|DC Savage (Sylvestra La Touzel) with Leach (Emily Watson) and West (Dominic West). Pics: ITV|
|DC Savage (Sylvestra La Touzel) with Leach (Emily Watson) and West (Dominic West). Pics: ITV|
|Jason Hughes as DS Jones and Neil Dudgeon as DCI Barnaby. Pics: ITV|
Death and the Divas is the first of a new series of Midsomer Murders, starting at 8pm on Wednesday, 2 January, on ITV1. Writer and blogger Pat Nurse investigates the success of a procedural that some may see as twee and silly, but which is still going strong after 15 years and is one of the most-sold British shows around the world…
The curtain comes up on the quintessentially English detective mystery series Midsomer Murders when a new three-episode series of the popular drama is launched in the New Year.
|Georgina Beedle as a young Stella Harris in Death and the Divas|
It has the usual mix of theatrical intrigue and suspense, and a cast of characters who live in the green and pleasant county of Midsomer – a somewhat idealised version of a country that has changed dramatically in the 15 years since the first pilot was shown on TV and possibly the reason why it continues to enjoy such huge popularity. It shows the Empire culture attitude of a country struggling in modern times with its identity and gives viewers a taste of Olde Englande nostalgia.
Ethnically diverse it isn’t, but it is representative of British eccentricity. You can expect victims to be bumped off somewhere between afternoon tea and a cricket match on the village green. More victims will follow the Sunday Church service and the local fayre, and maybe the murderer will be discovered after watching a round of May Day dancing by Morris Dancers after foraging for the murder weapon in poisonous mushroom fields, or staving someone’s head in at the top of the bell tower.
Midsomer deaths based on Hammer Horrors
|Harriet Walter as Diana Davenport|
The first episode of the new series of Midsomer Murders harks back to the days of the Hammer horror films of the 1960s, with murder following in the footsteps of roles previously played by fading star Stella Harris (Sinead Cusack).
During a screening of one of Stella’s old gothic cult films in a local Midsomer festival, journalist Eve Lomax (Sasha Waddell) is killed. She was writing a book on Stella and her more famous sister, Hollywood actress Diana Devenport (Harriet Walter), and may have uncovered a secret that someone obviously didn’t want to get out.
As this is Midsomer, the murder capital of TV land, the slayings don’t stop there. That’s just the beginning of many more to come in a convoluted plot based on secrets and lies and sibling rivalry, but DCI Barnaby (the second), played by Neil Dudgeon, will work it out. He always does and maybe his cute little sidekick Sykes will help him as much as his sergeant DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes).
|John Carson as the Older Gentleman|
The TV appearance is a rare one for actress Sinead Cusack, who has been mostly involved in theatre work for the last six years.
She said, ‘I recently did Wrath of the Titans, which was a movie with all the paraphernalia that goes with it in terms of budgets, crew and sets. But it wasn’t nearly as appealing as Midsomer Murders.’
Charm and nostalgia may be Midsomer’s magic formula for success – or maybe it’s just damn good writing, damn good acting, original cluedo-type whodunnit plots, and a rare view of England in summer enjoying good weather for a change.
|Ben Hull as DS Ben Shaw and Jane Antrobus as DI Jane Preston. Pic: ITV|
Crime Stories, ITV1’s new daytime improvised drama (weekdays, 2pm), is certainly dividing opinions. According to comments on the CrimeTimePreview piece below, these range from ‘dross’ and the ‘poorest ever police style programme’ to Jane Antrobus’s ‘acting has been first class’. Strong views are everywhere on this show, even in today’s Guardian, which has an interesting article about it. This asks whether the series, for all its faults – ‘ropey’, ‘risible’, ‘boring’ – should also be applauded for blazing a trail for a new kind of quickly produced, inexpensive drama that could yet find its way to producing riveting stories. And Crime Stories is doing reasonably well in the ratings – 900,000 viewers.
So, come on. Who’s watching it? And what do you think?
|Nowhere to hide? MyAnna Buring as Karen in The Poison Tree. Pics: ITV|
ITV1: starts Monday, 10 December, 9pm
Story: Karen Clarke has spent 12 years waiting for her partner, Rex, to be released from prison. Now he is free, she is looking forward to settling down to normal family life – but suddenly she feels she is being stalked…
Based on a novel by Erin Kelly (which was highly praised by Stephen King), The Poison Tree is a two-part family thriller revolving around buried secrets gradually being forced to the surface.
|Karen and Biba|
Karen and her teenage daughter, Alice, greet Rex on his release from prison after he’s done 12 years inside. She’s looking forward to starting a new family life with her partner, determined that they should keep from Alice the secret of their past and the events leading to Rex’s imprisonment.
Karen also covers for Rex’s absence by telling the neighbours near their small seaside bungalow that he’s been away working.
Partying, drugs and an unhappy childhood
Through a series of flashbacks we get clues to the momentous, secret events that forged Karen and Rex’s relationship. Karen actually met Rex’s damaged sister Biba first, when she and Rex were living a hedonistic life in their own grand house.
At the time, 1999, Karen was a mousey languages student, while Biba was a flamboyant art student. However, behind the partying and drugs lay an unhappy childhood for the siblings, with their rich businessman dad, Max, being unfaithful to his wife, who was suicidal over his antics.
As Karen comes on the scene, events come to a murderous climax, though as episode one finishes we are still not sure how Rex ends up in jail. What is clear, is that his release is not the new start Karen hopes for.
|Released from prison – Rex|
Creepy seaside setting
There are the silent phone calls, anonymous texts and the feeling that someone is watching their remote bungalow. Karen is unwilling to tell Rex about this, and it becomes clear she has deeper secret that she is withholding from Rex.
The Poison Tree is adapted for ITV by Emilia di Girolamo, who’s written some gripping episodes of Law & Order: UK, and it’s a solid enough thriller. The beachside setting is isolated and made menacing by director Marek Losey.
The two episodes are just about enough time to build up the characters and keep us interested in finding out whether Rex really was the murderer and what went down in 1999…
Cast: MyAnna Buring Karen Clarke, Matthew Goode Rex, Hebe Johnson Alice, Ophelia Lovibond Biba, with Patrick Baladi, Ralph Brown, Lex Shrapnel, Neil McKinven
|Jane Antrobus and Ben Hull in the documentary-style Crime Stories. Pics: ITV|
ITV1: from Monday, 12 November, 2pm
Story: In the opening story, a daughter calls the police because she suspects the carer of her elderly father is stealing from him. As DI Jane Preston and DS Ben Shaw investigate, the case turns out to be trickier than it first appears.
A crime wave is coming to daytime TV as 20 police incidents are being dramatised on weekdays over the next four weeks. Filmed in documentary style with characters speaking directly to camera on occasion to help viewers along, these investigations are based on UK police procedure while being fictional.
They star Ben Hull (Hollyoaks, Family Affairs) as detective sergeant Ben Shaw and Jane Antrobus, a recently retired real-life detective chief superintendent with Great Manchester Police, as detective inspector Jane Preston. The setting is fictional East Central Police Station.
Crime drama without car chases and shootouts
Real policeman will tell you their work can be routine, if not dull, and Crime Stories seems to aim to be authentic, so the cases are low-key, sometimes a little mundane. The Sweeney it ain’t.
The opening story is about elderly Philip (Corrie‘s former fave Peter Baldwin), whose daughter thinks his care assistant, Anya (Magdalena Kurek, EastEnders), is pilfering from him. There’s a lot to-ing and fro-ing as the detective duo quiz the daughter, dad, Anya and the care-home boss, Marion (another Corrie face, Wendi Peters), about the missing £60.
Is it a drama or Watchdog?
A lot of people will knock the show, I suspect, because it’s not exactly a big-budget production, some of the acting is a bit flat and at times it’s hard to work out whether you’re watching a drama or Watchdog.
But the opening story was well done and interesting in the end. The cops suspect the daughter of being a gold digger, perhaps having put the old boy in the home against his will. But the facts slowly twist our perception about what’s happened. People are not always what they seem.
Jane Antrobus – real detective turned actor
In the end, the crime is much bigger than it at first appears, and the emotional impact from that is also unforeseen. It’s the kind of knotty small drama that might hit a chord with a daytime audience, and is a little reminiscent of The Bill‘s early half-hour episodes, before it became a lurid soap.
