Category: British TV

Midsomer Murders: Why viewers love to see posh people committing crimes.

 

Midsomer Murders is an enduring hit because it is fun to see upper middle-class people kill one another, according to the show’s star.

Source: Midsomer Murders: why viewers love to see posh people committing crimes

SAFE (Canal+ and Netflix 2018)

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How does one feel safe in a neighborhood? Does fencing in the community help keep the boogie-man out or does it actually keep the boogie-man safe within? It’s a question that comes up in this interesting series entitled SAFE, which was done by Netflix and Canal+. It’s a pretty intriguing mystery with a surprising twist at the end. Just don’t Google the answer if a certain character makes it or dies before you finish all eight episodes. You are liable to read the spoiler about the end. Ruined it for me!  Dang-it.

The series is set in England and involves an English doctor with two daughters, one of which goes missing after a wild house party she attends. The daughter of one of the parents in the fenced neighborhood has a wild drinking and drug party while her parents are away. Unfortunately, when the host steps outside for a breath of fresh air, she finds a dead body of one of the male attendees floating in the swimming pool.

The deceased is the boyfriend of Tom Delaney’s elder daughter, who hasn’t come home from the night before. As the police deal with the who-done-it questions about the dead boy, Tom is out searching frantically for his daughter.

His search uncovers all sorts of mysteries surrounding his deceased wife, and everything become very convoluted as the web of neighborhood deceit becomes stickier than ever. There are a few subplots along the way regarding others neighbors, and a huge secret that answers all the questions is glossed over early in the series.

It’s a good mystery.  Worth the watch.

 

Case Histories (BBC 2011 and 2013)

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Streaming on Amazon Prime Video is Case Histories, an engaging British crime television drama about a private detective named Jackson Brodie. These episodes are based on the novels of Kate Atkinson.  Jackson is played by the talented Jason Isaacs. Before becoming a PI, he was a soldier and policeman. Jason is plagued by his own memories of a family tragedy. He’s also divorced and is dealing with custody issues when his ex-wife wants to move to New Zealand.

Set in Edinburgh, you’ll get a mix of British accents and very heavy Scottish brogues. To round out the cast is Amanda Abbington who plays D.C. Louise Munroe. (You’ll remember her more recently as playing Mary Watson in Sherlock and Miss Mardle in Mr. Selfridge). There are romantic feelings between the two, which aren’t really expressed until the end of Series One, which is the only one streaming at the moment.  Also, be prepared for graphic sexual encounters – loud rutting but not much flesh. There is also one upsetting scene with a father having incest with his daughter.  I do agree with some viewers that could have been cut out and handled differently.

Otherwise, this is a good series because Jackson’s clients are an eclectic mix of interesting cases that often intersect in one fashion or the other.  He solves mysteries that have gone unsolved by the police and takes on new cases with surprise endings.  Even though he’s a former policeman, he sort of skirts around the law when it suits his purpose. Frankly, I enjoyed the series but Season Two is not available except for purchase on DVD.  I’ll wait hoping eventually it will go to Prime.

 

 

Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages (2014-2016)

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I’ve been to England four times and often wished I could rent a car and drive everywhere visiting the little-known villages I haven’t seen.  How many of us have loved the photographs of quaint English country life and wished we could live in such an idyllic place?  I know that I have.

In all honesty, I’m not much for watching traveling shows, but this three-series wonder is an absolute gem.  Currently streaming on Acorn, I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to see the inner workings of these smaller communities.  At the present time, I’m only beginning Season 2 but have much more to see.

What is unique with this particular travel series is that while you’re riding in the car with Penelope to the next location, you know what is down the road is going to be as fascinating as the last.  So far I’ve traveled to Wales, Lancashire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Devon, and Cornwall, among other places.  Penelope immerses the audience not only in the village’s history but its people, architecture, challenges, and sometimes quirky celebrations communities hold together.  It’s a wonderful series that only deepens your longing for England.

The running time for each episode is 47 minutes. So brew a cup of tea, gather some biscuits and sit down for a wonderful tour of beautiful England’s landscape and its villages.

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Another series that is almost as entertaining if you’re interested in things regarding the monarchy, is Penelope Keith at Her Majesty’s Service also streaming on Acorn.  Here she visits the iconic locations and explains the unknown rituals that have continued on for centuries.

Episode 1 is at Windsor Castle, including a ride on the Queen’s barge.  Episode 2 visits Inveraray and Holyroodhouse, locations the royal family frequent. Episode 3 is on location in Northern Ireland at Hillsborough Castle and Episode 4 at Caernarfon Castle in Wales.  It’s another wonderful show for those who love all things English.

 

The Edwardian Country Home (2002 British TV Channel 4)

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Now streaming on Acorn TV is “The Edwardian Country Home,” (also known as The Manor House) a television series from 2002 that takes a group of individuals from 2001 and places them into another world.  As the synopsis says, “An Edwardian country house in Scotland is brought back to life in this real-life Upstairs, Downstairs. For three months, one family will live in the manor while another 12 individuals serve them, an immersive experience in the world of social inequality and class distinctions that defined the period between 1905 and 1914.”

This television program is a highly entertaining look into life much like the famously portrayed version in Downton Abbey years later. However, the difference is the heartwrenching reality of taking modern-day individuals and setting them into a world they find quite different.  The six episodes delve into the three-month period and how it challenges and changes those who play their roles upstairs and downstairs. Nothing is as peachy as it seems upstairs when life becomes boring, stifling, and rigid in its many mannerisms. Neither is anything peachy downstairs as servants give their lives to serve their masters.

What is unique about the program is that it spans the years as it would have been from 1905-1914, when at the onset of World War I that dramatically changes how the rich lived and the uprising of the classes striving for a better life. Some of the younger participants, such as the scullery maid, come and go when the harsh work overwhelms them and they are unable to deal with the authority of the butler.

They serve their masters in all of their needs to dressing them, dinner parties, hunting parties, shooting parties, and grand balls.  The housework and cooking is a never-ending circle of life and long hours. At times, they feel unappreciated, ignored, and live the stark reality of being lower class. Those upstairs cannot believe how they cannot do the simple task of even dressing without help but eventually get accustomed to the pampering.

The ending is quite emotional as they all prepare to leave the life they have grown to live over three months. Some of them are glad to put away their servant outfits, while those upstairs warily return to work, leaving behind their pampered lives.  The lady of the house believes she would be much more suited to living in the era she is now forced to leave. However, even if that were true, the era is disintegrating and passing away.  The wealth and opulence can no longer be maintained.

If you are a lover of period drama and historical romance, I highly recommend watching this entertaining series.  I enjoyed it far better than the recent one in the Victorian era on PBS.

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Tutankhamun (2016 ITV)

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I’m really frustrated! Thirty-five years ago I visited the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and walked into Tutankhamun’s burial vault. I’ve been trying to find the slides from that trip that I’ve been hauling around for thirty-five years to no avail!  Of course, I’ve moved probably twenty times since then. I know they are somewhere stuffed in a closet, and I’m going to find them one way or another!  Nevertheless…

My first Britbox watch – Tutankhamun from ITV – a four-part series about the discovery of the tomb in that vast dusty desert of the Valley of the Kings. It’s based on the archaeologist Howard Carter, played by Max Irons, who is convinced the valley still holds wonderful discoveries, while his peers are packing up and leaving out of frustration.

On the other hand, we have Lord Carnarvon, played by Sam Neill, who has the funds and enthusiasm to find a tomb filled with riches. If you have no idea who this English Lord happens to be, think of Downton Abbey and the manor house you’ve been enjoying for years. It’s the family home of the Carnarvon’s at Highclere Castle, who was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Some believe he was the first to succumb to the so-called curse, having died from an infected mosquito bite he accidently cut with his razor. It turned into blood poisoning, and he passed away in Cairo after the discovery of the tomb.

The story begins pre-World War I when Carnarvon arrives excited to dig and discover wonders from the past. He hires Howard Carter, who recently finds himself without support to further his own digs. As a result, they head off to the dusty sands but their endeavors are cut short by the beginning of World War I. Finally after it’s ended, the story resumes and so does their search.

Carnarvon insists that Carter dig in a particular area, but Carter believes it’s in the wrong spot. After going through the majority of the Earl’s money, he’s about to throw in the towel.  With one last plea to let him look where he thinks Tutankhamun is buried, they find the infamous treasures of the young King to everyone’s surprise and enter on November 26, 1922.

The story weaves a few love interests back and forth for Mr. Carter, the most important one being with Lady Evelyn Carnarvon, which is the Earl’s daughter. Whether that really happened is perhaps a possibility (read here). It does take up a large portion of the storyline in between the dirt, shovels, and rocks. The tale is also set among the rising distrust of the Egyptians against the British who promised to leave after the war but remain. The government, surprisingly at this point, changes the law six weeks before the discovery of Tut’s tomb that the ownership of discovered wealth reverts back to Egypt and is no longer split with the finder.

Max Irons, I thought, isn’t the best of actors except perhaps at that one point when he peeks inside the tomb and declares that he sees wonderful things. Only another spark of a broken heart is revealed upon his love interest’s departure. He’s a bit stiff and unemotional throughout most of the show, not to mention the dirt and sweat of the desert.  In spite of it, he does clean up nicely in a dinner jacket.  On the other side of the coin, there is the seasoned Sam Neill who is fantastic in all of his performances, filled with fire and emotion that makes up for the lackluster Irons.

When I visited in 1982, King Tut was not in his tomb. We saw the place where the goldTut2 coffins stood, which was just a huge empty space. There was no fancy lighting like you see in the picture. His remains had been placed in the Cario museum for some time but were subsequently returned to his resting place in a climate-controlled glass box (in 2007) to prevent further decomposition. Visitors can see him in his splendor. The treasures in the museum are unbelievably vast and gorgeous, and I can still remember standing before them in awe.

For my first BritBox, it was a good period drama, fueling memories of my past.  I’m on my second right now, Moonstone, which is turning out to be a pretty good mystery.

Ah, British television.  My favorite.

Agatha Raisin (TV Series 2016)

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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 ofagatha-raisin-image 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.

Happy Valley (BBC/Netflix 2015-16)

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Stars:  Sarah Lancashire, Kevin Doyle, James Norton

Happy Valley is anything but happy, even though it won the BAFTA Award for Best Drama Series on television.

Traumatic occurrences sending people into nervous breakdowns. Dysfunctional families. Suicide. A child the product of rape. Morbid crimes not for the queasy at heart. Psychopaths that send chills down your spine. Intense story lines. Complex characters. Episodes that drive you to drink at the end. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t drink because a few of the characters are recovering alcoholics.

What can I say about this BBC Netflix gripping, intense show? It has given me another case of post-traumatic television disorder after binge watching Season 2. Good gracious! The things that Mr. Moseley and the handsome Pierre from War & Peace do will drive you insane.

First off, let me preface this review by saying, “huh?” If you cannot understand the thick British brogue of the cast, then make sure you put sub-titles on. Otherwise, your ears will be straining to understand what the hell they are talking about and you’ll resort to lip reading. There are a few of those more properly bred Brits who are definitely a more literate in their speech and easily understood.  It’s the local folk up north that will give you a challenge luv.

Secondly, be prepared for an underlying crude story line of a few crazy people.Thirdly, your wonderful Mr. Moseley (Kevin Doyle) from Downton Abbey will do a splendid job of turning into someone you’d never recognize. You might want to put aside the picture of the mild-manner footman, because this character goes off the deep end.

And finally, don’t expect to see handsome Pierre with his brooding puppy-dog eyes in Season 2 of Happy Valley played by James Norton. He does one heck of a job turning himself into someone who will literally send chills down your spine playing the role of Tommy Lee Royce, the psychopath. Powerful performance, to say the least.

So what is this story all about? Well, the main character, of course, is Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire (who by the way taught drama at Salford University at one time – go Salford!) She portrays a troubled and intense character who sweeps you into her emotional turmoil that includes not only her job but her personal life.

I don’t know what it is about British shows but their depth, quality and intensity go far beyond the Hollywood-bred crime shows on prime-time television in the United States. Frankly, I think it’s because of the passion of emotions from each character, their struggles, heart-wrenching decisions, and triumphant outcomes that so easily sweep viewers along with them.

So pop the corn, order a pizza, grab your soda, and sit down to binge watch six hours of Season 2. Be forewarned that the last parting scene at the end of this season will leave you with a very haunting “what-if” that will be hard to shake. My mouth is still wide open.  Troubling to say the least.

Breathless (ITV 2013 Series)

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Stars: Jack Davenport,  Catherine Steadman, Zoe Boyle
AXED!  I wanted to give this a 3.5 rating, though I almost gave it four.  Finally after watching the last episode of Season 1 and being left hanging, the show was cancelled.  Bummer!

Breathless is really the UK’s attempt at a Mad Men type of story set in the 1950’s. It is almost humorously similar in some ways, but since I was raised in the 50’s, I always get private enjoyment of watching the hey-day of my mother and father recreated on screen.

My particular giggle was one scene in Episode 1 where all the men on the block get in their cars and drive away for work at the same time.  Standing on the sidewalk are their wives, wearing their day dresses, looking primp and proper, and waving at them goodbye.  Some know how to keep occupied in their roles as housewives, while others who have given up careers to marry are bored to death.  

The story is about a group of men and women – doctors, nurses, wives – who live out their secrets but are intertwined with one another in many ways.  Jack Davenport plays the dreamy Otto Powell, who is the best doctor on staff, a man filled with wisdom and deep regret, in a marriage of convenience, and has a longing for one of the new nurses on the staff. His attempts to woo her throughout the series doesn’t succeed until the end.  The outcome I will not spoil.

Otto, you see, has a dark secret. He has tried to redeem himself, but falls prey to an inspector who is back in his life and out for blood. How that entire matter plays out is slightly disturbing and shocking to say the least.  It was a great disappointment to me that the show was cancelled, because it left a huge gap of what the future would hold for Otto and his family.  Perhaps I should write a sequel.

The show does deal also with abortion as Otto and his side-kick doctor take trips in the dead of night to relieve women of the mistakes they’ve made or the inconvenience of bringing a child into the world. Even though abortion is illegal, he continues to put himself at risk, along with his anesthesiologist friend and a nurse. For some it’s a matter of principle and others a way to earn extra money. It may be controversial to some viewers, so be prepared to handle it. In addition to the subject matter above, you’ll be exposed to 1950’s thinking in the medical world about female health and gynecology. 

In any event, I found the show fairly entertaining and enjoyable, since it’s right up my alley age-wise.  Though not the greatest in British TV, I still would have enjoyed a second season.

Now streaming on Amazon free for Prime members.

Hunderby (TV UK Sky Series 2012)

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Stars: Julia Davis, Alexandra Roach, Alex Macqueen

So at the prodding of my son, I signed up for Hulu.  Since Netflix didn’t renew a lot of the BBC shows (shame on them), I went over to Hulu because they are brimming with British sitcoms.  I only have one complaint.  WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE TELL ME THEY HAVE COMMERCIALS?  Grrr…..  Ditch them, already.  I’m paying them as much as Netflix a month, who lets me watch straight through without bombarding me with advertisements.  The only thing that is redeeming Hulu in my eyes is the vast amount of British television and movies waiting for me to devour.

Okay, now that I am done bitching…  I stumbled across Hunderby as my first watch.  Good gracious in heaven above — what an irreverent dark comedy that only British humor could devise. You’ll either be appalled or will laugh your head off.  I sat midground, hence the three kernels. The show does have it’s redeeming qualities (or maybe not).  This type of humor, however, has never been my cup of tea. Nevertheless, it is clever but a morally shocking comedic story of 1830 England and one very strange group of people.

The story begins with a shipwreck and a woman who washes up on shore by the name of Helene.  However, that’s not really her name because she’s a stowaway running from her past.  Immediately, after being revived by the doctor while others took her for dead, she is courted by Edmund, a brimstone preaching vicar who is a crude man.  When Helene marries him and comes to live in his rather large house, things turn even darker and creepier than Jane Eyre and the mad wife locked away.  Frankly, there is a madwoman, but she’s wandering around as the as the housekeeper named Dorothy.

Helene quickly becomes disillusioned with her new life and falls for the advances of the doctor who saved her life. They begin this rather entertaining affair, copulating at every turn.  In the meantime, her vicar husband is finding that he has a sexual propensity toward men and, in particular, one of his servants.  All the while in the background, the crazy housekeeper is out to discredit Helene any way that she can because she’s in love with Edmund.

The series is dark. The humor is crude.  And the ending a hoot.  If you like the kind of twisted dark humor that will give you a laugh and the willies at the same time, Hunderby (along with its commercials on Hulu) is the one for you!

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