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

Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack'd: Joanna Lumley and Julia McKenzie © 2010 MASTERPIECESpinster sleuth Miss Marple returned to Masterpiece Mystery last Sunday with her sensible shoes and ingenious deductions in one of Agatha Christie’s venerable warhorses, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. What true classic mystery aficionado has not seen one of the movie adaptations of this wonderful 1962 book of the same name? It has been trotted out no less than two times prior to this new production showcased by former Miss Marple’s: Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson. Now Julia McKenzie gets her chance to slip into the Marple mantle and solve a double murder at a grand manor house  in her own village of St Mary Mead.

The locals are all aflutter when an American film actress Marina Gregg (Lindsay Duncan) takes up residence at Gossington Hall with her fifth husband, a dashing young English film director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman) who has resurrected her waning career and the country estate formerly owned by Miss Marple’s friend Dolly Bantry (Joanna Lumley). A charity benefit hosted by the glamorous couple includes the press and all of the community but Miss Marple who must regretfully remain at home with a sprained ankle. During the party, the inquisitive Dolly Bantry observes local Marina Gregg fan Heather Badcock (Caroline Quinten) rambling on to her hostess about their meeting years earlier. Marina’s mysterious reaction to Heather’s recollection is to stare off into the distance in frozen shock? Dolly thinks it quite odd, but is later distracted by a more tragic event. Heather is dead and a poisoned daiquiri is suspected.

Dolly wastes no time in revealing all the details of the party to her friend later that afternoon. Miss Marple suspects murder and wonders if the cocktail was really meant for Marina but given to Heather by mistake? Dolly continues her report by equating Marina’s death-like daze to a Tennyson poem, “Out flew the web and floated wide – The mirror crack’d from side to side; “The curse is come upon me,” cried The Lady of Shalott.” As the investigation continues, Inspector Hewitt’s (Hugh Bonneville) suspect list lengthens as all the guests are interviewed. Is it Marina’s ex-husband the spiteful gossip columnist, her husband’s ex-girlfriend the jilted starlet or the suspicious young female photographer snapping shots of the guests at the party? It appears that many at the party have secret reasons to want Marina dead, including Marina herself.

It is easy to understand why The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side has been adapted so many times by movie producers. It is an intriguing story dripping with Hollywood glamor and colorful characters.  In this instance, the campy screenplay by Kevin Elyot moves Chrisite’s characterizations and plot twists even further toward a farcical spoof of the mystery genre than written or previously filmed. Director Tom Shankland’s use of over-the-top melodrama through clips of Marina’s films and the Movietone-like newsreels poke fun at the era and set the tone for the entire film. Oddly, Miss Marple is sidelined with an injury early on so her friend Dolly becomes her eyes and ears. Watching actress Joanna Lumley as Dolly acting like a giddy school girl over the celebrity parade and snooping on her neighbors was the highlight for me. Lumley’s infectious energy and deadpan comedy is so well suited for this type of role reminding me that Julia McKenzie’s low key and flat Miss Marple has yet to grow on me. The next episode of Miss Marple is an encore presentation of A Pocket Full of Rye on June 6th.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE