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

Hercule Poirot: Third Girl on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Poirot: Third Girl: David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker © 2008 MASTERPIECEIf Masterpiece Mystery fans were unsettled by last week’s uncharacteristically dark and moralistic production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, then absolution is in order with Third Girl, a total turn-around back to the sophisticated Art Deco 1930’s London and country manor house crime dramas that we have come to cherish and expect. In this new 2008 ITV/PBS co-production, David Suchet continues as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot joined by Zoë Wanamaker in her re-occurring role as crime novelist Ariadne Oliver. Faced with one of their most challenging cases they must discover if a tormented heiress is a murderer or another criminal is amongst a group of suspects who may have set her up.

Norma Restarick (Jemima Rooper – Lost in Austen) arrives at Poirot’s London flat distressed and distraught, hoping that he can save her. She believes she has committed murder, but before he can assist her she abruptly leaves oddly claiming the distinguished detective is too old. Baffled, Poirot later visits his friend celebrated crime novelist Ariadne Oliver and learns she had sent Norma to him for assistance. Mrs. Oliver shares with him that Norma is the “third girl” in a flat of single women who live upstairs. The night before Mrs. Oliver had attended their birthday party for “first girl” Clemency Burton-Hill (Claudia Reece-Holland) a secretary of Norma’s recently reunited father Andrew Restarick (James Wilby). While there she witnessed the “second girl” Frances Cary (Matilda Sturridge) a Bohemian actress/model flirting with Norma’s love interest artist David Baker (Tom Mison – Lost in Austen) upsetting Norma who leaves the party.

Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are both unaware of yet a further connection in her apartment building until they learn that Norma’s childhood nanny Lavinia Seagram (Caroline O’Neill) is also a resident until her death only the night before. Is this the woman Norma believes she murdered? The police arrive to investigate and Inspector Nelson (John Warnaby) is quick to conclude a suicide, but Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are not convinced. Is Norma guilty, innocent or insane?

While Norma’s roommates and family fret over her unstable state of mind, Poirot delves into her family history also becoming fearful of her life, but for different reasons. Who would benefit from her demise? Is it her grand-uncle Sir Roderick Horsfield (Peter Bowles) or her father Andrew Restarick, the two people who will co-inherit her large estate? To flush out the killer, Poirot must depend on fragile Norma’s help to trick a confession out of the criminal only Poirot has suspected.

Based on Agatha Christie’s 1966 novel, Poirot purist might be miffed again with more artistic license being taken by screenwriter Peter Flannery when they discover changes to her original plot and rearrangement and elimination of characters. Having not read Third Girl I was not offended taking everything presented at face value, quickly accepting the time shift from the 1960’s to the 1930’s atmosphere that I so enjoy in many of Ms. Christie’s novels.

There was also much to distract me in the decadent and delightful high quality production values: gorgeous costumes, striking locations, superlative acting by an all-star cast, ambient direction by Dan Reed (Inspector Lewis) and the stunning cinematography by Paul Bond. Did I say stunning cinematography? Wowza! Zoë Wanamaker’s performance was the highlight for me. Her scene after she awakens after being struck on the head is brilliant and LOL funny! Unfortunately, the last fifteen minutes were a disappointment. The traditional round-up of suspects into one room and final denouement was accelerated into a muddling quandary. Can one assume that this condensed 90-minute format did not allow enough plot development and clues to make everything click?  It took another viewing of the scene before this dull elf could absorb and decipher. (Oh, and since there are no sportscars in this episode, I will accept Poirot’s persimmon sofa’s as my guilty indulgence!)

Image courtesy © 2008 MASTERPIECE