Review of "Midsomer Murders"

published 22/08/2004 | ElizaF
Member since : 14/08/2003
Reviews : 73
Members who trust : 99
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Excellent
Pro Great acting, direction, locations, script and plot-lines
Cons Continual re-running of older episodes
very helpful
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Is it dramatic?
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Soundtrack

"Big trouble in little England"

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"Midsomer Murders"
TV-Series of 105 mins approx. running from 1997-present

WHAT’S THE STORY?

“It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside"

So said the seminal English detective Sherlock Holmes to his faithful companion Watson in the novel ‘The Copper Beeches” It is MY firm belief that the writers, producers, directors and everyone associated with the television series ‘Midsomer Murders’ are making it their lives’ work to prove just how true this statement can be.

Every episode follows a similar outline; a body is found, usually murdered in gruesome circumstances and Detective Tom Barnaby of Corston CID is called in to investigate. Along with his sidekick he works through the clues and the interviews (and usually several more bodies) to find the murderer. Simple enough? Well no, not really. There is usually a healthy dose of past feuds, insanity, pagan rituals, jealousy, drug taking, adultery, matricide, patricide, incest, gay sex triangles, heterosexual sex triangles, sado-masochism, oh and the odd row over planning permission mixed in just to make things ‘interesting’.

When I was younger I remember coming across a Sunday magazine ad for a series of Agatha Christie books. There was a picture of a little old lady with a silver bun in her head wearing a cardigan, blouse and long skirt, sitting upright in a rocking chair. On her face was an angelic expression looking for all the world like she had an oven full of warm freshly baked shortbread to offer you. Underneath this charming sweet picture, of Christie herself, was the chilling by-line;

“To date, this little old lady has murdered 197 people”

MM is just the same. It is set in the English countryside, a setting full of fertile fields basking in afternoon sunshine, tall wheat-sheaves drying in a cool breeze, small villages which are still recovering from their last scandalous bout of modernisation (circa 1790), friendly village pubs with contented barmen who know your family, tipple and glass and cheerful apple-cheeked locals who all wander about greeting each other by name. It would be all too perfect for words but for the death rate. To date, there has been an average of 3 deaths during each of the 33 episodes but not your ordinary run o’ the mill murders, in the countryside they use their OOOO-m-AAAAr-gAAAr-nation to dispose of their unwanted neighbours.

"Is the body count always this high in Midsomer?" - Sgt. Scott
"It has been remarked on" – Det. Barnaby

Here is a litany of the salacious variety of methods used to hurry on certain character’s meetings with their maker, just to give any uninitiated viewers an idea of the flavour of the show. Victims to date have been drugged and put inside a straw effigy and burnt to death, impaled with a tent peg, stabbed in thigh with an ancient spear and bled to death, stabbed and burnt to death in a hand-cart whilst in drunken stupor, caught in animal trap and shot in head with a .22 rifle, electrocuted on an exercise bike, drowned in a cauldron of soup, locked in a walk-in freezer and suffocated, pushed off roof of a Stately home, beaten around head and smothered with a garden roller for good measure and my own personal favourite, impaled through the heart with a pitchfork.

There is never any gore or guts shown but all the same it is not the sort of thing that the Countryside Trust normally put in their tourist brochures.


THE CAST:

(In credits order)
John Nettles .... DCI Tom Barnaby
Daniel Casey .... Sergeant Gavin Troy (1997-2003)
John Hopkins .... Sergeant Dan Scott (2004-Present)
Jane Wymark .... Joyce Barnaby
Laura Howard .... Cully Barnaby
Barry Jackson .... Dr. George Bullard


THE FUZZ

Tom Barnaby is played to perfection by the wonderful John Nettles (Bergerac) but gone is the irresponsible, boozing, womanising detective of his former incarnation and here is the laconic, responsible, contemplative, diplomatic, (slightly rounder about the edges) family man of the CID unit responsible for policing the Midsomer villages. There is no edge to him as there are other representatives of her majesty’s police portrayed on the small screen today. He loves his wife, gets on very well with his daughter, doesn’t go up against his superiors at every given opportunity and doesn’t have a drink/drugs/emotional/attitude problem. He would be boring but for the quality of the performance put in by Nettles, although it is understated, he never makes it seem like he is reading by numbers which was a trap that ever the great Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes fell into. His character’s solid reliability acts as a contrast to the eccentric and downright lunatic behaviour of the more murderously inclined denizens of the villages;

“Look detective, we have been murdering one another around here since the middle ages”

For the first 29 episodes, until November 2003, Barnaby's partner was Sergeant Gavin Troy, played by Daniel Casey. Troy’s character is played a slightly unsure of himself Sergeant with the diplomatic skills of Prince Phillip after a skinful, which led Barnaby to once remark;

Troy, you are about as politically correct as a Nuremberg rally!”

There are a number of looks that Barnaby passes at him throughout the series that range from the mildly bemused to the plaintively mortified. Casey plays his part very well being the younger, fitter, less experienced member of the duo (most of the occasional sprint work is left up to him) and I was sorry to see him leave. He is the type of actor that would make me give any programme he appeared in the once-over as I would to see if he maintains the same high quality of acting that he kept up in this series.

From the beginning of 2004, Troy was replaced by Sergeant Dan Scott (John Hopkins) a character of altogether different skin. Scott is a well-dressed, sharp brooding, lady-charming East ("Easfff") London boy who has been assigned to the sticks for some unspecified misdemeanour. After one look at him, I decided that it would turn out to be something to do with him turning his big brown eyes on the wife of one of his superiors. He is a fine actor who plays his part very well and all that but more importantly an absolute yum of a specimen of manhood.

The 3rd fuzzy regular is the coroner Dr. Bullard played deliciously deadpan by Barry Jackson. On his first appearance into the series his character revealed that he had himself transferred to Somerset for a rest after a busy career in the London courts. HAH! He would have been better off going to somewhere where the body count was lower, like the Gaza Strip.


THE FLUFF

Tom's wife Joyce is played by actress Jane Wymark who is perhaps best known for her role as Morwenna in the popular 1970s series Poldark. She plays her part in MM with the utmost authenticity and is the energy behind the household dynamics making the Barnaby’s feel like a real family to the viewer.

Indeed, it is Tom’s family who are responsible for maintaining the continuity in storylines between the different episodes. Joyce’s good works in the community often unearths information crucial to her husband’s cases. She also has the unfortunate habit of putting the lead character on a diet much to his chagrin. Tom’s other bugbear is that Joyce is quite keen to move out of their large house into one of the charming smaller houses of the Midsomer villages. This makes for some first class comic dialogue between the two, another element of the show's writing which stops his character from slipping into the mundane:

Tom: “Think about it, Joyce. Every time I go into any of the Midsomer villages
it’s the same thing, black- mail, sexual deviancy, suicide and murder. How can you possibly expect me to go and live in one of them?”

Joyce: “No one has ever been murdered in Fletcher’s Cross”

Tom: (Glumly) “Not yet”

The fourth regular member of the cast is Laura Howard who plays the Barnaby's daughter Cully. Before landing this role, Laura appeared in a number of drama shows including, Soldier, Soldier as Deborah Briggs. She also pays an actress in this series accounting for her being grown up but at home so much as well. It would be easy to dislike her character’s tall, slim, youthful, apple-cheeked blondness but for the fact that she doesn’t have a man. There was a brief date with Sergeant Scott who left her on her own to chase after a suspect in a murder case (what else?) and she has been glaring at him ever since. Another detail in the continuity between the episodes that I really like.


THE FACES

There are a number of famous faces of stage and screen that have appeared in MM, in fact a look at the past cast members reads like a Equity Who’s Who of the UK and Ireland; Orlando Bloom, Colin Farrell, Sarah Alexander, Lynda Bellingham, Honor Blackman, James Bolam, Samantha Bond, Hugh Bonneville, Terence Carrigan, Susannah Doyle, Emily Mortimer, Leslie Phillips, Richard Briers, Prunella Scales Timothy West, Anna Massey, Una Stubbs, Michele Dotrice, Trudie Styler, Robert Hardy and Maggie Steed.


SHOWING NEAR YOU:

(A&E network) Biography Channel Sundays at 8.30pm CET
ABC US Friday, 8.30
UTV / ITV Sundays 9.00 (liable to change at very little notice to Fridays)


RELATED USELESS FACTS:

Despite its name, this very (but not terribly) English crime drama series, based on the Inspector Barnaby books by Caroline Graham, is filmed mostly in the villages and towns of rural Buckinghamshire, occasionally straying into neighbouring counties. The nearest they come to the Midsomer villages is in the name and the name alone.

The real Corston village in Somerset has a pub, two churches, a petrol station and not much more. There is no more a CID unit based there than there is a ‘Corston College’ also referenced in one of the episodes.


RELATED PUBLICATIONS:

Inspector Barnaby Mysteries by Caroline Graham
The Killings At Badger's Drift - 1987 *
Death Of A Hollow Man - 1989 *
Death In Disguise - 1993 *
Written In Blood - 1995 *
Faithful Unto Death - 1998 *
A Place Of Safety - 1999
A Ghost In The Machine – 2004
(* has been adapted into a TV episode)

Midsomer Murders by Jeff Evans, the definitive guide to this series.
This book contains a history of the programme, and includes behind-the-scenes stories, character and location details, and a full, series-by-series account of the first 23 episodes.


RELATED URLS:

Fan site:
http://www.geocities.com/televisioncity/satellite/9476/midsomer.htm

DVD’s for sale:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/search-handle-form/202-1431402-2549428

Episode details:
http://www.freewebs.com/midsomer_murders/episodes.htm

Production Company:
http://www.acornmediauk.com/


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Comments on this review

  • Expired-Account published 10/02/2008
    I'm surprised there is anyone left in Midsomer, nice review but not something I watch
  • SusanLesley published 01/06/2006
    I love this programme and this is an excellent review of it! Susan
  • eve6kicksass published 24/11/2004
    I've heard of this show, but never knew what it was about. Great recommendation here and another outstanding op from you...Chris xxx
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