by Kathleen Costa
BritBox continues to provide excellent entertainment for this Anglophile, and all for the price of a coffee and scone (monthly $6.99; annual special $69.99). Members get access to a huge library of British and parts beyond programming varying in genre, release date, and available 24/7 online or on their app with quality audio and video on any device: computer, tablet, or phone. I personally can enjoy long-time favorites like Good Neighbors, Inspector Morse, and Mapp & Lucia along with new or returning series like Sister Boniface, Midsomer Murders, and along with Murder, They Hope, my new favorite BritBox Original Murder in Provence.
Murder in Provence (2022) is a new, hopefully returning, series premiering with three 90-minute mysteries, two popular leading actors in Roger Allam (Endeavour) and Nancy Carroll (Father Brown), and my number one “bucket list” destination of Aix-en-Provence. The series is based on the Verlaque and Bonnet Provençal Mystery novels (on Amazon HERE) written by Canadian author ML Longworth whose personal experience having lived in Aix for twenty-five years is an asset. Oh, you had me at…Provence!
Antoine Verlaque (Roger Allam) is an investigating judge, a role unique to the French judicial system, and, much like a detective, is a major part in any murder investigation by “deciding which lines to pursue, sifts through the evidence, throws out the dross, and compiles the rest into a dossier for the court.” Marine Bonnet (Nancy Carroll) is a well-respected university professor and also Verlaque’s romantic partner, one in whom he confides as well as seeks her professional council. She has accepted a consultant role with law enforcement as a criminal psychologist and will be working closely with Antoine. Together, along with Deputy Commissioner Hélène Paulik (Keala Settle), they weed through the evidence, interview witnesses and suspects, and uncover the identity of the killer, but not, of course, without some personal peril.
The relationship between Antoine and Marine is a deeply loving partnership, mature and humorous. They both have their own flats to die for, and Antoine is the chef finding his “zen” when chopping vegetables. Verlaque comes from a wealthy family and has regrets over the suicide of his wife over twenty years before, and Marine is a survivor of an abusive marriage fifteen years ago. Her relationship with her mother, Florence Bonnet (Patricia Hodge), is very combative. Florence is a retired professor, quite accomplished in her own right, professed communist, touting her participation on ‘ the barricades in ‘68,” and frequently comments on Marine’s choices and delay in getting married again. Her BFF Sylvie (Kirsty Bushell), a well-known photographer, provides fun banter and background, and finds herself in danger, too. Brilliant ensemble!
Episode One deals with the leading university medieval history professor Georges Moutte (Jeremy Clyde) who was expected to retire, name his successor, and announce which student would be receiving a prestigious scholarship. However, at the afternoon’s soirée, he informs everyone he has decided not to retire and the scholarship will be announced at a later date. To say the least, several are fuming, “the old bugger,” which prominently marks them on the suspect list when Moutte is found bludgeoned. The Investigation exposes art collectors, departmental finances, affairs, a runaway suspect, and another murder. Earns 5/5 Broken Galle Vases.
ICYMI—Jeremy Clyde has had a full acting career, but do baby boomers recognize him as half of the singing duo Chad and Jeremy? Do you remember their guest appearance on a Dick Van Dyke Show episode!
Episode Two deals with the apparent suicide of Etienne de Bremont, the eldest brother in an aristocratic family Marine knew as a child. Antoine, of course, is curious about the timing since months earlier Etienne had completed a major documentary on organized crime on the Côte d’Azur. Marine, however, speaks of issues closer to home with some disturbing memories. The official look reveals an entitled family dynamic, abusive personalities, finances, Russian oligarch, and too many secrets to count. Earns 5/5 French Chateaus.
Episode Three deals with two seemingly unconnected murders. Marie-France D’Arras wanders off, later found dead miles from her home. Delphine Jourdain received a disturbing message, later found strangled. Marie-France had dementia, yet her husband is ill-equipped as her carer. Delphine was engaged, but her fiancé is quite elusive, but her physician, Dr. Marcel Vannier (John Light) reports Delphine was concerned about being stalked, and cameras verify. Marine suffers an awkward reunion and a debate with Antoine about who has the worst mother. Too many secrets. Thank goodness for hotel records, cell phone text logs, and CCTV. Earns 5/5 Scents of Perfume.
ICYMI—John Light is a familiar face and closely connected to Nancy Carroll as a reoccurring cast member of Father Brown. He portrayed the world-renowned thief Hercule Flambeau.
I love the series. I love the Provence countryside and Aix architecture. I love the intriguing mysteries and endearing portrayals by Allam and Carroll. I love the both cheek kiss greeting, espresso in demitasse cups, wine throughout the day and night, lunch at the Brasserie St. Marc, and Verlaque’s classic Citroen. I love the word “squillions” and the use of “detectory.” There’s one question that caused some debate: “Why is this a British cast playing French characters?” It reminds me of the two Maigret productions that had an near all British cast with Michael Gambon (1992-93) and Rowan Akinson (2016-17), yet set in Paris. For me, I understand the issue, but it is an English production and the British cast was stupendous. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Murder, They Hope (2021) is three 45-minute episodes reprising the trials and tribulations of former coach tour operators turned private investigators Gemma Draper (Siam Gibson) & Terry Bremmer (Johnny Vegas). Their tour business, as well as the coach, blew up when investigating murders at a struggling caravan park (Dial M for Middlesbrough), so now, while waiting for an insurance payout that may or may not arrive, they’ve turned to opening a PI business. However, as “two incredibly unlucky people,” they’re having a hard time and most success comes from happy, if not perilous, accidents. With limited funds, they are forced to live with Gemma’s snarky sister Monica who has a very inflated ego and competitive, one-upmanship relationship. Their snoopy manner also causes them to run afoul of Gemma’s snarky sister-in-law PC Vicki.
