Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death, Sky1, with Ashley Jensen, PREVIEW

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Ashley Jensen and the cast of Agatha Raisin The Quiche of Death. Pics: BSkyB

Rating: ★★★

Sky1: Boxing Day, 8.30pm

Story: After a high-flying career as a PR in London, Agatha Raisin decamps for an idyllic life in the country. However, events take a tragic turn when a judge in the village quiche contest dies after sampling her quiche.

‘TIS THE SEASON for jolly family dramas, so if you’re hoping for something bloodcurdling and dark you’ll have to wait till next month when the likes of Broadchurch 2 and Fortitude arrive.

In the meantime, Sky1 is wheeling out this slice of festive flan, based on the bestseller by MC Beaton

Matthew McCooey as DC Bill Wong & Jason Barnett as DI Wilkes
The old bill, played by Matthew McCooey and Jason Barnett 

(of Hamish Macbeth fame). Ashley Jensen heads a nice cast as Agatha, a PR whizz who is
escaping life as a publicist for cretinous boy bands and heading in her Porsche for a new life in the Cotswolds.

Mathew Horne, Robert Bathurst and Hermione Norris are all on parade here, in a light-hearted crime drama full of comedy sex, buffonish cops and oddball country nimbys. First up is Robert Bathurst as the village lothario, Andy, a reactionary sort constantly on the hunt for new conquests.

Murder at the village fete

Hermione Norris is his snooty wife and Mathew Horne is Agatha’s work colleague. Trying to

Ashley Jensen as Agatha Raisin
Agatha goes snooping

immerse herself into village life, the competitive Agatha enters the local quiche contest. When one of the judges snuffs it after eating her quiche, the newcomer finds herself in a spot of serious bother.

The two-hour production has that prerequisite for most Brit TV dramas these days – a pretty twee setting. So it looks good, moves at a slick pace and the actors look like they’re enjoying themselves.

The comedy is about a subtle as a pantomime, with the cops in particular being too annoying to be funny. But Ashley Jensen as the dressed-to-the-nines city slicker is a charming character, and it certainly tickles the odd ho-ho-ho out of you.

In fact, once the crime is committed the whole show becomes a lot more savoury, particularly when Mathew Horne reappears, trying at one point to console number-one suspect Agatha – ‘What did the Boston Strangler say? It’s better to be wanted for murder than not to be wanted at all.’

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A Mother’s Son starring Hermione Norris, Martin Clunes PREVIEW

Martin Clunes,  Alexander Arnold, Hermione Norris and Paul McGann. Pics: ITV


Rating: ★★★½ 

Story: When a teenage schoolgirl is found murdered in the woods near a local town in Suffolk, the news rips through the local community, and that of mother-of-two Rosie Haleton, who discovers damning evidence that could be connected to the heinous crime.

ITV1: Monday, 3 September, 9pm

Rosie (Hermione Norris) becomes suspicious

It’s good to see Hermione Norris back on screen. We only saw her last year, admittedly, but that was in the totally forgettable Outcasts. A Mother’s Son is much better, with Hermione playing a posh mum with a Hitchcockian dilemma – is her son a murderer?

A Mother’s Son is a claustrophobic thriller, set in the family home of Rosie (Hermione Norris) and Ben (Martin Clunes), a couple who have set up home together after they’ve both separated from partners, each bringing a couple of teenagers into their rather grand Suffolk house.

Family pulled apart by suspicion
Tensions start to tear at Rosie and Ben’s relationship, and that of their children – Jamie and Liv, Jessica and Rob – after a schoolgirl is found murdered in a reed bed. Rosie, a bit of a natural worrier, becomes suspicious of her own son, Jamie, when she finds a pair of his trainers, which he says he’s lost, under his bed covered in blood.

Jess (Antonia Clarke)

Jamie is accused by Ben’s daughter, Jess, of peeping on her in the shower, while Jamie is also always arguing bitterly with Rob. It’s the kind of drama in which the teens are often filmed in moody shadows and we’re given the impression any one of them could be hiding something.

Paul McGann as David
Added to the mix is Rosie’s ex, David (Paul McGann), who is aggressive and super-protective of Jamie.

The theme of a family harbouring a killer is easy to get swept along in, as it begs the question: how would you react? Would you be horrified but frozen by the possibility that your son is killer (Rosie), go to the police because it’s your duty (solicitor Ben), or cover up (David).

Martin Clunes, Nicola Walker and Alexander Arnold
Martin Clunes is surprisingly watchable in this serious role (and away from the treacle of Doc Martin), Nicola Walker is always good value, here playing the detective, and Alexander Arnold stands out with the most demanding part in the story, that of the difficult teenager.

This two-parter riffs well on its themes of torn family emotions, but the success or failure of  psychological dramas is how plausible the ending is. In this case convoluted twists are shunned, and the final moments are totally grounded, believable and emotional.

Cast: Hermione Norris Rosie, Alexander Arnold Jamie, Martin Clunes Ben, Paul MGann David, Antonia Clarke Jess, Jake Davies Rob, Ellie Bamber Olivia, Nicola Walker DC Sue Upton, Annabelle Apsion Kay Mullary, Juliet York Lorraine Mullary, Charles Daish DCI McLeish, Josef Altin Sean Christie

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Spooks (MI-5) – 10 reasons why we will miss it

Harry and Ruth. Pics: BBC

The Spooks of MI-5 may have survived assassination by the Taliban, Chinese agents and evil Russians, but the conniving mandarins of the BBC are much more ruthless and resourceful.

They’ve announced that series 10, starting next month, will be the last. Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller, said (possibly while stroking a white cat), that Spooks had been a hit groundbreaking series that had helped to redefine BBC drama.

‘I would like to thank all those involved in the making of the show over the last decade both on and off screen,’ Stephenson said, ‘and hope fans will tune in this September to see what promises to be a fittingly high-octane, thrilling finale.’

This will focus on  Section D chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) confronting a secret from his past that could wreck him and the woman he loves, Ruth (Nicola Walker). New faces will include Lara Pulver (True Blood, Robin Hood) as new team leader Erin Watts following Lucas North’s devastating betrayal in series nine, along with Alice Krige (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Deadwood) and Jonathan Hyde (Titanic, Jumanji).

Before the final round of explosions and betrayals, here are 10 reasons why SpooksMI-5 to our American and French allies – will be sorely missed…

Lucas and Harry in series nine

1 Cracking stories
Lucas’s betrayal at the end of the last series, or the discovery that Connie was the traitor in series seven had enough gasp! factor to win the series audiences of more than six million in the UK and make it a worldwide hit in 50 countries.

2 Terrific cast
Spooks has raised the profile of stars including Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage and Hermione Norris, with guests over the years including Hugh Laurie, Lindsay Duncan, Iain Glen, Sophie Okonedo, Tim Piggott-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch.

3 Phwoar factor
Looking glam while risking life and limb have been the likes of Keeley Hawes, Richard North, Hermione Norris, Sophia Myles, Rupert Penry-Jones and – for the more sophisticated lady – stoically lovelorn Peter Firth.

4 Absolute shockers
Whether it was Rupert Penry-Jones being blown to smithereens in the opening episode of series seven, admin officer Helen Flynn (Lisa Faulkner) killed by having her face immersed in boiling oil, or data nerd Colin (Rory MacGregor) being strung from a tree by traitorous MI6 agents, Spooks has always known how to make viewers sit up on their sofas.

5 Causing a stink
Helen Flynn’s death caused a wave of complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, but the series sparked a kerfuffle at a higher level when the Chinese government reportedly lost its rag over the way its agents were portrayed as kidnappers, hackers and being ready to blow up London. Apparently, even Israeli intelligence phoned the Beeb to complain about how their operatives were depicted. Touchy.

6 Spookily ahead of the game
Following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, Spooks had an uncannily prescient episode ready to air that featured a terrorist bombing central London, including the real-life target of Kings Cross. The BBC considered pulling the show, but eventually settled for displaying a disclaimer warning of distressing content.

7 London
While to many Londoners the capital is a daily grind on the packed Underground or a scary place where people don’t pay for their shopping while leaving department stores through smashed front windows, in Spooks it’s a breathlessly glamorous setting with the camera whizzing across Millennium Bridge, round Canary Wharf and over the Royal Opera House (though some of the off-kilter camera angles can give you headache).

8 BBC Licence fee splashed all over the screen
Spectacular chase scenes, punch-ups, aerial shots and huge explosions – like the one that sent Ros Myers into the next world – made Spooks a tad more expensive than an episode of, say, Saturday Kitchen.

9 A pace that hurtles over gargantuan plot holes
We’ve had Russian submarines launching implausible cyber attacks to send the London financial markets into a tailspin (who needs a cyber attack?), we’ve had two MI5 agents wreaking havoc in the dark on a squad of Mossad hit men equipped with night-vision gear, Lucas going through a complete personality flip-flop to emerge as a traitor, and as for Tariq running a ‘probability algorithm’ and then some facial recognition software through hundreds of London CCTV cameras to pinpoint a foreign infiltrator in seconds… who’d have guessed they can do that?

10 The Trouble with Harry
Like Ken Barlow, Harry’s been there from the beginning, surviving death threats, kidnap, multiple betrayals and disappointment in love. At the end of series nine he was told his actions as head of counter-terrorism were being investigated and he should prepare for life after MI5. It is fitting that the character who has been the backbone of 10 action-packed series should be the focus of the final season. Given the show’s track record of having characters who are secretly traitors, it seems likely  Harry could emerge as Vladimir Putin in a rubber mask. Or that he’ll be killed. Or that he’ll walk off into the sunset with Ruth. Almost anything’s possible in Spooks.

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