Tag Archives: Masterpiece Mystery

Tennant plays a courtroom Houdini in Escape Artist

'Masterpiece Mystery!' returns Sunday on PBS.

From left),acquitted murder suspect Liam Foyle (Tony Kebbell) thanks his defense team (Roy Marsden and David Tennant) in ‘The Escape Artist,’ a taut, two-part thriller premiering Sunday on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’

Masterpiece Mystery! gets its summer season off to a white-knuckle start Sunday night with The Escape Artist, a two-part thriller (concluding on June 22) about a brilliant defense attorney whose life and career go off the rails. David Tennant (Broadchurch) stars as Will Burton, the top criminal lawyer in the UK, whose perfect record of courtroom wins has put him on the fast track to ‘’take the silk” as Queen’s Counsel. He even has a perfect family – vivacious wife Kate (Ashley Jensen, Ugly Betty) and young son Jamie (Gus Barry) — to round out the idyllic portrait.
Will’s cases often find him sparring with legal adversary Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), who is fed up with always coming in second to Will. What seems to be lost on both of them is that their cerebral legal games in the courtroom usually take a heavy toll on the victims, defendants and their loved ones.
Invariably, Will often winds up defending and getting off some characters who most likely should be behind bars (hence his nickname of “the escape artist”), but as he somewhat idealistically explains to anyone who questions him, “Everyone deserves a defense.”
Then, just as Will and his family are heading out of town to their vacation getaway, his bosses hand him the case file on Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a reclusive bird lover who stands accused of the horrific torture-killing of a young female medical student. Liam is a self-confessed misanthrope, but he adamantly insists that he is innocent. As Will, on vacation, studies the file, he can’t help seeing that there’s a ton of compelling circumstantial evidence against Liam, such as how his credit card statements reflect that he was a frequent user of “extreme porn” websites featuring the kind of activity that figured in the gruesome and extended killing of the victim.
Once in court, however, Will grows convinced that Liam is being rushed to judgment, especially after the judge refuses to grant a continuance to allow Will’s DNA expert to complete his research. Based partly on that, Will is able to get the judge, in effect, to declare a mistrial on the basis of procedural error. Chalk up another win in Will’s column.
And then Will makes a tiny error in judgment, a small yet crucial misstep that sets into motion a series of tragic, violent events. Even worse, he finds himself compromised by the very trial strategies that once stood him in good stead.
That’s all I’ll reveal about this edge-of-your-seat suspense drama, which has a very satisfying quota of twists and even shocks. Tennant is sensationally good in a role that forces him to play things straight, with none of his trademark Doctor Who twinkle. Okenodo, who picked up a Tony Award just last Sunday night for her performance in the current Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, is also good in a role that could read as a one-dimensional villainess with a different actress.
Among the other recognizable faces in the large ensemble of The Escape Artist are veteran Masterpiece character actor Roy Marsden as another member of Foyle’s defense team and Kate Dickie (Sansa Stark’s mad aunt Lysa in Game of Thrones) as a Scottish barrister trying to offer Will some urgently needed legal advice in next week’s conclusion.
It’s easy to see why The Escape Artist earned rave reviews when it aired recently in the UK, and the two 90-minute episodes should whet viewers’ appetites for more mysteries to follow under the Masterpiece Mystery! banner.
David Tennant and Ashley Jensen star in 'Masterpiece Mystery!' Sunday on PBS.

Brilliant defense attorney Will Burton (David Tennant) watches helplessly as his happy marriage to wife Kate (Ashley Jensen, ‘Ugly Betty’) is destroyed in Part One of ‘The Escape Artist,’ premiering Sunday on the PBS series ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’

A new game’s afoot as Sherlock returns for Season 3

Season 3 of 'Sherlock' begins tonight on PBS.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (from left) return as Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Season 3 of ‘Sherlock,’ beginning tonight on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’

