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

Inspector Lewis: The Dead of Winter on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Dead of Winter © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis continues tonight on Masterpiece Mystery with another new episode of the popular detective series based in Oxford where the death toll since its predecessor Inspector Morse hit the airwaves in 1987 must place this small college town as the epicenter of “malice aforethought” in England. The Dead of Winter involves sad connections to the past, lost treasure and sordid family secrets — all prime motives for murder. This new (to the US) episode guest stars an array of former Austen movie adaptation actors that many Janeites will recognize and reveals some personal insight into the past of Inspector Lewis’ (Kevin Whatley) dishy young Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). It is a complete turn-around in comedic tone to last week’s Counter Culture Blues take on Lewis in a psychedelic rock and roll haze. Here is the PBS synopsis:

An Oxford academic is dead on a tour bus and none of the other passengers even took notice. The curious case leads back to Crevecoeur Hall, a vast, history-rich Oxford estate, and as it happens, the setting for much of Detective Sergeant Hathaway’s (Laurence Fox) youth. Hathaway reconnects with his past — and Scarlett Mortmaigne, the daughter of the estate’s owner. But is he also consorting with a main suspect? It’s a case that threatens to expose the shortcomings and secrets of a wealthy family, cloud Hathaway’s judgment and ultimately put his relationship with Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) in jeopardy. Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) guest stars.

This episode was centered around enigmatic Sergeant James Hathaway, Lewis’ smart, stoic and sarcastic young partner. Over the past three seasons we have seen his instincts sharpen, his skills honed and his confidence build from his professional relationship with his governor. In The Dead of Winter he takes the forefront in the investigation and I am pleased to see he is finally being given more than walking one step behind Lewis or looking over his shoulder while he interviews suspects. His character is by far the most interesting of the regulars in the series. We know very little about him other than he attended Cambridge, once trained as a priest and does not date. Occasionally a script will throw a female in his path, but if a hardened career crow and a transsexual psychopath are the kind of relationships he has encountered, no wonder he is celibate.

This time round Hathaway is given another opportunity to hang up his virtual clerical collar when he reconnects with Scarlett Mortmain (Camilla Arfwedson – Miss Marple: Murder is Easy), a beautiful aristocrat who he grew up with at Crevecoeur Hall (crëvecoeur is French for heartbreak), a grand country estate near Oxford that his father managed for the Mortmaigne family twenty years ago. When he arrives on the scene to investigate the possible murder of Professor Black, you can see his apprehension and project where this story will go. There is a painful history here, and if you pay attention, much will be revealed beneath the dialogue and his reactions.

There appears to be additional personal secrets being harbored by others too. The Marquise of Tygon, the elderly patriarch Augustus Mortmaigne’s (Richard Johnson – Mr. Wickham, Pride and Prejudice 1952) bank has just gone belly up and his daughter Scarlett is being used as quid pro quo to refill the family coffers by marrying a Lebanese millionaire Tarek Shimali (Richard Saade). The Marquise’s much younger wife Selina (Juliet Aubrey – Middlemarch) who he married when she was seventeen is having an affair with his nephew Philip Coleman (Nathaniel Parker – Vanity Fair) and his young son and heir Titus (Jonathan Bailey) is dallying with a servant Briony Grahame (Georgia Groome). Orchestrating this upstairs downstairs tango is the vacant stuttering butler Paul Hopkiss (Pip Carter) who also was a playmate of Scarlett and Hathaway in what he terms “happy days”.

When a bloody candlestick discovered by Hathaway in the Crevecoeur Hall family chapel is matched to Dr. Black, Lewis and Hathaway suspect the priest Father Jasper Hugh O’Conor (James Morland – Northanger Abbey 2007) when they unearth his tragic connection to the victim. Shortly after another death is linked to the case when the present estate manager Ralph Grahame (Jonty Stephens) is found dead by gunshot and a murder-suicide is suspected. After Lewis reveals his belief that the real motive to murder was a fifteenth century royal treasure on the estate, Hathaway thinks his boss has lost it.  He can’t understand why Lewis won’t accept that Grahame killed Dr. Black for running off with his wife. Lewis can’t accept why Hathaway seems to be protecting the Mortmaignes.

Even though I dearly love to laugh, when it comes to murder mysteries a serious tone with an occasional laugh is so much more satisfying. This new episode written by Russell Lewis supplied a finely crafted whodunit to fire up the gray matter, keep track of the body count and soak in that glorious Oxford backdrop. The guest cast was really outstanding. Nathaniel Parker is always a joy to watch and Guy Henry, who was an unforgettable Mr. Collins in Lost in Austen, added interest to a minor role as Professor Pelham. While Hathaway was getting smashed and lip worked by that chit Scarlett, Lewis had his own flirtation with Dr. Black’s fellow professor Frances Woodville (Stella Gonet – Mrs Musgrove in Persuasion 2007). She sparkled and he blushed. Too cute! We also got a glimpse of Lewis’ compassionate side when he befriended the murder victim’s cat and named it Monty. Ahh. I also thought it humorous that the writer  played with us in his choice of names and murder weapons. Was it Lady Scarlett in the chapel with a candlestick? I won’t tell.

Watch The Dead of Winter online at the Masterpiece PBS website until October 5th, 2010. Next week’s new episode Dark Matter, guest stars Colonel Fitzwilliam — Anthony Calf, and Sir John Middleton — Robert Hardy!

Scarlett: “I thought for a moment you’d chased after me to declare your undying love.”

Hathaway: “I’m not sure men do that nowadays, do they?”

Scarlett: “Perhaps they should.”

Oh Hathaway. Brush up on your Shakespeare will ya? He makes up for it later on when he recites some lines of poetry to Scarlett by A. E. Housman (1859–1936) from A Shropshire Lad (1896).

INTO my heart on air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis: Counter Culture Blues on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Counter Culture Blues © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Series III of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery begins on Sunday, August 29th with Counter Culture Blues. Duct tapped in rock and roll excess, deception, greed, and of course murder, Lewis and Hathaway investigate the death of a young boy that is somehow linked to the late 1960’s rock and roll band Midnight Addiction. Joanna Lumley guest stars as the lead singer presumed to have committed suicide thirty-five years ago but reappears to reform the band for one last hurrah, before they are too old, too drugged out, or dead. Here is the PBS synopsis:

Loud gunshots on a local estate interrupt an Oxford church service, and Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Detective Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are stirred from their quiet Sunday plans to investigate. The estate owner is an aging rock star, Richie Maguire (David Hayman), part of an iconic band from Lewis’s youth. The offending gunfire is the least of the chaos on the estate. Esme Ford (Joanna Lumley), the band’s singer long presumed dead, has just resurfaced. And, Lewis suspects that Lucas (Tom Kane) an orphan boy has recently died just outside the estate gates. As Lewis remembers his rock-and-roll youth, the violence escalates. Yet, these fading rockers don’t seem capable of much of anything, much less murder. It will take the inspiration of Inspector Morse to sort out the true suspects from the rock stars.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll. When they are generated by a rock band there is usually quite a bit of money involved, and as any mystery aficionado worth their Agatha Christie collection knows, money is always a great motive for murder. This clever story idea by Nick Dear (Persuasion) and screenplay by Guy Andrews (Lost in Austen) gives us an inside look at an iconic rock band whose colorful members have secrets, indiscretions and major brain damage from years of excess – but capable of murder? Nah. I had the murdered figured out the moment of his entrance. But it was still fun to be taken on such a nostalgic ride. Seeing Inspector Lewis agog and glassy eyed over these rockers from his youth was funny and lead to great opportunities for classic zingers by Sergeant Hathaway who is always good for a bit of sarcasm. After they meet rock star Richie Maguire on his estate, Lewis is aglow with awe and nostalgia, but observant Hathaway witnesses an unsafely stored firearm and recreational drugs that could get them arrested. Lewis’ defensive reaction:

RL: Why would I want to nick them?