The Bunny Trap
Flashback to 1995–A man, collector of a specific style of rabbit figurines, refuses to give “it” up to a man in a rabbit mask. “I’ll die first.” Oops, wrong answer!
Present day—Gemma and Terry have been hired to catch Fiona in the act of adultery, but find themselves in the middle of a bidding war for a creepy rabbit figurine called Maxy, a myxomatosis rabbit, from the Timmy Tufty Tale series and the 100th and final in the collection. They find it’s a Derek Castlewick figurine who had died under suspicious circumstances. One online bidder offers £8000 while another an “give or else” threat. At auction it’s ca-ching! The wedding of a lifetime? But they’re stalked, threatened, and who is The Bunnyman? Earns 5/5 Auction Bids.
ICYMI The auctioneer is Adrian Scarborough who is a recognizable character actor with a long list of guest spots, and currently he has his own show, The Chelsea Detective.
Evil Under the Bun
A hooded figure is mixing several horrible concoctions.
Gemma’s sister fancies herself as the draw at a local theater, but she is definitely delusional and ill-casted as the innocent Juliet. The monk, however, collapses, after eating some of the catered goodies…poisoned. Competing bakeries Montgomery’s Finest Bakery (Monty’s) and Caplan’s (Cappy’s) had a centuries old agreement that Monty only does sweet and Caplan’s does savory, but due to Monty’s shiitake mushroom and butternut squash surprise, the agreement is broken and it sabotage “tit for tat” is on both’s menu. Earns 5/5 Family Feuds.
ICYMI—The episode is a quirky nod to Romeo and Juliet with the feud between the Montgomerys and Caplans with Ray Montgomery and Julie Caplin caught in the middle. The baker “Cappy” Caplan is Jason Barnett who portrays the quirky, if not incompetent, DCI Wilkes in Agatha Raisin mysteries.
Dales of the Unexpected
The hitchhiker is trapped on the “Waltzer,” a fast-moving carnival ride. The ride’s operator’s response to the “I’ll die” pleas is “Yeah…you will, but look on the bright side, at least you’ll be famous.”
It’s Terry who sees the connection to four gruesome murders by recognizing the locations are on coach tour itineraries through the Yorkshire Dales. When he is begrudgingly brought into the station by Gemma’s sister-in-law PC Vicky, he isn’t as helpful as they hoped…until the killer calls in and Terry deciphers a clue leading to the fifth victim along with the killer’s inspiration: “The Wheels on the Bus.” Looks like another undercover operation, but as coach drivers? Sans the canine costumes they’re set up with an elite coach and a police presence. “No!” not Vicky. Earns 5/5 Childhood Nursery Rhymes.
ICYMI—The incompetent Chief Inspector Henrietta Shepard is actress Hannah Waddingham who was nominated for her role on Ted Lasso.
The graphic novel opening sets the tone for a witty, fun-fest. The murder mystery, the banter, and the predicaments are entertaining with lots of quirky, if not snarky, retorts. Gemma is the brains, but she’s frustrated with confidence issues and the combative relationship with her sister and sister-in-law. Terry…well, Terry also has confidence issues which often are relieved with a bit of pie, crisps, and sausage rolls. There’s always a clever crime ultimately with an interesting motive, peril to avoid, and an arrest. Of course, our heroes don’t always get the accolades or payment for their services. I love it, and “hope” the series will continue.
Don’t Miss These Gemma and Terry Gems!
The pre-detective incidents for Gemma and Terry can be enjoyed in the three 45-minute episodes also available on BritBox. In November, 2021, I reviewed the beginning
HERE mentioning the fun, and “its light treatment of homicide, comic relief attitudes and characters, friendly partnership, and even a little romance.”
Murder on the Blackpool Express (2017) Draper’s Literary tours showcases “the locations behind your favorite creations” is failing and they desperately need this current tour to avoid bankruptcy. A very dramatic murder mystery writer helps guide a very eclectic group through various settings used in his different murder novels. As the author dramatizes his literary murders at each location, real murders begin to whittle down the tour participants, and the cops called in don’t seem to be up to the task. Earns 5/5 Literary Egos.
Death on the Tyne (2018) Draper’s Tours takes a group across open seas on the Empress of the Tyne, a ferry that’ll take the group to Amsterdam. One of the seniors from the Blackpool fiasco, booked the tour, but instead of a full complement of seniors only three passengers show up. But, as luck would have it, there’s no peace on the high sea with a big storm on the way and a serial murderer roaming the gangways. Earns 5/5 North Sea Mysteries.
Dial M for Middlesbrough (2019) Draper’s Tours has been hired to to pick up and transport two regulars to Middlesbrough for a funeral, but the coach breaks down outside Shady Creek Caravan Park. Gemma has a dubious history with the park managers and a member of the staff, but that’s nothing compared to multiple dead bodies that endangers all. Terry and Gemma embrace their inner detective. Earns 5/5 Camper Sites.
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