It had the cosy, rural setting, the received pronunciation English accents, the urgent violin soundtrack, the ridiculously high-waisted costumes and just the right amount of sexual scandal and intrigue. Yes, Grantchester was pretty much Downton Abbey, just a bit racier.
It was a comfortable drama, a none too strenuous watch and held my attention (which is no easy feat; ask my long suffering wife) for the full hour. It focused on the vicar of a small village, who found himself embroiled in a murder investigation after looking too deeply into an apparent suicide. The vicar, with the almost porn-star name of Sidney Chambers, held a funeral for the ‘suicide’ victim where all others would not, which won him the respect and attention of the victim’s secret lover, who suggested that all was not as it seems.
Unable to resist the conspiracy, Sidney sought the advice of a policeman called Geordie, played by Geordie Robson Green of Waterloo Road and Extreme Fishing fame. Geordie was a no nonsense, chain smoking, backgammon winning, Simon Cowell trouser wearing arm of the law who took some heavy persuading to buy into Sidney’s murder theory. But Mr Chambers kept up his Sherlock Holmes act and before long, the pair set out to crack the case.
I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve watched all of the current series of Lewis. There’s much to recommend it – a fine cast, the warm architecture of Oxford, some witty dialogue (at times), and the legacy of Inspector Morse always lurking in the background in a faintly comforting way. There is one problem though, and it’s a big one: the plots are ludicrous!
I know it’s Sunday night drama, and that means nice scenery and a reassuring murder or two, but each episode seems to have an average of four deaths, and every time the action centres on another college. Don’t they have any crime in Oxford that isn’t university related? Imagine the media coverage that would follow the events of any typical week in the life of Lewis, let alone the twenty odd (and I mean odd) murders per series. Yet they seem to operate without any press coverage whatsoever, shrugging off another set of bizarre and disturbing crimes with a cheery pint and a matey quip.
I do quite like Lewis (Kevin Whately), and Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) is an interesting character whose police gimmick (they always have a gimmick) is that he’s clever, having studied theology at Cambridge. The relationship between the two is affectionate, and one of the strengths of the series. I do wonder, though, how they always manage to solve these crimes completely on their own. In other police dramas, there are teams of detectives working on each case, with technical support, a geeky computer whizz kid, and a shouty superior officer. None of that in Oxford. You get Lewis and Hathaway, Lewis’ love interest, the pleasant pathologist Dr Hobson (Clare Holman), and the excellent Rebecca Front as Lewis’ boss (they never seem to reveal her rank) but who seems to run the department with the air of a benign head of sixth form – never any shouting, swearing or venturing more than five feet from her office. Continue reading
Don’t ask me why I ended up watching Midsomer Murders last night. I managed about twenty minutes (to give Neil Dudgeon a fair chance) before I could bear it no longer and went off to read a book instead. But I was moved to put fingers to keyboard not by the race row that’s blown up around Midsomer’s Brian True-May, but by the startling contrast between Midsomer and my new favourite thing, The Killing.
Well, durr, you say, the two have nothing in common beyond both being crime fiction. But I’m looking beyond the subtitles, strong female lead, low body count (although it’s risen rapidly in the last few episodes). What strikes me is that both The Killing and Midsomer move at a pace so laid back they would have Jeremy Clarkson accusing them of being lentil-munching, sandal-wearing Grauniad readers, but one has all the tension of an episode of Cash in the Attic, while the other has been keeping me awake at night turning over countless theories as to whodunnit.
If you don’t know what The Killing is, I will attempt to condense 18 hours (yes, one story told in 20 hours, AMAZING, as Popjustice would say) without spoilering for those still catching up on iPlayer. Forbrydelsen (to give it its original Danish title, which actually means The Crime, fact fans) has followed the efforts of Faroe Isle jumper-wearing DI Sarah Lund as she tries to find the person responsible for raping and murdering teenager Nanna Birk-Larsen. It is set against (and within) the election campaign for mayor of Copenhagen and although it has plenty of dark warehouses for Lund to wander around in, there is no sexual tension with her partner DI Jan Meyer, car chases or sensationalism. Instead fans of The Killing are hooked on the small details that have emerged so tantalisingly over the past few weeks and wait with bated breath for the conclusion this weekend.
How can it be that two hours of subtitled Danish crime drama that reveals little of the detectives’ private lives and barely more of the unfolding story can zip past, while two hours in Midsomer drags by like some kind of cruel and unusual punishment?
I always imagine that Tom Barnaby’s heart must sink into his hush puppies when his wife comes home and announces “I’ve been shopping today in Chaffing-on-the-Arse, darling.” He must immediately think “Well, there goes my day off ”.
She should be banned from joining any sort of book reading group, amateur dramatic society or knitting circle. In fact Barnaby should just lock her up for everyone’s safety. If you saw her in your local library you would run a mile in case you came a cropper from a heavy Maeve Binchy. She falls into the category of cursed women who seem to have the knack of leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. Imagine having dear old Miss Marple round for tea. I’d want to employ a food taster to make sure the food wasn’t laced with Cyanide. I’d definitely have to refuse the offer of a spot of light gardening from Rosemary and Thyme for fear of a hideous crime being committed in my clematis.
I imagine there is a carousel somewhere in TV land, similar to those at the airport where you grab your suitcases after your holiday, full of old, has-been actors, going round and round waiting for producers from shows such as Midsomer Murders, Lewis or any Agatha Christie adaptation to come and pick them up. The same old actors appear in these programmes over and over again, doing the rounds and usually ending up getting bumped off, or caught while trying to kill their tenth victim of the night.
Apparently the Americans love Midsomer Murders. I’m sure it just reinforces their belief that we are all slightly mad, living in houses with thatched roofs because it makes them easier to burn down if we want to kill the occupants for stealing our secret recipes for our prize winning jam.
In the last gripping episode of Midsomer, the murder of the local suit-maker (pronounced syuit by the plum-in-the-mouth tailor) had everyone talking. It took at least six visits to the suspect’s house to get all the information Barnaby and his sidekick needed. Why can’t they just ask all the questions in one interview and have done with it? Though I suppose the programme would only last an hour instead of the long drawn out two hours, made longer by all the suspicious sidelong glances, sighs, stilted conversations and unanswered questions.