At last another British crime show about who-done-it in the small country village! Move over Miss Marple for a younger version of a murder-solving babe in her mid-forties. She’s smart. She’s Scottish. She’s humorous. And she isn’t bad looking either. Enter Agatha Raisin, a rather new addition to the murderous English country folk. They just don’t have anything better to do.
Agatha (played by Ashley Jensen) is a successful PR woman, who sells her company to live her dream. The same dream that I have but probably won’t ever experience — buy an English cottage in the Cotswolds and retire. She’s a perky, posh, and out of place in the small village, wandering around in her high heels, trying to fit in. Her humorous attempts at entering the quiche contest and best garden only get her in trouble as a few of her acquaintances she’s made in town get murdered.
Because Agatha can’t leave well enough alone, for each mystery, she starts one of those boards in her cottage with pictures and sticky notes to solve the crime. Of course, in a small town like this they are dropping like flies, which makes you wonder how they keep up the population.
Agatha Raisin is based on a series of books (sigh, I wish I could write English crime novels) by M.C. Beaton. The stories aren’t terrible gory (like our U.S. murders) but interesting enough to keep you watching until the criminal is revealed. There are a few tense episodes where Agatha goes a bit too far and endangers her life when she attempts to corner the killer into confessing.
As sidekicks to her sleuthing are two bumbling local detectives who can’t figure out much of anything. Agatha also engages her business partner, housecleaner, and love interest, dragging them along to solve the crimes with her.
Season 1 aired earlier this year, and I’ve watched it streaming on Hulu. It’s a delightful, funny, and entertaining, and I hope they decide to pick up Season 2. You won’t be sorry if you love to see the English murder each other over petty things. The only thing missing are the peacocks screeching in the night.
Banished has been banished after one season, which has just been my latest weekend binge watching. I’ve got bills to pay – books to write – laundry to do, and I’ve been stuck in my new Lazy Boy recliner going through the episodes. Then, on top of spending all that time getting into the series, I find out that Banished was banished after one season! What the heck?
I had little historical knowledge about convicts from England being shipped across the world to remote places to do their time — whether short or long. I’ve probably heard it mentioned in passing, but it was definitely not a subject in my history books in grade school.
The series Banished is set in 1788 when Britain established a penal colony in Australia. The colony is large, over one thousand condemned men and women, guarded by a mere one hundred Royal Navy guards and officers. The show focuses on a small group among the many and their struggles to survive in the harsh environment with little food and nowhere to run. It’s labor camp of sorts, where men do the work and women cook and end up sexual partners for the soldiers. Must keep the ranks happy and satisfied.
The story line is harsh, where the Royal Navy looks upon the prisoners as the scum of England and whores to be had. Nevertheless, underneath the exterior are characters and lives that bring you into the emotional story. It is a well-acted, well-cast, and a well-written show that died an untimely death. I particularly enjoyed seeing Joseph Millson in his role as Major Ross – a somewhat unlikable officer with a very fragile and needy ego underneath.
I saw Joseph on stage in London twice in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, the Phantom of the Opera Sequel, playing Raoul. The role was similar, in that he played a disgruntled and unhappy man. Unfortunately, I missed grabbing him at the stage door and getting his autograph. Joseph is particularly good in Banished, and it’s a pleasure to see him on screen.
Other characters that are likable include David Wenham who plays the often swayed 1st Governor of New South Wales, who is doing his best to start a colony of misfits in the new world. There are bullies and other characters that pull at your emotions when you learn of their past and their current struggles to survive. Love, loyalty, bravery, cowardice, religion, and lust play an integral part in this emotional tale.
Unfortunately, the last episode of Season One doesn’t bring this tale to culmination, and frankly, it’s a shame. I would have like to see it progress at least another season or two.
BBC Two, what were you thinking? Apparently, you weren’t. It was quite criminal to cancel this show, and you should be banished. And the worse part is that you didn’t even offer me a tissue to make it through the last emotional heart-wrenching episode.
If you’re interested in reading the real history of this 1788 penal colony, here is information from This Day In History.
Like all new British period dramas, there’s a lot riding on the inaugural episode of ITV’s Victoria. There’s nothing us Brits like more than cosying up on a Sunday night, sitting comfortably in a designated chair, shushing family members to a once-in-a-blue-moon silence, and allowing the drama to take over, transporting us to a bygone era.
Once again, I’m back comparing two classics. Who doesn’t love Jane Austen? Well, maybe some biker on a Harley, wearing lots of leather and a skull helmet. Nevertheless, for the ladies of the world who revere her timeless stories, this is one of my favorites.
Like many other Austen tales, there are multiple versions of this first published work of Jane’s in 1811. There was a 1971 TV serial, 1981 TV serial, 1995 film and the most recent 2008 mini-series. Do I have a favorite? The 2008 version is the one that floats my remote, but the 1995 movie version is close behind.
The 1995 version had been my favorite, of course, until the 2008 mini-series came along, consisting of three episodes and 174 minutes. Sense & Sensibility is one of my best-loved Austen tales. The 1995 version is the star-studded, well-known cast of Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Greg Wise (married to Emma Thompson in real life, by the way), Hugh Grant, and the infamous Alan Rickman. Each of these talented actors make up cast who tells this fascinating tale of the Dashwood sisters.
The 2008 TV mini-series is much longer, of course, with a casting of new faces, at least for me, in most of the characters. I had never seen Hattie Morahan (Elinor) or Charity Wakefield (Marianne) before this series aired. Frankly, I loved them and found them both endearing in this version. Kate Winslet, although, probably outshines as Marianne between the two. She is such a spirited actress. “Can he love her? Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise.”
Then we have the men who love these woman. Hugh Grant and a young Greg Wise in the movie version make good choices. In the 2008 version, we have blue-eyed Dan Stevens (the Downton Abbey heart throb) as Edward Farrars. A more sleazy Willoughby, in my opinion, was the 2008 Dominic Cooper, who drew from a me a little more empathy in spite of being a rogue. There is quite a bit of sexuality played in the 2008 version with the seduction scene at the beginning. The interaction between Willoughby and Marianne is more tender and seductive as well. However, I’ve read that was a pain point with some critics (read here). Austen and raunchy don’t mix. But in all honesty, there isn’t anything raunchy about the BBC version whatsoever.
Then we have Colonel Brandon, played by the late Alan Rickman in 1995, who did everything well on screen. It’s sad that he has left us and his fans have been robbed of great performances that were yet to come. Nevertheless, we are left with memories of older ones, even in this version of Sense & Sensibility.
In the 2008 version, we have David Morrissey, a handsome Brandon, who I thought more attractive but a bit too stiff in his role. Alan had a little more heart in his performance than David did. Morrissey is no longer wearing cravats and period clothing but has been on Zombie and sci-fi related shows in the past few years. Apparently, he’s working on another long-long-ago period drama set in 45 AD, Britannia. Maybe he’s taking up a toga instead.
Another thing that I like about the longer series version is that it’s not so rushed. You also get to enjoy beautiful coastal scenery of Hartland, Devon, with quite a few shots of rolling waves crashing against the rocks. It brings back to me the quiet life of those time periods, when long walks, picnics, playing the piano forte, and finding husbands were the order of the day.
Both versions are available to rent and stream on Amazon. However, the 2008 version is on Hulu, if you have a subscription there.