JH: Give you an excuse to come back. Someone’s got to look after your social life sir.

And later on…

JH: Oh the cheerful promiscuity of your generation sir. It takes your breath away.

It did, but this episode did not. There was so much irony and parody that I had a hard time feeling any sense of seriousness in the four murders, yes four. There were more than a few plot holes that even after second and third viewing left big gaps in the logic and motives of the murderer. What did shine, and brightly, was the outstanding cast of guest stars. The Midnight Addiction band members were spot on. Just visualize any of the late 1960-70’s British rock bands such as The Who, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, and think about what they would look, and act like thirty-five years later. David Hayman as drummer Richie Maguire, Anthony Higgins as lead guitar Franco, Hilton McRae as Mack Maguire on bass guitar and Joanna Lumley as lead singer Esme Ford (whose singing was nails on the black board time) were all so eccentrically excessive that is bordered on silly. But who cared. This was not a serious mystery. More of a psychedelic haze of an Inspector Lewis mystery turned comedy.

Kudos to Perdita Weeks (Lydia Bennet in Lost in Austen)  as the wide eyed Maguire daughter Kitten blackmailed by a sleazy fellow Oxford student Peter (Harry Lloyd), and Simon Callow, who made rock manager Simon Oxe so flamboyant and over-the-top that I will never be able to think about men’s sock garters again without giggling.

RL: You know what I’m doing? I’m going to think like Morse.

JH: Does that mean we are going to the pub?

Watch Counter Culture Blues online through September 12th, 210 at the new PBS Video website. Next week’s episode The Dead of Winter stars Nathaniel Parker (Vanity Fair) and, get ready, here it comes — Hathaway gets a romance!

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis: The Quality of Mercy on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Quality of Mercy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Masterpiece Mystery will air another encore episode of Inspector Lewis from season II, The Quality of Mercy on Sunday, August 15th. The new season begins on August 29th with Counter Culture Blues guest starring Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous), a great British comedian who has yet to disappoint. Her recent performance in Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side was hilarious.

This week’s episode is immersed in Shakespearean literary references as a group of Oxford students produce The Merchant of Venice, containing some of the Bard’s most memorable lines:  “If you prick us do we not bleed”, “But love is blind, and lovers cannot see.”,  and “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath…”, which the story draws its title from. As with most Inspector Lewis scripts there is usually one major plot line and two minor ones interlaced. In this instance themes and characters in the play parallel real life involving DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and his partner DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) in a double murder motivated by ambition, deceit and revenge.

In the play, Jewish moneylender Shylock is famous for demanding a pound of flesh as collateral for a loan. Ironically, Richard Scott (Daniel Sharman) the talented young actor portraying him is the one borrowing from his fellow thespians to pay for his expensive life-style. When he is found backstage after the second act with a prop knife in his chest, none of the students seem upset or grieved by his death except Isabel Dawson (Abby Ford – Tipping the Velvet) who is portraying Portia in the play. A note found by the body quotes from Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

The overly ambitious director Emma Golding (Daisy Lewis) is determined that the show must go on. Important agents and reviewers will be in attendance and this play is her ticket out of Oxford and into professional theater. One of the group Philip Beaumont (Bryan Dick – Bleak House), an Oxford dropout looks upon his ensemble of friends and his former college with cynical contempt, while the handsome and egotistical Barham Rezvani (Tariq Jordan) who plays Antonio loathed Scott, but loaned him money never expecting repayment. His Iranian family’s wealth bought him access to Oxford and he uses the same attitude to make connections.

