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Posts Tagged ‘PBS Masterpiece Mystery!’

I’ll admit it: The only thing that Jane Austen and Sherlock have in common, aside from their Britishness, is PBS and the BBC, who co-produce the many excellent film series and costume dramas that Jane Austen fans enjoy. That is my main excuse for reviewing a mystery set in the modern age. After watching Season One of Sherlock,  I eagerly looked forward to Season 2. I was not disappointed with the first episode, A Scandal in Belgravia. A number of viewers in the U.K., however, were outraged.

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler, dominatrix

Parents who watched the Belgravia episode with their young children wrote to the BBC complaining about the plot – which revolved around a dominatrix – and the nudity. While no female parts were anatomically shown, a great deal of bare flesh was displayed for about 2-3 minutes. I seriously doubt that young children are able to understand the double entendres spoken by Sherlock and Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), the woman whose craftiness and intelligence equals his. Much like a championship tennis game or chess match, it is great fun to watch these two characters connive, spar, tease and flirt in a game of mental and verbal one upmanship. And so, I surmise, that the irate parents were concerned about nudity, not subtext. Frankly, I’d be more angry about the explicit violence their children are exposed to in film and on television and try to put a halt to that, but what do I know?

Irene talks nonchalantly as the two men try not to react.

The plot in the first Season 2 episode is really is not so much about solving the mystery as about Sherlock finding himself  in thrall of Ms. Adler’s devious mind. A dominatrix who possesses incriminating photos of her sexual involvement with a British royal, she is able to do mental battle with Sherlock and hold her own. Upon first meeting her, Sherlock cannot make a “read” on her, for she reveals no clues about herself. How could she? She’s naked.  And so he finds her irresistibly intriguing.

Sherlock and Dr. Watson in Buckingham Palace. Unwilling to come, he refused to dress, a fact that barely surprised his roommie.

Some critics yawned at the plot, but I think they missed the point. This episode is all about Irene Adler tempting Sherlock out of his celibacy and distracting him with sexual thoughts. The episode was purportedly written to deflect any thoughts about Sherlock and Dr. Watson engaging in a homosexual relationship. I never had such a thought, but apparently many did.

Tit for tat. Cumberbatch gets to do a partial nude scene.

Once again Benedict Cumberbatch has done an outstanding job in portraying a man who, aside from his brilliant mind, is completely off his rocker. To me he is the definitive Sherlock. No other actor, past or present (even Robert Downey Jr) can match him in my eyes. By now, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman), has grown accustomed to his strange roommie, and can anticipate how Sherlock will react at any given moment. The two odd friends have solidified into a smooth-working team.

Sherlock refuses to visit the crime scene, but is willing to study the site via WiFi. In this scene he is lecturing the inspector for suspecting the suspect.

Guest star, Lara Pulver, is one brave actress. Not only did she perform an important scene entirely in the nude, she was convincing as the woman who could outsmart Sherlock. I was highly captivated by their interplay.

Sherlock and Irene Adler discuss the crime in her sitting room. The camera zooms in on the actual scene as the two are solving the mystery. It’s these original touches that make this series so visually exciting.

If , after reading my take on the first episode, you still think the topic of A Scandal in Belgravia is too mature for your children, I suggest that you rent a movie for your offspring, trundle them off to a different room, then sit back and enjoy one of the more weirdly satisfying and witty mystery series on TV.

Sherlock will air tonight and on May 13th and May 20th for 1 1/2 hours at 9 PM EST (or check your local listing.) PBS has also arranged a twitter party during these events. Hash tag #SherlockPBS.

The episodes will stream online at PBSs website one day after the initial air date. Click here. 

Read my reviews of Sherlock Season One here.

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Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) examines microscopic evidence

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. The ending of the final episode of Sherlock!, which represented the final Mystery! for PBS’s 2010 Masterpiece season left me sitting on the edge of my seat, and … I won’t spoil your enjoyment if you haven’t watched it yet. Click here to view The Great Game online if you missed it. Two of the three episodes will be available until December 7.

The countdown clock is ticking: 12 hours

Sherlock’s ingenuity is put to the test in The Great Game, which a darker and more complex tale than the previous two episodes. Holmes races against time to solve a mystery that began when he was a boy. Clues arrive from an adversary worthy of Sherlock, whose detective skills are put through their paces. Dr. Watson is also on top of his game, and more critical as Holmes’s partner than ever.

