Follow Friday: Masterpiece Classic PBS

Pride and Prejudice (1980) Masterpiece Theatre PBS PosterThis year marks the 40th anniversary of Masterpiece Theatre, now with a new name of Masterpiece Classic under the umbrella of Masterpiece: which includes the trifecta of presentations in the Classic, Mystery and Contemporary categories. This television show premiered in 1971 and is produced by WGBH in Boston. It airs on PBS in the US and is now the longest running prime-time drama series on the air. Over the years they have presented many British dramas, comedies and mysteries based on classic novels and new material.

Masterpiece has been very good to Jane Austen fans bringing us movies and miniseries of her novels starting with Fay Weldon’s 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice staring David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie. Since then we have been treated to Northanger Abbey (1986 & 2007), Persuasion (1996 & 2007), Pride and Prejudice (1995), Sense and Sensibility (2008), Mansfield Park (2007), Emma (1996 & 2010) and Miss Austen Regrets (2008).

Masterpiece has a wonderful website listing the current season lineup and an extensive archive. You can follow them on Twitter as @MasterpiecePBS, on Facebook as MASTERPIECE | PBS (Masterpiece Theatre) and watch videos of their current production at PBS Video.

Be sure to watch the last episode of the continuation of Upstairs Downstairs this Sunday, April 24th at 9:00pm ET on PBS.  You can catch up by watching part one and part two online at PBS video until May 24, 2011. Enjoy!

Image courtesy of © MASTERPIECE

Sherlock Season One on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Review

Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock banner 2010

Guest review of Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock: Season One by the co-author of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Recently, Masterpiece Mystery aired BBC’s contemporary update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, simply titled Sherlock. Now, I think I should admit up front that I am an amateur Holmes fan.  I enjoy the stories, and of course Holmes and Watson are classic, but that’s about as far as I go.  So the fact that the new Sherlock series changed a lot (according to Holmes-philes I know) doesn’t rouse in me the fiery indignation of, say, Donald Sutherland interviewing that his Pride and Prejudice 2005 Mr. Bennet was deeply in love with his wife.

I have some little experience with adapting a famous author’s work, and I think the trick with adapting anything is deciding what you want to keep and what you can afford to lose.  Just to take a completely random example right off the top of my head, when my mom and I wrote Lady Vernon and Her Daughter (recently released in trade paperback), we decided that historical accuracy and keeping true to Jane Austen’s style was more important than maintaining the original Lady Susan’s Snow White’s Evil Step-mother personality.  The people behind Sherlock made the opposite choice; the focus seems to be on character and tone, while they sacrificed setting and structure.  As a result, the episodes still feel very Sherlock Holmes, even if the story plays out more CSI than ACD.

A Study in Pink – Sunday, October 24, 2010

We’ve got a serial killer! Love those, there’s always something to look forward to.”  Sherlock Holmes

The new series has just three episodes, all drawing heavily from classic Holmes’ stories.  The first, A Study In Pink — based, obviously, on Study in Scarlet — introduces Watson and Holmes (as well as Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, Lestrade, and the shadowy puppet master Moriarty) and follows them as Holmes tries to solve a rash of not-so-voluntary suicides.  In fact, the mystery, while always present, doesn’t take center stage until fifteen minutes in, and the build up is focused more on setting up Watson and Holmes’ partnership.  As well it should, say I, because while the original stories are nonpareil, and Hound of the Baskervilles still gives me chills, what I love most about the Sherlock Holmes’ stories is the friendship, and watching these two interact.  Sherlock does not disappoint; they cast two very good actors whose portrayals I can get behind.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is fascinating and frustrating, a Holmes who is surrounded by (comparative) idiots, who needs something to do, who more than anything else wants a challenge.  He understands how and why people act, much like an anthropologist understands the primitive culture they’re studying, but he’s not on the same wavelength.  Interacting with humans as a human is a little beyond him —particularly illustrated in Pink, when Holmes demands to know why a woman would be so fixated on a baby she lost years ago.

