood embraces the Western's unambiguous morality during the cinema's silent era through the 1930s while also blazing trails through a post-NYPD Blue, post-The West Wing television age exalting dense and customized dialogue. On top of that, Deadwood has managed an original look and texture for a familiar genre: gritty, chaotic, and surging with both dark and hopeful energy. Yet the show's creator, erstwhile NYPD Blue head writer David Milch, never ridicules or condescends to his more grasping, futile characters or overstates the virtues of his heroic ones. Set in an ungoverned stretch of South Dakota soon after the 1876 Custer massacre, Deadwood concerns a lawless, evolving town attracting fortune-seekers, drifters, tyrants, and burned-out adventurers searching for a card game and a place to die. Others, particularly women trapped in prostitution, sundry do-gooders, and hangers-on have nowhere else to go. Into this pool of aspiration and nightmare arrive former Montana lawman Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and his friend Sol Starr (John Hawkes), determined to open a lucrative hardware business. Over time, their paths cross with a weary but still formidable Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine) and his doting companion, the coarse angel Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert); an aristocratic, drug-addicted widow (Molly Parker) trying to salvage a gold mining claim; and a despondent hooker (Paula Malcomson) who cares, briefly, for an orphaned girl. Casting a giant shadow over all is a blood-soaked king, Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), possibly the best, most complex, and mesmerizing villain seen on TV in years. Over 12 episodes, each of these characters, and many others, will forge alliances and feuds, cope with disasters (such as smallpox), and move--almost invisibly but inexorably--toward some semblance of order and common cause. Making it all worthwhile is Milch's masterful dialogue--often profane, sometimes courtly and civilized, never perfunctory--and the brilliant acting of the aforementioned performers plus Brad Dourif, Leon Rippy, Powers Boothe, and Kim Dickens. --Tom Keogh
Season Two Deadwood: The Complete Second Season continues the Shakespearean brilliance of the landmark first season, created by NYPD Blue head writer David Milch. Milch either wrote or supervised the writing of each of the 12 episodes in this stunning follow-up, which contains more than a few surprises for anyone who thought they knew the myriad characters in the late 19th century town of Deadwood--a mucky, ungoverned, exceptionally violent development in South Dakota. As with the first season, Deadwood continues to be about many things--survival, loyalty, alliances, duty--but all of them are happening against a titanic battle between several parties to consolidate power and real wealth in the territory. Despite his cutthroat ethics, astonishing profanity, and bursts of cruelty, it's hard not to side in this bid for a piece of America's future with saloon owner Al Swearengen (a magnificent performance by Ian McShane), a visionary monster who is nevertheless more recognisably human than his rivals. Entering an uneasy partnership with Al is Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). Seth begins the second season by teaching Al a few lessons in chivalry, and their brief but bloody feud commences physical ailments for Al that become increasingly shocking to behold. Yet Al's difficulties have the practical effect of sidelining him for a couple of episodes while the story sets up more complex power struggles. Al takes on Deadwood's other saloon-brothel owner, the unstable Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe), as well as an off-screen millionaire who is intent on owning all the gold-mining interests by buying out weary prospectors' claims. Meanwhile, Seth's wife and son (actually, his late brother's widow and child) arrive, an unsettling development for Seth's lover, the widow Alma Garret (Molly Parker), who soon reveals herself to be a more complicated person than in the first season. The prostitute Trixie (Paula Malcomson) begins thinking about her future and asserts independence from Al by having sex with Seth's friend, Sol Star (John Hawkes). Best of all, Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) is back and more endearingly uncivilized than ever. Special features include actor commentaries on select episodes, the best of which finds Olyphant and McShane cracking each other up while watching the season premiere. --Tom Keogh
Season Three The final complete season of HBO's remarkable Deadwood series is full of surprises and devastating experiences as the nascent, dangerous town prepares to join Dakota territory in 1877. As in the previous two seasons, the question of who will control the town's resources, assets, and people drives much of the drama, affecting all manner of relationships and alliances, often between the most unlikely people. The dominant storyline in Deadwood Season 3 concerns upcoming elections for mayor and sheriff of the mucky, gold-mining town. The real juice, however, is not so much between the individuals running for office as between two power brokers each trying to steer the results toward their own purposes. Saloon owner and Deadwood's puppetmaster, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane sustaining his brilliant peformance in the previous two seasons), works closely with incumbent lawman Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) on retaining the latter's seat. But Bullock himself has difficulty surrendering his penchant for taking unambiguous action and relying on few words, especially when he has to act like a politician and deal with people such as George Hearst (Gerald McRaney, playing the real-life father of William Randolph Hearst).Swearengen's rival, Hearst--a self-made industrialist who gained his fortune through mining--has every intention of overtaking Deadwood, with his eye particularly on the lucrative mine owned by Bullock's former lover, Alma (Molly Parker). (The violence Hearst employs to get to Alma's claim will stun many Deadwood fans.) Meanwhile, Bullock's old friend, Sol Starr (John Hawkes), runs for mayor against the feckless E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson), and tries to navigate through his difficult relationship with Trixie (Paula Malcomson) as she grows enraged by former lover Swearengen's manipulation of her and everyone else. Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) is encouraged to become a public speaker, telling of her misadventures with General George Custer, and she commences a lesbian relationship with Joanie (Kim Dickens), the saloon owner who is becoming increasingly despondent and suicidal. Bullock's relationship with his wife, Martha (Anna Gunn) continues to deepen and become more of an influence on him, Wyatt Earp comes for a visit, and a newcomer to town, Jack Langrishe (Brian Cox), an old friend of Swearengen, attempts to open a theatre. As expected, the season finale concludes with the long-awaited election, but HBO's decision to bring Deadwood to an end required creator David Milch to wrap everything up in a pair of two-hour movies. Still, The Complete Third Season is very satisfying on every level, and will always be, along with the rest of the series, a television landmark. --Tom Keogh --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Age Rating 18
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