We’ve seen action star Steven Seagall working as a real reserve deputy sheriff in the reality show Steven Seagal: Lawman, but how does Jane Antrobus do in reverse? Well, she never has to plumb the emotional depths but does a good job of playing herself at work. The small army of soap actors who make up the guest stars in Crime Stories had better watch out.
Cast: Ben Hull DS Ben Shaw, Jane Antobus DI Jane Preston, with guest stars including Tina O’Brien, Zoe Lister, Ricky Groves, Natalie Cassidy, Gabrielle Glaister, Darren Day, Jeremy Edwards, Wendi Peters, Adele Silva, Tricia Penrose, Roxanne Pallett, Vicky Binns, Bobby Davro, Gemma Bissix, Dean Gaffney, Paul Danan, Michelle Gayle, Alex McSweeney, Charlie Clements, Jamelia Davis and Peter Baldwin
Dr Falkowski ©ITV)
Speaking of David Morrissey (Watching the new detectives this autumn – below), Sky1’s Tom Thorne dramas are not his only new outing in coming weeks.
He also gives a stand-out performance in U Be Dead on ITV1 in September, the harrowing true story of the London psychiatrist and his fiancée who were viciously stalked by Maria Marchese.
Morrissey is very good as the not-always-sympathetic Dr Jan Falkowski, while Tara Fitzgerald is moving as the fiancée, Debbie Pemberton, whom he cheats on during the dark days of their persecution.
I can’t give too much away about the drama – it’s is embargoed for a few weeks yet – but I would say the jaw-dropping horror this couple endured, along with the fine acting and writing (by Gwyneth Hughes), make U Be Dead compulsive and unforgettable. Marchese was sentenced to nine years in 2007 and the Met called it ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have had to investigate’.
In terms of crime output, this has been a stunning year for Morrissey. We’ve already seen him as a detective in the BBC’s Five Days (also penned by Gwyneth Hughes), he squeezed in a role in Agatha Christie: Poirot for ITV (Murder on the Orient Express), and then there are the Thorne films, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat, looming on Sky1.
Somehow, he also put a shift in on Blitz, a movie version of Ken Bruen’s novel, starring Jason Statham, Aidan Gillen and Paddy Considine, which apparently is coming out sometime soon.
No one could accuse this guy of not being much cop.
Two popular Brit detectives make the leap from the novel to small screen soon – Mark Billingham’s spooky cop Tom Thorne and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks.
Sky1 has filmed David Morrissey in two Thorne mysteries, the original story in the series, Sleepyhead, and the second, Scaredy Cat.
Sleepyhead, the chilling story of a serial killer who induces in his victim a conscious state of paralysis, also has Natascha McElhone, Aidan Gillen and Eddie Marsan among the cast (Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will appear in Scaredy Cat). For Sky1, Sleepyhead is one of its marquee shows this autumn and details of its broadcast time will be out soon.
Meanwhile, ITV1 has lined up one of its favourite actors, Stephen Tompkinson, to breathe life into Banks. Whether Tompkinson, star of such family faves as Wild at Heart, has the oomph to cut it as a cop pushed to his limits by yet another serial monster in Aftermath should be interesting.
UK telly honchos are always seeking the holy grail of the next Morse, or even a Wexford. But the listings mags are filled with forgotten entries for such flops as Rebus, ITV miserably failing to capture the cussedness and self-destructiveness of Ian Rankin’s brilliant character.
We’ll soon know whether Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham and their many readers will enjoy a better result. In the meantime, for a taste of Thorne’s first outing, check the grisly trailer on Mark Billingham’s site.
Welcome to CrimeTimePreview‘s series of interviews with authors about their TV and reading habits.