As Lewis and Hathaway begin interviewing the students they quickly learn that Scott not only owed money to the male cast members, he also slept  with many of the female cast. All of the students seem to be self-centered and on the make, stepping over each other to work the system and get ahead. Could this be a crime of jealousy, passion or revenge? As the investigation progresses, there appears to be many possible motives and suspects to consider in the cast and audience – namely, a suspicious out-of-town theater-goer Simon Monkford (Ronan Vibert – The Scarlet Pimpernel) who is eager to offer an alibi, two feuding Professors Denise Gregson (Maureen Beattie – Bramwell) and her ex-husband James Alderson (Nicholas Pritchard – Place of Execution), and Joe Myers (Geoff Breton- Diary of Anne Frank) a young man who may have killed his rival to take over his part.

Later, Lewis and Hathaway are called to a local luxury hotel where the assistant manager Graham Wilkinson (Shaughan Seymour – Wuthering Heights) reveals that they may have been victims of an insurance scam. A guest had left his luggage with the front desk to retrieve later and while he was away, a woman arrived to pick it up at his request. When he returned to claim it, he was furious to discover his luggage had been given to his non-existent wife, in-turn reporting it to the police. The man was the very same theatre-goer that Hathaway had interviewed that day, Simon Munkford. The coincidence interests Hathaway and he investigates the man’s past, discovering a long history as a con-man with a five-year gap while he lived in Canada. When Hathaway interviews his sister Christine Harper (Annabelle Dowler – The Six Wives of Henry VIII) she reveals that he left England after killing a woman in hit and run in London five years prior.

The next day a freelance journalist Amanda Castello (Shereen Martineau) arrives to review the play, but finds a much more intriguing story in the murder, reporting it to a national scandal rag. In an interview with Lewis she reveals that Scott was suspected in the theft of playwright Phil Beaumont’s laptop earlier that year. Lewis is suspicious of Scott’s motive. What was on the laptop that was worth stealing for, and what does Amanda gain by sharing this?  Shortly after, yet another death connected to the troupe turns the investigation into a double murder, coupled with Hathaway’s pursuit of Simon Munkford’s past life of crime reveals a shocking connection to his boss that he is hesitant to immediately reveal – sure that it will test the quality of mercy.

On first viewing, this multilayered story by Alan Plater is both intriguing and perplexing. The large cast did not make matters easy either. There was a lot of detail packed into ninety minutes that would have been better served as a two hour movie. The themes of ambition, money and mercy where nicely interwoven throughout the three plots, which I have omitted full descriptions of to avert spoilers. There is a twist at the end that Hathaway discovers that clever viewers will put together before it is revealed, but is none-the-less daunting for him to inform his boss of and in turn for Lewis to hear. It leads to a great scene between them involving trust, respect and a lot of yelling.

The guest casting was adequate, but not exemplary. Understandable in some respect because of the young cast members, but the more mature roles that should have been filed with a bit more of the “spurious glamour” that Hathaway jokes about to his boss in regard to his non-alcoholic tonic water would have kicked it up a notch. Director Bille Eltringham chose instead to make this an ensemble piece like the play that it was mirroring.  Happily, our cerebral Sergeant got to show off his Cambridge education by identifying  Shakespearean quotes from multiple plays from total recall. He was also given the best line in the script when on a late night phone call to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police  he was questioned if they (the police force) ever slept? “No we never sleep. We always get our man, or except when it’s a woman, or an occasional transsexual.” If you missed the inside joke, watch the episode Life Born of Fire.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Inspector Lewis: Allegory of Love on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Allegory of Love © 2010 MASTERPIECE

My favorite detective series Inspector Lewis begins again on Masterpiece Mystery this Sunday, August 8th with the encore presentation from Series II of Allegory of Love. Why do I love this series so much? Let me count the ways.

  1. It’s smart: Yes. I’m an intellectual snob.
  2. It’s wise: Laced with literary references, it makes me Google till I drop.
  3. It’s witty: The acerbic dialogue between DI Lewis & DS Hathaway is priceless.
  4. Its locations: I am a hopeless Anglophile, giddy over Oxford’s dreaming spires.
  5. Its fashion: I  positively dote on professors in bow ties and tweed run amok.
  6. Its guest stars: The challenge to place a face is as intriguing as the actual mystery.
  7. It’s sexy: It’s always about the sex, or lack of it in Hathaways’s case.
  8. Its quality: Great scripts, great directing and great stars. Can’t beat it.

Allegory of Love is a season II encore to get us in the mood for the season III premiere, Counter Culture Blues on August 29th. The story is tight and terse and tragic. In an interesting reversal, all of the major players in this mystery appear together in the first scene. We just don’t know how they will all fit in yet.

In the tradition of Oxford’s famous Inklings, fantasy writer Dorian Crane (Tom Mison – Lost in Austen) is launching his second book Boxlands, dedicated to his “muse and bride” Alice Wishart (Cara Horgan – Jane Eyre 2006). Attending the party is DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) guest of his boss Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front) who is intent upon matchmaking widower Lewis with her college friend Ginny Harris (Anastasia Hille – Foyle’s War), who is also Dorian’s mother. This appears to be a happy ensemble until the news of the body of a Czech barmaid Marina Hartner (Katia Winter) is discovered by the river the next day. DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) and Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) are  first on the scene finding a brutal murder by what appears to be an antique Persian mirror. Beside the body is a note with “Uqbara” written in blood, a town in Iraq recognized by Hathaway.

Lewis and Hathaway shift through clues and soon discover the owner of the mirror is comparative religion Professor Hamid Jassim (Art Malik – Jewel in the Crown), who reported the mirror stolen from his college office the day of the book launch. He recognizes Uqbara as a town in his native Iraq, but claims no knowledge of Marina Hartner. Neither does his fellow Professor Norman Deering (James Fox – Sherlock Holmes 2009) until he is caught in the lie by Lewis and Hathaway when they find evidence to the contrary on Marina’s computer. He soon admits to bringing Marina to Oxford as his mistress even though he professes to be gay to the college community. He also reveals that she had since threw him over for another man.

As details of Marina’s past life and connections in Oxford come to light, the circle of suspects widens. Dorian’s book mentions a mirror of the same description used as the murder weapon, Alice’s disturbed younger brother Hayden Wishart (Olly Alexander – Bright Star) had been stalking Marina, and their recently widowed father Jem Wishart (Adrian Lukis – Pride and Prejudice 1995) had been having a secret affair with her. When Melanie Harding (Louise Dylan – Emma 2009), a student of Dorian’s who he is having an affair with enters his office and is struck on the head, and a death threat in writing similar to the Uqbara note is sent to Alice, a pattern forms that only Lewis sees. Was the wrong woman killed by the river? Who then, was the intended victim?

All of the literary illusion to the Inklings (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) and Lewis Carroll were cleverly interwoven into a plot connected by jealousy, lust, and sex. Yes. It’s always either power, money or sex isn’t it? We would not have a murder mystery genre without them. The casting in this production also had interesting connections. Seeing father and son James and Laurence Fox working together again is always a delight. I believe this is the first time they have actually had scenes together. (It must have been daunting for Laurence who stands in a tall shadow.) Besides the plethora of Austen actors: Tom Mison, Louise Dylan, Lauren Fox and Adrian Lukis, Art Malik and James Fox had worked together in director David Lean’s classic, Passage to India, one of my favorite movies.

Even though this episode was packed to the brim with literary detail, the denouement fell flat. I adore this series, but they have not quite perfected that last important scene where the killer is revealed and why. It is so important to the success of the plot that you think they would really think these through a bit more intently. Did anyone catch Colin Dexter’s anonymous appearance a la Alfred Hitchcock? Colin is the creator of Inspector Morse which this series is a spin-off of, a consultant on Lewis and always slips into one scene in each episode. It’s kind of like where’s Waldo. I will not reveal it here, but throw you a clue. The book launch location. Now, we shall see who the real detectives are among us.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE