Thursday, 20 December 2012

Midsomer Murders ITV1 – the case of the unlikely success

Neil Dudgeon as DCI John Barnaby and Jason Hughes as DS Ben Jones
Jason Hughes as DS Jones and Neil Dudgeon as DCI Barnaby. Pics: ITV
Death and the Divas is the first of a new series of Midsomer Murders, starting at 8pm on Wednesday, 2 January, on ITV1. Writer and blogger Pat Nurse investigates the success of a procedural that some may see as twee and silly, but which is still going strong after 15 years and is one of the most-sold British shows around the world…

The curtain comes up on the quintessentially English detective mystery series Midsomer Murders when a new three-episode series of the popular drama is launched in the New Year.

Caroline Munro as the Evil Priestess, a figure of glamorous evil in a Stella Harris movie, with Georgina Beedle as a young Stella Harris
Georgina Beedle as a young Stella Harris in Death and the Divas
It has the usual mix of theatrical intrigue and suspense, and a cast of characters who live in the green and pleasant county of Midsomer – a somewhat idealised version of a country that has changed dramatically in the 15 years since the first pilot was shown on TV and possibly the reason why it continues to enjoy such huge popularity. It shows the Empire culture attitude of a country struggling in modern times with its identity and gives viewers a taste of Olde Englande nostalgia.

Ethnically diverse it isn't, but it is representative of British eccentricity. You can expect victims to be bumped off somewhere between afternoon tea and a cricket match on the village green. More victims will follow the Sunday Church service and the local fayre, and maybe the murderer will be discovered after watching a round of May Day dancing by Morris Dancers after foraging for the murder weapon in poisonous mushroom fields, or staving someone's head in at the top of the bell tower.

Midsomer deaths based on Hammer Horrors
Harriet Walter as Diana Davenport, a Hollywood star and Stella's younger sister
Harriet Walter as Diana Davenport
The first episode of the new series of Midsomer Murders harks back to the days of the Hammer horror films of the 1960s, with murder following in the footsteps of roles previously played by fading star Stella Harris (Sinead Cusack).

During a screening of one of Stella's old gothic cult films in a local Midsomer festival, journalist Eve Lomax (Sasha Waddell) is killed. She was writing a book on Stella and her more famous sister, Hollywood actress Diana Devenport (Harriet Walter), and may have uncovered a secret that someone obviously didn't want to get out.

As this is Midsomer, the murder capital of TV land, the slayings don't stop there. That's just the beginning of many more to come in a convoluted plot based on secrets and lies and sibling rivalry, but DCI Barnaby (the second), played by Neil Dudgeon, will work it out. He always does and maybe his cute little sidekick Sykes will help him as much as his sergeant DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes).

John Carson as Older Gentleman, a smooth, aristocratic predator and Caroline Munro as the Evil Priestess
John Carson as the Older Gentleman
Sinead Cusack
The TV appearance is a rare one for actress Sinead Cusack, who has been mostly involved in theatre work for the last six years.

She said, 'I recently did Wrath of the Titans, which was a movie with all the paraphernalia that goes with it in terms of budgets, crew and sets. But it wasn't nearly as appealing as Midsomer Murders.'

Charm and nostalgia may be Midsomer's magic formula for success – or maybe it's just damn good writing, damn good acting, original cluedo-type whodunnit plots, and a rare view of England in summer enjoying good weather for a change.