The last time we saw Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), he was standing quietly in a graveyard and covertly watching as his best friend, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), stood grieving at Sherlock’s graveside. John is numb with shock, having watched in disbelief as his dear friend, by all appearances, committed suicide by jumping from the top of a tall building.
As Sherlock finally returns tonight for its third season on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!, two years have passed since that day and, for John, they’ve been two very dark years. Grief, as well as a moustache he ill-advisedly is now sporting, has aged him well beyond his years, and he hasn’t even been in touch with his former landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), since that fateful day.
Meanwhile, viewers are learning what Sherlock has been doing all this time and why. Only brother Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss, who also wrote tonight’s season premiere) and a few members of his team have known that Sherlock isn’t dead. Now, as a horrifying terrorist threat looms over London, it’s time for the great sleuth to reveal himself to his loved ones.
Sherlock is looking forward to reconnecting with John, brushing aside Mycroft’s suggestion that their reunion may be a little sensitive.
“It’s been two years,” Mycroft tells his brother. “He’s gotten on with his life.”
“What life?” Sherlock snorts incredulously. “I’ve been away.”
The show’s creative team has asked critics not to divulge how John reacts to Sherlock’s reappearance, but think about it: How would you react if you discovered that your dearest friend had just put you through two years of the most hellish grief you could ever imagine?
In fact, the majority of tonight’s episode focuses on the close relationship between these two men, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on laughs. The title of the season premiere is “The Empty Hearse,” which refers to a social group Scotland Yard staffer Philip Anderson (Jonathan Aris) has founded for conspiracy theorists who want to get together to hash out possible scenarios for how Sherlock may have eluded death. It’s a clever tip of the hat to the many, many Sherlock fans who just as obsessively have gone online and shared how-he-dunnit theories during this two-year hiatus.
There’s not much else I can divulge about tonight’s episode – the first of three this season – without wading into some serious spoilers, so let me leave it at this: Sherlock is back, and better than ever.
Amanda Abbington co-stars this season in 'Sherlock.'

Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s longtime companion in real life, co-stars this season on ‘Sherlock’ as Mary Morstan, the new woman in John Watson’s life.

‘Foyle’-d again!

Honeysuckle Weeks and Michael Kitchen
When season six of the hit Masterpiece Mystery! series Foyle’s War ended, writer-creator Anthony Horowitz faced a dilemma. His show always had followed Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) as he investigated crimes in England against the backdrop of World War II in Europe. The season six finale, however, had taken place shortly after VJ Day. How could Horowitz continue Foyle’s War now that he had, in effect, run out of war?
It didn’t take him long, however, to realize that one war has simply been replaced by another: the Cold War, a phrase coined by writer George Orwell in an October 1945 magazine piece, just two months after the events that closed out season six on the show.
Now, as a new three-episode season premieres tonight on PBS, Foyle’s War gets a dramatic reboot of sorts as the morally upright Foyle – a man whose inner sense of right and wrong is as acute as Hercule Poirot’s – finds himself in 1946 London, reluctantly working with MI-5, Britain’s equivalent of the FBI. Although he is reunited with his former driver, the newly married Sam Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks), Foyle can’t help being repulsed by the shadowy activities of his new colleagues, who aren’t averse to threatening the lives and livelihood of innocent people – including Sam – in the service of a nebulous “greater good.”
“I haven’t got the requisite capacity for deceit,” he explains, when an intelligence colleague expresses puzzlement at his reluctance to share the agency’s morally ambivalent vision.
Then again, the world around Foyle has changed in nearly every respect. During the Second World War, Britain had pulled together, its citizens confident that they were on the side of the angels, yet now, although victory has been declared, they find themselves living in a largely ruined nation where jobs and medical treatment for returning veterans are scarce and goods are heavily rationed (Sam sighs to her husband that their bread has so much chalk in it she doesn’t know whether to eat it or write with it).
It’s an admittedly bleak but really interesting landscape in which to find the soft-spoken yet doggedly determined Foyle as he gets drawn into three new stories, all of them inspired in large part by actual historical personalities and events. And, given how long the Cold War lasted, Horowitz and his creative team shouldn’t run into a lack of story ideas for years to come, if they decide to continue the series.
After each new Masterpiece Mystery! episode premieres on Sept. 15, 22 and 29, it will begin streaming the next day for subscribers of www.Acorn.tv, which also offers all previous Foyle’s War episodes as well.
Additionally, Acorn Media Group is releasing season seven in a three-disc set in both DVD and Blu-ray formats on Tuesday, Sept. 24. In addition to the complete UK broadcast edition of all three episodes, the set also is crammed with nearly two hours of bonus features, including invaluable introductions to each episode by Horowitz, plus extensive and illuminating behind-the-scenes segments, hosted by Weeks, on the show’s stylistic elements (hair, makeup, costumes, sets, etc.). And for those who don’t give a hoot about hair, makeup and costumes, there’s a more macho featurette on the filming of an exceedingly violent scene that figures prominently in the final episode of season seven.

