by Kathleen Costa
BritBox is an online streaming option for the true Anglophile, and with little or no overlap with Acorn-TV, it is the perfect compliment. Television shows and movies, comedies and dramas, documentaries and foreign language range from contemporary productions to decades in the past; some I’ve seen and enjoy revisiting, and some I never knew about and am now a big fan. The monthly fee is very reasonable; I forgo a couple of lattes a month, and I’m set with hours of delightful, thrilling, or thought-provoking entertainment.
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates Series earns 5/5 Woolen Berets!Well worth highlighting is Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, a marvelous mystery series starring one of my favorite comedic British actresses, Dame Patricia Routledge (1990-1995; Keeping Up Appearances also available). Currently airing all twenty-seven episodes on BritBox, it is an excellent illustration of female empowerment. First airing in 1990 with the pilot film, “Missing Persons” is based on the book by David Cook with incidents in Cook’s novel inspired by his own mother’s experiences. The pilot was met with positive reviews, however when finalizing the project as a series, one production company passed, some issues addressed in the pilot were ignored, Hetty’s persona became less flamboyant by scrapping the wig, and two main actors were replaced. The pilot is not airing on BritBox, however it is on YouTube with good video and audio quality. I recommend checking it out as a standalone, but it pales in comparison to the series.
The acclaimed series aired 1996-1998 with the opening episode “The Bearded Lady.” Henrietta “Hetty” Wainthropp (Dame Patricia Routledge) is celebrating turning sixty by grumbling about not being old age, refusing joining any clubs, and complaining about the lack of an old-age pension. Apparently her eight years of employment before getting married didn’t count for her own pension, so she plans to get a job and make her life “count.” Working part-time at the post office, she becomes suspicious of a possible pension fraud, but a shoplifter becomes a more immediate concern. Seventeen-year-old Geoffrey Shawcross (Dominic Monaghan—Lord of the Rings) has left his home, needs his employment, and pleads that Hetty not turn him. In response, she invites him into her home, fosters a surrogate mother-style friendship, and enlists him as a partner in a budding private investigation enterprise. As in Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Along with the occasional help and advice from her husband Robert (Derek Benfield) and DCI Adams (John Graham Davies), the team works to investigate missing persons, arson, blackmail, assaults, thefts, smugglers, and even an apparent suicide. All clever character-driven entertainment well worth watching!
Women on the Sleuthing Trail!
There are plenty of mysteries available on BritBox that highlight the female perspective varying in era along with the age, background, and social status of the lead character. These shows depict strong, admirable women with light to the dark side of drama all well-worth binging on a “what’s there to do?” weekend or savoring over a long “I’m not getting off the couch!” vacation.
Programs that can’t be missed are set a century to decades ago along with several considered to be more contemporary to the time they were first aired. The running times vary from an entertaining forty-five minutes to an engaging feature-length two hours. All deserve top honors!
Sally Lockhart Mysteries, set in 1870s (2006-2008 Billy Piper), is based on novels by Philip Pullman. The two ninety-minute stories are set in London with the very young Sally Lockhart falling into mysteries she’s compelled to solve as she breaks a few social issues with the role of women in the nineteenth century.
Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, set in 1920s (1998; 2000 Dame Diana Rigg), is based on stories by Gladys Mitchell. Adela Bradley partners with her chauffeur George Moody in five delightful cozy mysteries filled with flappers, jazz, and murder.
Miss Marple is set in 1940s (1984-1992 Joan Hickson), and reportedly Agatha Christie herself noted she wanted Joan Hickson to play the iconic “little old lady” detective. The twenty-one hour long dramas include Miss Marple’s signature knitting and insightful perspective.
Prime Suspect, set in 1990s (1991-1996; 2003-2006 Helen Mirren), is the highly acclaimed drama depicting the dark and gritty side of murder investigations with fifteen feature length episodes focusing on Detective Inspector Jane Tennison, and in the post 9-11 era, Tennison becomes Superintendent.
Rosemary & Thyme (2003-2006 Felicity Kendal, Pam Ferris) partners two adorable “flora fanatics” who work well together to repair and create the loveliest English gardens which often means digging up a murder or two in the twenty-four sixty-minute episodes.
Scott & Bailey (2011-2016 Leslie Sharp, Surianna Jones) was created to fill the need for more substantial roles for women. This series of thirty-three sixty-minute episodes has been touted as “Cagney and Lacey of Manchester.”
The Coroner (2015-2016 Claire Goose) is a delightful look into the partnership between Coroner Jane Kennedy and childhood heartache/Detective Sergeant Higgins with twenty forty-five minute episodes.
Vera (2011-2018 Brenda Blethyn), the highly acclaimed drama, follows the “unorthodox, but brilliant” DCI Vera Stanhope investigating murder with an equally talented team. The eight episodes (88-120-minutes) from season three and four are available along with with the newest (90-120-minute) season eight.
Silent Witness (Season 21–2018 Emilia Fox) continues its highly acclaimed run with ten sixty-minute episodes focusing on a talented team of forensic pathologist with Dr. Nikki Alexander whose expertise in archaeology and anthropology is an asset in investigation murder.
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