It’s clear, however, that Cumberbatch and Sherlock are focusing on Holmes’ need for work, and his frustration in dealing with the people around him.  They ignore a crucial part of Conan Doyle’s character — that he is always a gentleman, especially to women.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes often comes across as either blind or intentionally rude, which can leave a bitter taste in your mouth.  Cumberbatch’s Holmes doesn’t care about the people involved in his cases, only the clever little knots he has to untie.  Conan Doyle’s Holmes, whatever he felt, was always “a chivalrous opponent.”

As for Martin Freeman’s Watson, I adore him.  I’ve always preferred Watson to Holmes, because I always find the Clark Kent more interesting than the Superman.  It’s a straight out relief to see a Watson who doesn’t seem like he should be accompanied by bumbling tuba music.  Freeman’s Watson is a more than capable companion for Holmes, best illustrated in a scene in Pink, where he stares down a creepy and mysterious man and turns down his offer to spy on Holmes without a blink.  He enjoys when “the game is afoot” as much as Holmes, but only up to a point because he also realizes that it isn’t a game, not really, because there are people involved.

The Blind Banker – Sunday, October 31, 2010

I’m the great Sherlock Holmes, I work alone ’cause no one can compete with my massive intellect!” Dr. John Watson

The Blind Banker, the second episode, is inspired by The Dancing Men and The Sign of Four.  Our story starts when Holmes is contacted by an old school chum who wants to know how someone broke into his ultra-secure office.  At the same time a young woman who handles Chinese antiquities at a museum disappears.  Of course these two stories eventually intertwine, bringing along a group of Chinese smugglers, an acrobatic killer, and the hunt for a missing and extremely valuable artifact.

I didn’t like Banker as much as the first episode; I had to watch it several times to get all of the details, and there was less of what I liked about Pink — the Holmes and Watson stuff, the playful feeling, and the sense of something actually being at stake, especially as there were a lot of little things brought up and then dropped.  Holmes’ old school buddy is treated like an afterthought, and the identity of the mysterious gymnastic killer was completely pointless in the scheme of things.  Overall I left the episode wondering more about whether there are there actually teapots that are thousands of years old that need to be maintained through use.

Also — so, Dead Man #1 (or #2, I forget which) gave his girlfriend a hairpin as a make-up present.  When it’s discovered to be not just any hairpin but an Ancient Chinese Hairpin, she then…gets to turn around and sell it for millions?  Even though her boyfriend stole this historic artifact?  She wouldn’t have to hand it back to the Chinese Department of Antiquities, or whoever handles that stuff? If you know how this would work, feel free to help me out in the comments.

The Great Game – Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sherlock: “Look at that, Mrs. Hudson. Quiet, calm, peaceful… isn’t it hateful?

Mrs. Hudson: “Oh, I’m sure something will turn up, Sherlock. A nice murder, that’ll cheer you up.

The third and last episode, The Great Game, was inspired by Die Hard 3.  This one was my least favorite, especially as it was sadly lacking in Jeremy Irons.  While we did get some good character bits from the Dynamic Duo, the story falls into the well-traveled serial-killer-taunts-detective territory that we’ve all seen a thousand times.  As our story opens, Holmes is dying of boredom — the only thing on his plate, the mysterious death of a government agent and some missing, top-secret documents that his brother wants him to look into.  Things pick up very quickly, though, when a psychopath starts strapping bombs to people and making Holmes race to solve cold cases before time’s up.

On the whole, it wasn’t a bad episode, just very formulaic. The Great Game is the farthest away from a traditional Holmes story, and much more of a traditional action mystery.  I was particularly disappointed with Moriarty.  While I think they nailed their portrayals of Holmes and Watson, I wasn’t impressed or frightened by their Moriarty, which are two things you should be when meeting someone who can take on Sherlock Holmes.  Clearly they were going for Unbalanced Criminal Genius, but I just saw one of those annoying attention-seekers who wants everyone to know how gosh darn wacky they are.  I never really believe those kinds of characters as heads of international criminal organizations, unless they have a top-notch personal assistant handling all the details.  Sure, you have a brilliant plan for stealing the Mona Lisa, but who is going to make sure that the special package gets picked up from the secret drop-off while you’re taunting your arch-nemesis?