The ‘Prime’ of Miss Geraldine McEwan

Mention The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to most people and their minds inevitably will go to the 1969 film adaptation of Muriel Spark’s novel that won Maggie Smith a richly deserved Academy Award as best actress. At the time, Smith’s win was considered something of an Oscar upset – her competition included such heavy hitters as Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Genevieve Bujold in the lavish period drama Anne of the Thousand Days – but her performance as an Edinburgh schoolteacher whose mantra was “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life” has stood the test of time. By turns funny, imperious and eccentric, Smith’s Jean Brodie is a fascinating portrayal of a mercurial character, and her climactic horrified outrage when she discovers she has been betrayed by a favorite student (Pamela Franklin) is harrowing even today.
For all the acclaim Smith reaped, however, novelist Sparks, who created the character based on a real teacher she had met as a young student at an Edinburgh school, always considered another artist to have turned in the quintessential turn as Jean Brodie: Geraldine McEwan, the endearing British actress who is best known to most American viewers today for her recent work as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. In 1978, McEwan gave an unforgettable portrayal of Miss Brodie in a seven-part miniseries adaptation for Scottish TV, a delightful production that gets its belated North American DVD release this week on Acorn Video.
With so much more running time available, the miniseries is able to explore Miss Brodie and her world far more thoroughly than the 1969 feature film did. Indeed, the first episode takes place almost entirely in Newcastle, England, showing the events and acquaintances that helped lead Jean back to her hometown and a new position at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, where the production was filmed on location. Her young charges also get much more screen time revealing their relationships with family members and friends away from school.
In terms of her approach to the character, McEwan’s performance is theatrical and delightfully mannered (in the best possible sense of that word), yet sensibly scaled down for the small screen compared to Smith’s heaven-storming movie turn. McEwan’s Brodie is, in her way, just as misguided and quirky as Smith’s was, yet you sense a genuine warmth and concern for her “little girls,” as she calls them.
One major caveat: While the Smith movie, like Spark’s novel, encompasses several years, this miniseries covers only the first few months of Miss Brodie’s tenure, so the explosive latter scenes of the movie involving her romantic triangle with art teacher Teddy Lloyd (played here by John Castle from The Lion in Winter) and Sandy, a student at the school, are nowhere to be found. Indeed, while the miniseries ends with a flirtation between Jean and Teddy, the conclusion is otherwise so uneventful that I can’t help suspecting the producers had hoped (unsuccessfully) to get an order for additional episodes.
If there’s room for only one The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in your DVD collection, I suppose Smith’s 1969 film should take pride of place, since it’s an absolutely staggering star turn.
Yet this McEwan miniseries, a three-DVD set that includes English subtitles and a short interview with Spark, is very rewarding as well. When I had the immense pleasure of chatting with McEwan a few years ago in connection with her work as Marple, she confided that the unavailability of her Jean Brodie on DVD was a sad disappointment to her, so I’m very glad Acorn Video has finally remedied that oversight. And if this set encourages you to explore this delightful actress’s work further, you’ll find her Marple episodes as well as her hilarious comic turn with Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne in the incomparable Mapp & Lucia both readily available on DVD from the same label.
As Miss Brodie would say: “Forsooth!”