• PETER ROBINSON is the author of the Inspector Banks novels – the fourth series of which has just started on ITV (see the post below). A multi-award-winning novelist, he was born in Yorkshire and now divides his time between Toronto and Richmond, North Yorkshire. We brought him in for questioning, and here he makes a full and frank confession of his criminal viewing and reading habits…
• ADRIAN McKINTY is one of the most acclaimed new crime writers from across the Irish Sea, routinely mentioned alongside Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and John Connolly. His series of edgy thrillers about Catholic detective Sean Duffy and the character’s exploits while working in the none-too-comfortable surroundings of the RUC during the Troubles, and later MI5, are developing a big following and have been hugely praised by reviewers. These include The Cold Cold Ground, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone and Gun Street Girl. Here, he reveals his favourite TV shows, characters and authors…
• WE’VE dragged one of Britain’s major crime practitioners in for questioning. Multi-award-winning IAN RANKIN is the creator of Edinburgh detective inspector John Rebus, the tenacious but chippy hero of bestsellers such as Black and Blue, Fleshmarket Close and Resurrection Men. The character was turned into a series by STV with first John Hannah and then Ken Stott portraying him. ITV filmed Rankin’s standalone novel Doors Open in 2012. After retiring Rebus in Exit Music, he introduced his readers to Malcolm Fox in The Complaints, before bringing Rebus back in 2012’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave.
• Manchester-based crime writer CATH STAINCLIFFE is interrogated below for evidence of her TV viewing and reading activities. She writes the novels based on the Scott & Bailey series, which stars Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones and is soon to return to ITV – with her latest book about the female detectives being Bleed Like Me. Cath is also the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye stories and creator and scriptwriter of Blue Murder, which was on ITV and starred Caroline Quentin.
• Hauled in for questioning is British crime writer and Guardian reviewer LAURA WILSON, who is currently working on her 10th novel. Laura, whose books include the DI Stratton series among other mysteries set in the recent past, talks about her TV and reading habits, from Cagney & Lacey to Agatha Christie…
• ZOE SHARP wrote her first novel when she was 15. It was not until 2001, however, after she had tried her hand at jobs ranging from van driver to newspaper ad sales to motoring correspondent, that she finally publisher her breakout Charlie Fox novel Killer Instinct. Fox, the self-defence instructor with a shady military background, has proved hugely popular with readers through nine novels and has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV. We brought Zoë in for questioning to see who she would like to see playing Charlie on screen, and what TV shows tick the right boxes for her…
• CrimeTimePreview apprehended SIMON KERNICK, one of Britain’s most exciting thriller writers to grill him about his viewing proclivities. He arrived on the crime scene with his acclaimed novel The Business of Dying, a terrific story about a corrupt cop who moonlights as a hitman. His authentic thrillers are basedon research with members of Special Branch, the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Organised Crime Agency. He has just finished writing his latest book, which will be called Siege.
• SOPHIE HANNAH, whose novel The Point of Rescue was recently turned into the drama Case Sensitive by ITV1, is the author of internationally bestselling psychological thrillers – Little Face, Hurting Distance, The Other Half Lives and A Room Swept White. CrimeTimePreview recently brought her in to be questioned about her addiction to Class A plotting on television…
• Scottish author TONY BLACK, creator of Gus Dury in stories such as Gutted and Long Time Dead.
• Belfast crime writer SAM MILLAR, author of books such as The Redemption and the award-winning memoir On the Brinks.
• Crime novelist PAULINE ROWSON, author of the Marine series of mysteries, is pulled into CrimeTimePreview headquarters for questioning.
• Texan crime novelist BILL CRIDER, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery novels, talks about his favourite television and authors.
• Award-winning British novelist ANN CLEEVES is a serial crime writer, with her collections including amateur sleuths George & Molly, Inspector Ramsay, the soon-to-be-televised Vera Stanhope and the recent Shetland Island Quartet (now a BBC1 series with Douglas Henshall). CrimeTimePreview pulls her in for questioning about her TV habits…
• We brought thriller writer MATT HILTON into headquarters for questioning about his TV and reading activities.
• ALINE TEMPLETON is the author of the series of novels about DI Marjory Fleming, set in Scotland. Her stand-alone mysteries include Past Praying For, The Trumpet Shall Sound and Shades of Death. She lives in Edinburgh. She was brought into CrimeTimePreview HQ for questioning about her TV viewing habits…
• Award-winning crime author STEPHEN BOOTH has written 11 mysteries involving the detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry with a distinctive, sometimes menacing Peak District setting. He was a newspaper and magazine journalist for 25 years before publishing the first Cooper/Fry novel, Black Dog, in 2000. CrimeTimePreview quizzed him about his criminal viewing activities…