But those are all minor complaints.  I really enjoyed Sherlock, and was happy to hear that the series was a big success, and more episodes are already in the works.  I for one am looking forward to them, though I hope this time the Brits won’t get to see them four months ahead of us again.

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino Bradway (2010)About the reviewer: Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and her mother, Jane Rubino, are the authors of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, a reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic novella Lady Susan and the short story What Would Austen Do in the forthcoming anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be published by Ballantine Books in October 2011. Caitlen’s first solo work, a children’s fantasy, is scheduled to be released in early 2012. Visit Caitlen and Jane at their blog Janetility.

Further viewing & reading

Text © 2010 Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, image © MASTERPIECE 2010

Inspector Lewis: Falling Darkness on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis Falling Darkness © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Falling Darkness, the final episode of Series III of Inspector Lewis aired tonight on Masterpiece Mystery concluding with a powerful story of personal connections to cast regular Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). There is a theme of dark family secrets haunting many of the characters, motivating some to the ultimate revenge – murder. Rupert Graves (a Room with a View & Sherlock) guest stars as Laura’s former college housemate Alec Pickman whose randy and dissipated past might be a prime motive for murder.

It is All-Hallows-Eve in Oxford and the fog adds an eerie atmosphere to a festive night filled with costumes, jack-o-lanterns and a bizarre death. Police pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson is on her way to a reunion dinner with two of her former college housemates when she is called to a murder scene and stunned to discover that the victim, Ligeia Willard (Louise Hunt), is the same friend she was planning to meet. The coincidence is even more twisted when DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are informed that the victim was not only struck on the head, but had a wooden stake driven through her heart and garlic stuffed in her mouth. “Is this the work of some kind of lunatic?” CS Innocent jests to Lewis, who in turn jokes, “Vampires mum?”

Lewis and Hathaway begin the investigation into Dr. Willard’s past life to find clues to the murder. She is a scientist at a stem cell research institute which has come under strong criticism and threats by the “devout to the doolally” picketing daily outside the office building. Also on the list of suspects are her two fellow colleagues, Professor Rufus Strickfaden (John Sessions) and Dr. Nicolae Belisarius (Adam Levy). Strickfaden is the defensive head of the institute who when questioned about his work and the protestors by Lewis retorts that “Science is about the pursuit of truth. That always frightens someone.” Dr. Belisarius is even testier. He is visibly angered by Ligeia’s death and blames it on the police who obviously did not do enough to protect them from the death threats.

Meanwhile four Oxford students who share a house are being haunted by their own mystery. Someone, or something, keeps leaving cryptic messages on their refrigerator spelling out “Murder. Help me.” and names they do not recognize. Fellow housemates Madeleine Escher (Lucy Griffiths) and Roddy Allen (Brodie Ross), are not concerned but Rowena Trevanion (Lauren O’Neil) is so shaken that fourth housemate Victor Clerval (Alex Price) hires a local medium/mystic Ursula Van Tessell (Lynsey Baxter) to de-ghost their house. Van Tessell arrives and discovers that “something terrible happened a long time ago” in Rowena’s room, then ceremoniously releases the trapped spirit. Rowena is not convinced and chooses to sleeps in the sitting room.

Having withdrawn from the investigation because of her personal connection, Laura and her friend and former roommate Ellen Jacoby (Niamh Cusak) grieve for Ligeia by reminiscing over old college photos and wondering where the two male housemates Pete and Alec are now. When Laura is called to her next case, she arrives at the address in disbelief. It is the same house she shared twenty years ago with Ligeia, Ellen, Peter and Alec. A current resident Rowena lies murdered on the floor of the sitting room and more cryptic messages are written on the refrigerator, with the words Ligeia Willard, Laura Hobson, murder and find Mary Gwilliam spelled out. With this new connection Laura is now a prime suspect in both cases. Lewis cannot believe that his friend is personally involved but continues to look into her past and her four fellow housemates. When a third homicide victim is found brutally tortured and the clues lead to a private hospital that specialized in adoptions, Lewis and Hathaway are shocked to find incriminating evidence against Laura in the hospitals records. Has she lied to them about her past, and, is she a killer?

Falling Darkness is a shadowy episode fueled by many family secrets from the past. Screenwriter Russell Lewis, who also wrote this season’s excellent episode The Dead of Winter, used great details and coincidence’s to connect all of the storylines. He loves the play of words and literary allusions and I could not help but laugh at his choice of Nethermore as the street of Laura’s college house, the use of Ligeia and Rowena, two famous ladies from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe  where one dies and is resurrected in the other, and Pickman with its H.P. Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model connections to Poe. I am sure there are more allusions through names and places. He just loves to inspire our Goggling addiction.

One of the most interesting characters was Laura’s fellow housemate Alec Pickman played by Rupert Graves. Actors say that colorful characters are the most challenging and enjoyable to portray, and Graves certainly had fun with Pickman who Laura described as a “mad, bad and lock up your daughters” personality, spouting poetry while swilling gin. Graves was so convincing as a dissipated drunk that knowing his past bad boy reputation, I wondered what was real and what was craft. Hathaway of course pegged him perfectly. “You are a bit of a fraud Mr. Pickman. A rare bag of bits of poetry and old songs.” He was of course referring to his quoting bits lifted and remixed from Tennyson’s poem In Memorium. “the heart is an unquiet house” and quoting directly from the song Wand’ring Minstrel from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado.

A wand’ring minstrel I,

a thing of shreds and patches,

Of ballads, songs, and snatches,

And dreamy lullaby.

It was great to see an entire storyline devoted to Laura Hobson, who is usually relegated to only the crime scene and police lab. The developing relationship between Lewis and Hobson is interesting, but I wonder how long the writers can keep them in the attraction phase? Once they become a full blow romance, the suspense will be quelled and our interest as well. This has been a great season of Inspector Lewis and I look forward to more Lewis and Hathaway snarky banter and Oxford’s beautiful backdrop in next year’s episodes. I will close by leaving you with a classic Hathaway cynical line to Lewis as the other police pathologist on the force standing in for Dr. Hobson leaves the crime scene.

JH: What he lacks in bedside manner he more than makes up in basic incivility.”

You can watch Falling Darkness online on the new PBS video web site from September 27th through October 26th, 2010.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis: Your Sudden Death Question on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Your Sudden Death Question © 2010 MASTERPIECE

The fascinating and fatal world of quiz challenges is explored in Your Sudden Death Question, the fourth episode of Inspector Lewis Series III airing tomorrow night on Masterpiece Mystery PBS. Six teams of quizaholics have assembled for the weekend at an Oxford College to compete for cash and the honor of facing that final do or die question, unfortunately, none of them ever expected to die in the process. An ensemble cast guest staring Alan Davies as the smooth quizmaster Marcus Richards and Nicholas Farrell as manipulative Professor Charles Milner challenge DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) to outsmart the contestants whose brainpower is no trivial matter when it comes to murder.

RL: What do you think of quizzes?

JH: Terminally pointless. Right up there with slugs and black pudding.

It’s a bank holiday weekend, and surprisingly, Lewis and Hathaway have separate out of town social plans with their shared interest, music. Lewis is off to the Glyndebourne Festival to see an opera with a mysterious lady friend and Hathaway is off to Somerset for a World Music Festival with his own amore. All festivities come to a halt when the body of Ethan Croft (Adam James) is found floating in a fountain at Chaucer College. Lewis is still in Oxford and first on the scene. Hathaway arrives later, and in a foul mood. His cherished significant other, a 1948 Gibson L5 guitar has been nicked from the boot of his car at the music festival and he is furious.