Watson accuses Sherlock of enjoying himself, even as another victim's deadline has dropped to 3 hours

The cat-and-mouse games become more and more intricate as clues arrive from Sherlock’s dangerous adversary. His presence has been hinted at in previous episodes, but, again, I won’t give the game away.

Watson (Martin Freeman) puzzles through the clues, which are elementary for Holmes

The script is fiercely funny and its wit sharper than the edge of a freshly honed knife. The ending is shocking. I won’t give it away except to say that PBS MUST air the second season of this series. That’s all.

The ending is a game changer that makes this series a must-see

Reade other Sherlock! reviews :

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Beautiful Soo Lin Yao (Gemma Chan) is doomed.

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. While not quite as satisfying as the first episode, The Blind Banker, the second installment of Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock! had many fine moments. Sherlock is called by a former schoolmate to investigate the break in at his bank and the vandalism of the portrait of a banker. A bright yellow graffiti line has been sprayed over the banker’s eyes and a cryptic Chinese symbol has been painted on a wall opposite the portrait. What does all this mean? Intrigued, Sherlock follows the clues to solve this seemingly impossible puzzle.

The camera angles are quite original. Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) talks his way into an apartment building.

In this episode Watson is worried over the lack of income to support his and Sherlock’s lifestyle. He needs a job and cash to live on. But Sherlock has not a care in the world. As he waits for an interesting case, he uses the exasperated Watson’s laptop. Insult above injury!

Watson (Martin Freeman) can no longer hide his exasperation with Sherlock

Then Sherlock is called by his old schoolboy friend to investigate a break-in at a bank, and all of a sudden Sherlock springs into action. When a bank employee is found inside an apartment with the doors and windows locked from the inside, Sherlock realizes that the murderer must have scaled the high rise’s walls to accomplish the dastardly deed. In order to solve the encrypted Chinese messages that are left near the victims’ bodies, he must find a “book that everybody owns.”

The victim had just returned from Hong Kong. His doors and windows were locked. So how was he murdered?

In the meantime, Watson has had enough of Sherlock’s lack of practicality. Anxious about food and rent, he accepts a part time job at a medical clinic and finds himself attracted to his boss, Sarah.

Sarah (Zoe Telford) has the strangest date ever with Dr. Watson

Their first date not only points out Sherlock’s total concentration on a case (the single-minded detective wonders why Watson would prefer a date over solving a mystery) but Watson, still trustful, accepts Sherlock’s offer of tickets to the circus. And then the “fun begins.”

The tickets Holmes gives Watson are to a Chinese circus

While I loved seeing the personal background story about Watson, I was not as riveted watching this episode as the first one. The script is still witty and intelligent, and the action is fast and furious, but this episode seemed all too familiar.  As Sherlock and Watson race against time to prevent another murder, I felt I had seen this plot before.

Which book will help to solve the cryptic Chinese symbols?

All one can ask of a good detective mystery is a good story, and I did find myself sitting on the edge of my seat a number of times. If you missed this episode, you can watch it online for the next few weeks.

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Watch the series. Sherlock! online starting Monday, October 25

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) needs a place to stay

I was never a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan. The films seemed stilted and the detective as conceived by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was too old-fashioned to suit me. The only person I cared for was Dr. Watson. Sometimes I would feel a vague interest in a tale or two, but I never related to this strange but knowledgeable sleuth … until Benedict Cumberbatch arrived on the scene.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

There's room for him in an apartment on Baker Street

Benedict as Sherlock Holmes is close to perfect as the edgy, modern, sociopathic detective. Sherlock’s odd ticks and quirks, his quick mind and uncanny ability to read a person’s life story based on a few clues are used to great effect in introducing his character, that of Dr. Watson, and the London police force, with whom he shares a “don’t care if you hate me” attitude.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

The catch? His roommate will be Sherlock Holmes, a fanatic when it comes to sleuthing

To Sherlock, a crime spree is like Christmas — only made better by the possibility that these crimes may be the work of a devious serial killer. The game is on, and before it is over, Sherlock will put his life on the line — all to keep from being bored to death.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

Suicide or murder? The fourth victim gives Holmes a crucial clue.

A Study in Pink, a take on A Study in Scarlett, Doyle’s first Holmes mystery, is the first of three offerings in the last series this year for PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! The script is witty, the action fast paced, and the final solution a mix of classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Princess Bride, in which Wallace Shawn as Vizzini challenges Cary Elwes (Westley) into a deadly contest in which Westley must decide on which cup holds the poison.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

Rupert Graves as Lestrade consults Holmes out of desperation

Will Sherlock outwit the serial killer? Will Watson cure himself of his psychosomatic limp and save his new apartment mate?

 

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

The lighting and camera angles are divine

Will the viewer remain absolutely entertained by this intelligent, witty, and fast-paced script? Kudos go to the cinematography, which is visually exciting. I am only sorry that we will be treated to three measly scripts this season. PBS, for next year please order up a half dozen or more.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

We enter Holmes's mind via captions

The characters:

Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch
Dr. John Watson, Martin Freeman
DI Lestrade, Rupert Graves
Mrs. Hudson, Una Stubbs
Molly Hooper, Louise Brealey
Sgt. Sally Donovan,Vinette Robinson
Ella, Tanya Moodie
Helen, Siobhán Hewlett
Sir Jeffrey Patterson, William Scott-Masson
Margaret Patterson, Victoria Wicks
Gary, Sean Young
Jimmy, James Duncan

Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Watson (Freeman) are a perfect match

Read more about the series:

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Kenneth Branagh in Faceless Killers

Kurt Wallander’s life is all about work and it is killing him. Kenneth Branagh is perfect as  the world weary Swedish cop who cares about his cases at the expense of his family and physical and emotional health. The actor is fearless in depicting a tired, overweight and unkempt man who drinks too much, sleeps too little, and suffers from diabetes and depression. Wallander’s wife has left him, his relationships with his daughter and father stink, and he has no friends to speak of.

The first three episodes of Wallander (Series One) were a revelation. Series Two is as good if not better. The series is filmed in the bleak landscape of southern Sweden and in the small port city of Ystad. Initially, there was thought of producing a feature film, but Branagh voted against it, saying.

I thought it might be tough in the current climate to produce a film with somebody like me in it and expect it would last much longer than an opening weekend. Just because our business is incredibly brutal.” – Kenneth Branagh

Wallander is the brain child of Henning Mankell, a successful Swedish author who created the character in reaction to the anti-immigration sentiment expressed in his country.

I had no idea this would be the start of a long journey,” Mankell says. “I was writing the first novel out of anger at what was happening in Sweden. And, since xenophobia is a crime, I needed a police officer. So the story came first, then the character. Then I realised I was creating a tool that could be used to tell stories about the situation in Sweden — and Europe — in the 1990s. The best use of that tool was to say ‘What story shall I tell?’, then put him in it.” – Times Online

Tom Hiddleston and Kenneth Branagh in Wallander

Wallander’s single-minded doggedness in solving his investigations leaves him with little room in life for anything else. The solitary detective is miserable but unable to do anything to change his life, as Kenneth Branagh explained in a recent interview:

So there is little room in his mind for small talk, superficiality. He’s not much interested in sport. He doesn’t have hobbies. He doesn’t have extra room or space for what might be therapeutic reflection. It’s almost always about why people commit acts of violence. And complicated analysis and consideration of what drove him or her to it. Or why the person he has interviewed responded in the way they did. And sometimes in his own life why he is unable to say to his own daughter, “I love you”, or return her call.

‘So all of that physically just makes you feel heavier. I remember reading the script for the first of these new ones – I’d not been near it for a year – and by the end of it I was hunched and bent over. And I felt as though my skin was sagging. I felt as though the gravitational weight of Wallander was starting to have an impact.’  – Telegraph Co.UK

Jeannie Spark as Linda Wallander and Arsher Ali as Jamal, the young doctor she is seeing

The first series, produced by Yellow Bird, Mankell’s film production company, in partnership with Left Bank Pictures, ran on PBS in 2009. Wallander garnered Branagh a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA for Best Drama Series for the first season.

PBS will offer the following episodes in Series 2:

Faceless Killers, October 3


An elderly couple is brutally assaulted in their rural farmhouse. The press takes hold of the foreigner angle, inciting swift and deadly retribution against local migrant workers. But there is more to the case — a potential mistress, a lost son and a large sum of money. Wallander’s inquiry takes him deep into his own damaged psyche, forcing him to examine and question his own motives before he can even begin to understand those of a killer.

The Man Who Smiled, October 10,

Gustaf Torstensson quietly chants “Mea culpa, mea culpa,” as he drives to his death. His son Sten Torstensson, a friend of Inspector Kurt Wallander, begs the detective to investigate the suspicious case — Wallander is his last hope. But hope has all but drained from Wallander’s life, as he’s now on indefinite leave from his work and has been all but forgotten after enduring an on-the-job trauma.

The Fifth Woman, October 17

Inspector Kurt Wallander is torn between two disparate cases while dealing with one harsh and heartbreaking reality — the demise of his father. When another victim is found, it is clear that a serial killer is at work in Ystad.

Other features:

As usual, PBS Masterpiece Mystery provides special features that add dimension to the series.

Other posts

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Oxford, Halloween night and under a full moon

Falling Darkness, the final episode of season 3 of Inspector Lewis on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! begins on Halloween Eve, a night when the moon is full and young goblins go from house to house trick or treating.

Tiny hobgoblins trick or treating at Lewis's door

The viewer is witness to Inspector Lewis’s playful reaction as children in costume arrive at his doorstep. But all too soon Hathaway appears at his doorstep to halt all the fun and announce a murder.

Lewis greeting Hathaway

The victim, Ligeia Willard, is found with a stake through her heart and garlic in her mouth. Could it be witchcraft? Or revenge? for Dr. Willard is a renowned scientist at a stem cell research institute and “not overly popular with the spiritually certain.”

The stem cell research institute was being picketed. Could a protester have killed Dr. Willard?

Dr. Willard, as it turns out, was also Laura Hobson’s good friend and college house mate years ago. They shared their house with another friend, Ellen, and two male friends, Alec and Peter.

Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) at home, dealing with her friend's death

Griefstricken over her friend’s death, Laura removes herself from the investigation. When another murder of a young woman, Rowena, occurs in that same house, the string of clues lead to Laura as the main suspect.

Rupert Graves as Alec Pickman, one of Laura's former housemate

The plot of Falling Darkness revolves around Laura Hobson and events in her past that might solve the mystery. This is an unwelcome development for Inspector Lewis, who must follow correct investigative procedure and check out Laura’s alibis.

Hathaway (Laurence Fox) follows the clues.

The incomparable Rupert Graves, whose portrayal of Freddie in A Room With a View I shall never forget, makes an appearance as Alec Pickman, a hopeless alcoholic, former lothario, and one of the men who shared the house with Laura and her friends.

Ursula Van Tessel, psychic, assures Lewis that "She didn't suffer," causing him to wince

In this plot we learn more about Laura’s past as Hathaway and Lewis work furiously to solve the murders and clear her name. On a personal level, season III ended strongly with this episode, for Lewis and Laura have developed their relationship to the point where they can hold hands in public, but I did not feel that all the ends had been neatly tied and addressed, such as the reason Rowena was murdered. Neglecting such a detial is bad murder mystery form.

The clues keep leading to Laura

I will miss Lewis and Hathaway and the setting of Oxford tremendously, but with Wallander slated to air next week, I will be amply compensated for their absence.

Lewis and Hathaway walk through Oxford

Watch Falling Darkness online at this link for two weeks starting Monday, September 28th, through October 26th, 2010.

Laura thanks Lewis for his help

Last episode of the season, and until next year, The End

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Oxford University's campus is strangely empty in Your Sudden Death Question

The fourth installment of Inspector Lewis, Season III, starts off with an August Bank Holiday that has emptied Oxford University of professors, students and all but a handful of staff. A small group is assembling for a Bank Holiday Quizaholic Weekend.

Marcus Richards (Alan Davies) the quiz master

The members of the group introduce themselves in teams, including Ethan Croft, an obnoxious, boozing primary school teacher, whose once promising career as a linguist at Oxford U. was derailed by a sex scandal.

Nicholas Farrell and Timothy West play two Oxford professors on the Grey Guardian team

The teams include two older Oxford academics, two students, two young mothers, soldiers, and lawyers.

Alfie Wilkinson( Jack Fox) and Ava Taylor (Tabitha Wady) compete on Team "Toxic Debt"

The cash prize for winning the Quiz is £5,000 lbs, but before the first round even gets under way, Mr. Croft is found floating face down in an ornamental fountain. Lewis and Hathaway interview Jean Croft, the dead man’s stunned widow. She confesses to wanting to kill him for his infidelities. The viewer quickly eliminates her as a suspect, as do Lewis and Hathaway.

Susannah Doyle plays Jean Croft, grieving widow

They mull over the situation a bit more. Was the murder a crime of passion?

Pondering the murder suspects

Ethan’s old flame, Robyn, appeared at the event with her friend, Eve Rigby (Sally Bretton). Ethan is instantly smitten with Eve, and hardly gives Robyn a glance. Robyn realizes that he does not recall their relationship, when she was 14 to his 16. Later she appears to be angry. Could she have killed Ethan out of  jealous rage?

Could Robyn Strong (Ruth Gemmel), a lonely single mother, have killed the victim out of jealousy and passion?

Then Eve is killed, and Hathaway and Lewis must deal with a second body. They are convinced that the two murders are somehow connected. Could the two soldiers, British Army Lieutenant Diane Baxter and Color Sergeant Brian Kaye, have killed the victims on behalf of the government.

Diane Baxter makes an important admission.

As Lewis and Hathaway find out more about a secret project that Croft was involved with, it would not be out of line to suspect the soldiers of killing him on behalf of the Government.

Lewis informs the assembled suspects that they cannot leave until the murder is solved

Professor Milner’s young wife had the affair with Croft, which ended his career at Oxford.

Could Gwen Milner (Helen Grace) have a reason for murdering Croft?

As they wait for Hathaway and Lewis to solve the murders, the teams are allowed to compete in the Quiz game.

Sebastian Anderson (Alastair Mackenzie) and Jessica Neil (Emma Cleasby) are stuck on campus until the mystery is solved.

Different possibilities present themselves, including the Quiz organizer whose shady business practices might have been uncovered by Croft. Or was the mysterious project that he was working on as a linguist responsible for his death?

Lewis and Hathaway go over the clues.

A translator is enlisted to read Croft's foreign language documents.

One by one, the clues tumble into place and before the 90 minutes are up, Lewis and Hathaway have solved the murders and the quiz contestants can go home – all save the killer.

Spoiler Alert!:

I loved this episode for the continued deepening of the relationship between Lewis and Dr. Laura Hobson, and Lewis and Hathaway. Their personal back stories are revealed slowly, like peeling the layers of an onion one story at a time.

Hathaway retrieves his lovely guitar with the aid of Lewis.

Hathaway eavesdrops as Lewis calls Laura Hobson.

Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) understands loneliness every bit as well as Lewis.

The mystery of Your Sudden Death Question was splendid, and this time around I did not solve the murder until the end. I give this episode of Inspector Lewis, written by Alan Plater, three out of three Regency fans! You can watch the episode online at this link from Monday, September 20 to October 19, 2010.

Inspector Lewis, Season III

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Dark Matter, the third installment of season three of Inspector Lewis, is available online from September 13 through October 12.

Peaceful Oxford, or is it?

In this episode, Professor Andrew Crompton, an amateur astronomer and the Master of Gresham College, is found dead at the foot of the University Observatory stairs. Lewis and Hathaway investigate the dark goings on among family, friends, colleagues, and staff. Two murders, one in broad daylight, baffle them until a crucial piece of evidence is revealed. The initial murder is set against the backdrop of Gustav Holst’s The Planet Suite, Mars: The Bringer of War.

Roger Temple (Warren Clark) rides his bike to work

In fact, Holst’s fabulous music and the city of Oxford take a front seat as the murderer goes about doing dastardly deeds and Hathaway and Lewis canvas the streets and university looking for clues and talking to suspects.

Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) playing clarinet

We also learn more personal details about Dr. Laura Hobson, who plays 3rd clarinet at the gala memorial concert, which our detectives have paid to see but must leave as they pursuit the murderer. Before this happens, Lewis enlists Hobson to spy on her fellow orchestra members, notably Gwen Raeburn, also an astronomy lecturer; her husband, Sir Arnold; and the guest conductor Malcolm Finniston.

Lewis and Hathaway go over the clues

As I watched this particular episode I realized why I generally prefer shows produced for British television – middle aged people, indeed those who would be considered elderly, are allowed to find love and romance and are not relegated to stereotypical Golden Girl or old codger roles. The BBC employs skilled and seasoned actors to portray the characters, not some flavor of the month or pretty boy pinup.

Robert Hardy as Sir Arnold Raeburn

Actors like Robert Hardy (Sir Arnold Raeburn), Warren Clarke (Roger Temple), Sophie Ward (the grieving widow, Isobel),

Sophie Ward as Isobel Crompton

Diana Quick (Gwen Raeburn), and Annabelle Apsion (Babs Temple) are at the top of their game.

Annabelle Apsion as Babs Temple, the Crompton's housekeeper

It is simply a pleasure to watch them create a world in which I can immerse myself for an hour and a half.

Malcolm Finniston, guest conductor

Even the young actors, like Ruby Thomas, aren’t just cookie cutter pretty. They can hold their own against their more seasoned counterparts.

Ruby Thomas as Kate Cameron

I solved the murder mystery fairly quickly, but I didn’t care. Its the relationship between Inspector Lewis and Hathaway that keeps me in thrall and tuning in to PBS Masterpiece Mystery every Sunday night. In fact, these episodes give me an excess of joy.

It was nice to see Dr. Hobson wear a dress and pursue personal goals

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Watch the latest Inspector Lewis mystery, The Dead of Winter, on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery site from September 6 until September 19. Click here for behind the scenes videos.

The episode opens with a shooting at a re-enactment of a battle on the grounds of Crevecoeur Hall

The curious case leads back to Crevecoeur Hall, a vast, history-rich Oxford estate, and as it happens, the setting for much of Detective Sergeant Hathaway’s (Laurence Fox) youth. Hathaway reconnects with his past – and Scarlett Mortmaigne, the daughter of the estate’s owner. But is he also consorting with a main suspect? It’s a case that threatens to expose the shortcomings and secrets of a wealthy family, cloud Hathaway’s judgment and ultimately put his relationship with Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) in jeopardy.

Hathaway is haunted by the death of a 10 year-old girl

The Dead of Winter, the second episode in the third season, opens with a melancholic Hathaway testifying in court about an atrocity commited towards a ten year old girl. He cannot shake off the image of finding her body in a water cistern. Inspector Lewis is unable to communicate with his friend, and the emotional gulf between the two partners widens. As Dr. Hobson observes caustically, “boys never let anyone in.”

"Boys never let anyone in", Laura Hobson observes

When Hathaway is called to a murder at Crevecoeur Hall, the estate where he spent the first 12 years of his life as the son of the estate manager, his past life comes tumbling back. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Hathaway’s childhood, and that he had once played with the butler (Pip Carter) another child on the estate, and young Lady Scarlett (Camilla Arfwedson), for whom he still carries a tendre and who fondly calls him “James the Just.” Her engagement to a rich man does not stop her from revealing to Hathaway how very much she still is attracted to him, but for James her confession is a painful reminder of “what might have been.” James the Just can see no reason for her preferring money over love, the choice she has made.

While attracted to Hathaway, Scarlett chooses money over love

The script weaves in these threads of James’s former life with current events and the murder of a doctor who had visited Crevecoeur Hall. As James investigates thecrime, the current estate manager of Crevecoeur Hall, whose wife had run away 20 years ago, commits suicide.

Hathaway and Paul Hopkiss, the butler and his former childhood friend

We meet an array suspects: the lord of the manor, Augustus Mortmaigne, the Marquess of Tygon (Richard Johnson); his wife, Selina Mortmaigne (Juliet Aubrey); her brother in law, Philip (Nathaniel Parker) with whom she is having an affair. Add a valuable painting that has been altered and that might hold clues, a Jesuit priest who knows more than he lets on, and a purring cat that Inspector Lewis rescues from the dead doctor’s home, and you have a fully fleshed mystery story populated with likely suspects. As both Lewis and Hathaway pursue the killer, both come at cross purposes.

Lewis pursues his own clues in the dead Dr's office

That last statement of the quote that opens this review is a bit misleading. While Lewis becomes exasperated with Hathaway, whose surpressed longings for Scarlett have gotten in the way of his judgment, he has not come to the point of breaking off their relationship, and he makes it clear that he is content with Hathaway as a partner.

The lord of the manor and those who live on his estate have many secrets to hide

This second episode in Season 3 is better than the first – more tightly written and much darker in tone. The final scene is filled with suspense, and I did not guess the murderer until just before the major clue about corn starch was dropped. For those who have missed the episode, you can watch it online from September 6 through September 19.

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In Counter Culture Blues, the church's peaceful Sunday sermon is shattered by the sound of gun shots on the estate next door.

Counter Culture Blues, the latest Inspector Lewis mystery on PBS Masterpiece Mystery!, treats the viewer to three murders – a young boy, a rocker, and a music professor. This episode of Inspector Lewis kicks off to the third season and does not disappoint. Half the fun of mysteries set in England is witnessing the audaciousness of the characters and the entertaining display of British wit. Both are offered in abundance in this episode about aging rockers.

Richie (David Hayman) looks on as Franco (Anthony Higgins) sees Esme (Joanna Lumley) for the first time in 35 years.

The murders coincide with the reappearance of Esme Ford, the front singer of a once hugely popular 70’s rock band, Midnight Addiction. Esme was thought to have killed herself 35 years ago, but much to the shocked surprise of Ritchie Maguire, the band’s leather-faced leader, she walks back into his life, hoping to ressurrect the band and duplicate their past glory. It was Esme, the “tart with the heart”, who had been the “enchantment who held the band together.” While Richie Maguire had recently attempted a solo CD, whose master had mysteriously been wiped clean, the members of the band were living richly off the proceeds of their past glory.

Just when Inspector Lewis thinks it is safe to sit down to a nice meal, duty calls.

We first meet Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) at home and about to sit down to a microwave dinner, when he and Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are called to investigate the illegal hunting of game near a church during Sunday service. The culprit is Richie, whose estate is nearby. Inspector Lewis knows the band’s history intimately, for in his youth he had been a huge fan. His surprise upon encountering Esme is as great as Richie’s, and it conjures up memories of a poster of Esme sans shirt and bra that he had purchased as a boy and hung in his room.

David Hayman as Richie Maguire

Anthony Higgins as Franco

The rockers have not aged well, and the actors who play Richie (David Hayman), Bone (Zig Byfield), Mack (Hilton McRae), and Franco (Anthony Higgins) are as craggy as Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.

Zig Byfield as Bone

Hilton McRae as Mack

I won’t give too much of the plot away, since you can still see this episode online. This intelligent and often witty script was written by Guy Andre, who adapted the screenplay from a story by Nick Deare. The series itself is inspired by Colin Dexter’s’ Inspector Morse novels and is greatly enhanced by an excellent cast. Simon Callow portrays Vernon Oxe, the openly gay manager who claims that the band was his creation. Oxe’s sudden appearance in Oxford coincides with that of Esme Ford.

Simon Callow as Vernon Oxe (with Anthony Higgins)

Joanna Lumley as Esme is superb, but then I am biased in her favor. I will always adore Joanna for her turn as Patsy Stone, the boozing, smoking, non-eating, free-loving character of Absolutely Fabulous. I could not help but laugh at Esme’s brazen reason for sleeping with two men on the same night – to assure them that she had not forgotten either of them. My only beef with Joanna as Esme was her obvious wig, which was is not Ms Lumley’s fault. For the viewer’s sake, could they not have found a better hair piece?

Joanna Lumley as Esme

The plot of Counter Culture Blues is complicated, but still manages to hold the viewer’s interest. Sub plots abound. While they did not throw me off my scent (I figured out who the murderer was fairly early on), they added a richness and complexity to the world that Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway inhabit.

Perdita Weeks plays Kitten, a girl with a secret and from whom a secret is being kept.

Richie’s daughter, Kitten (Perdita Weeks), has mysterious dealings with a nasty young man named Peter, which gives James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) something productive to do. Hathaway is no slouch, and he is on to Peter’s sordid schemes. His confrontation of the young man are among my favorite scenes in this production.

Sergeant Hathaway interrogates creepy Peter

Peter (Harry Lloyd) shows no conscience

The mysterious death of Jason, the boy who was murdered at the gates of Richie’s mansion, and of two other charactes keep Inspector Lewis on his toes.

Jason's friend, Declan (Daniel Kaluuya) bravely helps Inspector Lewis solve why the boy was murdered.

It turns out that free-loving Richie has a wife. Helen Baxendale as Caroline is given the best line in this episode. When asked by Inspector Lewis why she disappears for weeks on end, she says she can always tell when her husband is gearing up to have another affair and she wanted to give him the necessary space. “He’s like a dog, really. Needs exercizing.”

Caroline, Helen Baxendale, takes a pragmatic view on marriage.

As usual the reader is treated to scenes in and around Oxford, always a delight, and Rebecca Front once againmakes her appearance as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent, telling Lewis that “If my life is disagreeable, yours is going to be hell. “ Neither Lewis nor Hathaway can do their jobs without the sharp eyed skills of Drl Laura Hobson, capably played by Clare Holman. It would be lovely if she and Lewis got together, but that is my mothering gene working in overdrive.

The scenes in and around Oxford are part of the background.

Rebecca Front as Chief Superintendent Innocent is both exasperated with Inspector Lewis and in awe of his skills.

Lewis and Hathaway depend on Dr. Hobson's (Clare Holman) findings to do their work.

The identity of the murderer is somewhat obvious, but the ending is satisfying nevertheless. Joanna Lumley is entertaining as ever and this episode is worth watching for her performance alone. If you want to see the series again, it will be shown online at this link starting August 30 and through September 12. The other episodes scheduled for Season III are:

Needless to say, it is going to be a great September of Sundays with Inspector Lewis at PBS!

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The cast of Appointment With Death

Appointment with Death is the last new Hercule Poirot mystery to be shown on PBS for Season X. David Suchet and a sterling ensemble cast reenacted Agatha Christie’s tale in Syria – or did they?

Lord and Lady Boynton, the victim, and Sarah King, right

Big changes were made to the original storyline, which Christie had originally set in Petra. Lord Boynton, a famous archeologist, now searches for the head of John the Baptist. The cast of characters differed from the novel, and when the murder was finally solved in a dramatic (and unbelievable) way, I could scarcely believe what I was watching.

Two Boynton children and Dr. Gerard
What could possibly be wrong with Dr. Gerard?

Many readers feel that Appointment With Death was one of Christie’s weakest novels, and tinkering with the story has done little to improve the plot. There is an undercurrent of cruelty in this adaptation  (Mrs. Boynton is a worse child abuser than Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park), which has not been adequately explained. And while Lady Westholme (Elizabeth McGovern) had much to lose, her role in this plot has changed it beyond recognition.

Hercule Poirot and Dame Celia Westholme

Oh, dear. This episode was not a good way to end the season. The only positive thing I can say is that once again the actors are superb. Tim Curry, Elizabeth McGovern, Christina Cole, Tom Riley, and Angela Pleasance make for a sterling cast.

Let's hope the next Poirot season ends with a bigger bang.

Appointment With Death was filmed in the exotic locations of Casablanca and El Jadida in Morocco, and the UK.

Tim Curry….. Lord Boynton
Christina Cole….. Sarah King
Tom Riley….. Raymond Boynton
Cheryl Campbell….. Lady Boynton
Zoe Boyle….. Jinny Boynton
Emma Cunniffe….. Carol Boynton
Angela Pleasence….. Nanny
Paul Freeman….. Colonel Carbury
Beth Goddard….. Sister Agnieszka
Christian McKay….. Jefferson Cope
Mark Gatiss….. Leonard Boynton
John Hannah….. Dr. Gerard
Elisabeth McGovern….. Dame Celia Westholme

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Jemima Rooper as Norma Restarick in Third Girl

Third Girl is the second installment of Season X of Hercule Poirot on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! Unlike his dark and edgy stint on Murder on the Orient Express, David Suchet relaxes a bit in this production, once again showing the fastidious side of Poirot and reintroducing some of the dark humor for which Dame Agatha was well known. Case in point, Ariadne Oliver, the author/sleuth who was wont to “help” Poirot. As played by Zoë Wanamaker, the character is delightful.

Zoë Wannamaker and David Suchet

Jemima Rooper plays heiress Norma Restarick, the third girl who shares an apartment with Claudia, the first girl, and Frances, the second girl. These two beautiful women share a confidence about their beauty and themselves that Norma does not possess. Haunted by her mother’s death, Norma fears for her sanity when she thinks she has murdered her former nanny.

It was nice to see Ms. Rooper team up again with Tom Mison, who in this production played David Baker, the young artist who was commissioned to paint a portrait and whose eyes light up every time he sees Norma. Both Jemima and Tom portrayed roles in Lost in Austen, Tom a very likable Mr. Bingley and Jemima a befuddled Amanda Price, who steps back in time to exchange places with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

David Suchet as the incomparable Hercule Poirot

Watching Third Girl I was happy that no commercials would interrupt the flow of the story. Still, it had so many plot twists and elements going in various directions, that I felt the production would have benefited from an additional half hour to flesh out the story line and characters. Nevertheless, it is good to see Suchet back in old familiar form. If you missed this episode, you can watch it online for a week at this link through August 1.

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