The College is on lock-down while the contestants are assembled and interviewed individually. First up is Ethan’s quiz partner Ava Taylor (Tabitha Wady) who openly reveals that Ethan had been a brilliant Oxford scholar but now worked as a Primary school teacher. Was this because he was a drinker, a womanizer, and a showoff? Meanwhile, Hathaway interviews arrogant attorney Sebastian Anderson (Alastair Mackenzie) who with his partner Jessica Neill (Emma Cleasby) are there for a romantic getaway. He also attended Oxford at the same time as Ethan but claims to not have known him. “The world is full of people I’ve never met.” he chimes, paradoxing Ethan’s previous remark, “The world is full of people I don’t remember. ” to fellow contestant Robyn Strong (Ruth Gemmell). This is a shock to Robyn who does know Ethan very well, he is just such a playboy he does not remember that she is his ex-girlfriend. When he flirts outrageously with her partner Eve Rigby (Sally Bretton), could her plans of a failed “grand reunion with her first love” have turned to a crime passion?

Next up Lewis chats with Diane Baxter (Anna Koval), an Army Lieutenant who with her partner Sergeant Brian Kaye (Jamie Michie) just don’t’ seem to quit fit the quizaholic profile. She is quick to change the subject to their host, quizmaster Marcus Richards (Alan Davies) who she feels is “a bit too smooth for her taste.” The events of Ethan’s last night become seedier when the police pathologist Dr. Hobson reveals that Ethan had sex before he died. Prime candidates as a partner are Eve and Robyn who admit to touring the College and all its dark secrets with him, but neither accepted his invitation for a nightcap in his room. Later that day, Diane’s observation comes true when Marcus confesses to Lewis that his credentials are exaggerated and the £5,000 prize money is funded by charging the contestants and not by sponsors. Could he have killed Ethan to protect his livelihood?

No one and everyone could be the murderer. The two Oxford dons also seem dodgy. Professor Donald Terry (Timothy West) an Oxford research fellow denies knowing Ethan, students not being his primary concern, and his partner engineering Professor Charles Milner (Nicholas Farrell – Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park 1985) reveals that Ethan was a brilliant student and junior lecturer in modern languages but left Oxford under a cloud of sexual scandal. Why is he freely offering this information? And, then there are the two Oxford students, affable Alfie Wilkinson (Jack Fox) and perky Sophie Barton (Natalie Dew), suspiciously smart on a vast range of subjects.

The shocked widow Jean Croft (Susannah Doyle) confirms Ethan’s adulterous lifestyle, bitterly confessing that “there were times that I would have happily killed the guy myself.” Ironically, she does believe that in professional matters, he was an honorable man. As Lewis and Hathaway dig deeper to find out what went so terrible wrong with his academic career the trail leads to his work as a Russian interpreter on a high profile project for the government. A second murder of one of the prime suspects confirms that the killer is among them, but is this a crime of passion, revenge or a contract killing?

Your Sudden Death Question was a fun parody of the classic country house murder mysteries where a set of colorful guests, each with an incriminating secret, begin to murder each other off before the detective solves the case with a “left field twist.” The only thing missing was the final denouement where all of the remaining guests are assembled in one room and the detective dramatically exposes the killer! I will not reveal who Lewis and Hathaway cleverly discover, but I will mention two great literary references that our cerebral Sergeant Hathaway uses in the final shakedown scene. “Mccavity wasn’t there” is a line from T.S. Eliot poem, The Mystery Cat. Google it to understand the reference, and a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanity. All is vanity.” Of course our former priest in the making would quote from the bible as an allegory to the reason for the murder. If you were sharp, you might have also caught a bit of subtle foreshadowing of the killers motive by screenwriter Alan Plater, or was it director Dan Reed’s choice of symbolism? This image below is from the floor of the chapel at Chaucer College depicting a skull,  an ancient representation of vanity. Don’t ‘ya just love the stuff they throw at us?

Comedian Alan Davies was an interesting casting choice as quizmaster Marcus Richards. There is an inside British joke about it, that being a Yank, I did not catch. Davies previously played a detective on the series Jonathan Creek and is currently a panelist on the BBC quiz game QI, which is hosted by Stephen Fry. Laurence Fox’s baby brother Jack as Alfie Wilkinson, appears to be the latest Fox family member to break into acting. The Foxes seem to be in a race against the American Baldwin dynasty over how many siblings need an agent. If genetics predetermine our destiny, then I’d say he has a great chance of a long and illustrious career. And, one last word on cast regular Rebecca Front as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent and her wardrobe. Makeover!

Next week is Falling Darkness, the final episode of the season. :-( Police pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson’s (Clare Holman) college friend is murdered and the investigation reveals some hidden secrets in Laura’s past that are very incriminating. You can watch Your Sudden Death Question online at the new PBS video web site September 20 through October 19, 2010.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis: Dark Matter on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Dark Matter © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Stars, planets and murder are investigated in Dark Matter, a new Inspector Lewis episode on Masterpiece Mystery tonight. This is the third installment of Series III and much lighter in tone than last week’s The Dead of Winter.

When a body is found at the university observatory, DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and DS James Hathaway’s (Laurence Fox) inquiry has the prime suspects all pointing the finger at each other. Could it be the revengeful wife, the astrophysics professor with a past, or a doctor supposedly having an affair with the victim? Robert Hardy (Sir John Middleton in Sense and Sensibility) and Sophie Ward guest star in this new episode where the mysterious elements of the dark matter of the universe have also permeated into a group of academics, staff and students. Here is the PBS synopisis:

Oxford professor and amateur stargazer Andrew Crompton emerges from a church confessional, cryptically exclaiming that on Friday at 3:15, he’ll have an “excess of joy.” Later, Crompton is found dead at the foot of the stairs in the Oxford observatory. The investigation draws Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Detective Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) into the ethereal writings of a 17th-century astronomer and a modern-day circle of scientists and musicians, and their unexpected connections to the deceased. The cosmos aside, there’s a dark deception at the center of the case, one that Lewis and Hathaway won’t be able to fully comprehend until Friday at 3:15.

A small notebook filled with scientific notes found at the scene of the crime is the only lead that Lewis and Hathaway have to uncover the mysterious death of part-time astronomer Andrew Compton (Christopher Bowen). He was found at the bottom of the stairs, but did he fall or was he pushed? This wife Isobel Crompton (Sophie Ward) is the first to be interviewed, but she knows of no one that would want to harm him, nor does she recognize the writing in the notebook. She directs them to Lady Gwen Raeburn (Diana Quick – Clarissa 1991) a personal friend and senior lecturer in astrophysics who immediately recognizes the handwriting of her student Jez Haydock (Andrew Hawyley – Wuthering Heights 2009). Professor Raeburn coolly offers to return the notebook, but it is evidence in the case. Lewis soon discovers that among the astronomy notes is a bit of prose. “A splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes.” Is this a clue to why Lady Raeburn wanted the notebook back? Or was there something else inside that would incriminate either her, or her student?

A break in the case has a Catholic priest father Francis (Jonathan Cullen) coming forth as a witness. Andrew Crompton had been at his church for confession two hours before he died. Unfortunately, he is “not at liberty to reveal what the penitent may confess” under the sanctity of the confessional. Since Hathaway was studying for the priesthood before he became a detective he understands the rules, but fears his inspector will not. Through clever questioning Hathaway does discover that he spoke outside the confessional when Father Francis reveals that on Crompton’s hasty departure he exclaimed “On Friday at 3:15 I will have an excess of joy.” More enigmatic riddles for Lewis and Hathaway to sort out.

Meanwhile an orchestra of students, faculty and local musicians conducted by Gwen Raeburn’s husband composer Sir Arnold Raeburn (Robert Hardy) has invited his former protégée Malcolm Finniston (Anthony Calf, Colonel Fitzwilliam – Pride and Prejudice 1995) to guest conduct Gutav Holts The Planets for an upcoming gala charity concert. Among the members is police pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) on clarinet and Jez Haydock’s girlfriend Kate Cameron (Ruby Thomas) on bassoon. Rehearsals are going well until the news of Crompton’s death deeply affects the cellist Lady Raeburn. Lewis and Hathaway suspect that her tears are for more than a friend and asks Laura to spy on her and other orchestra members. Hobson fires back with one of the funniest lines in the show. “What do you take me for? Undercover clarinet?” Laura does notice some friction between Malcolm, Gwen and her husband and manages to copy a text off of his cellphone “Revenge is sweet.” Is there some history there that may reveal the motive for murder?

Head porters have a nose for unfortunate secrets” Hathaway tells his boss and Chief Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front) when they discuss Roger Temple (Warren Clarke – Bleak House 2005) the head porter of Gresham College. A fount of information on everyone who walks through his gate, he freely offers information on all the suspects in the murder investigation. He and his wife Babs (Annabelle Apsionhave) have worked as staff for the college for years, and his “dear old dad” Ted Temple (Bernard Lloyd) now stricken with Alzheimer’s was head porter before him. Roger thinks his father’s doctor Ella Ransome (Deborah Cornelius) was having an affair with Andrew Crompton. Forgetful Ted who no one takes seriously thinks his son’s wife Babs was the one having an affair with Crompton. It will take the brutal murder in broad daylight of one of the principal suspects to shake the community and change the course of the investigation before Lewis and Hathaway can reveal blackmail and adultery behind the dark matter.

Screenwriter Stephen Chruchett, who also wrote the last Inspector Morse episode Remorseful Day in 2000, had me guessing to the very last. Bravo! What a challenging script. It seemed like every character was either related by blood or lust. It took a second viewing before I could absorb all the subtle hints and clues that made this mystery so satisfying. The multi-layered connections and stargazing theme were fascinating. Sadly, even after Googling dark matter I don’t know what it is. I think that is the point. No one does. It’s just some mysteries nonentity that is only a theory. Its importance in relation to the plot? Maybe the screenwriter only knows, cuz I sure didn’t get it!

The casting was excellent. I have enjoyed Sophie Ward (Isabel Crompton) since my introduction to her in Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. As she has matured she looks so much like her father actor Simon Ward. Robert Hardy (Sir Arnold Raeburn) is just a national treasure. He can do no wrong by me. One of the pleasures of watching British productions is the face hunt of familiar characters. Warren Clarke (Roger Temple) had me totally stumped. Had to know, so I IMDb’d him. Ha! He was Corporal “Sophie” Dixon in Jewel in the Crown 1984. Hard to forget his attempted seduction of Sergeant Guy Perron (Charles Dance). Did anyone else catch the resemblance of Andrew Hawyley (Jez Haydock) to a young Paul McCartney? They even gave him a Beatle haircut and a Liverpoolean accent! Even though the script was packed with characters heavy on backstory, director Billie Eltingham’s kept the pace rolling, occasionally allowing us to breath with a few comical moments. I especially appreciated Lewis and Hathaway’s banter as they arrive for the concert.

JH: Who’s your date for tonight sir?

RL: My date? Chief Super. You?

JH: No takers.

RL: We know how to live, don’t we?

Next week is Your Sudden Death Question guest staring Edmund Bertram (Nicholas Farrell) and Laurence Fox’s baby brother Jack, the newest Fox family dynasty member to grace the screen! Watch Dark Matter online on the new Masterpiece PBS web site until October 12th, 2010.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE