Friday, April 28, 2017

Midsomer Murders: “Hidden Depths” (Bentley Productions/ITV Channel Four, 2005)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I put on KPBS for what turned out to be a 12-year-old rerun from the British TV series Midsomer Murders (the odd spelling of the first word is actually the name of the rural British county where the show takes place — and the series has been running since 1997 and is still on the air, a record that would make Dick Wolf green with envy). Usually this is a show I avoid because the ITV commercial TV channel in Britain that produced it split every episode into two parts so they could air each story in two one-hour time slots, and the PBS stations that rerun it in the U.S. have the annoying habit of breaking the two parts so they air the second half of one story and then the first half of another. Fortunately, last night KPBS  had an attack of good sense and showed both parts of a Midsomer Murders episode, “Hidden Depths,” back-to-back so I could see the entire show in one go. It turned out to be surprisingly dark for a British rural mystery, with the usual pairing of two white male cops — the older official Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and the younger (and quite hunky!) Sgt. Dan Scott (John Hopkins) — attempting to solve the mystery of the death of solicitor (that’s Brit-speak for corporate or business attorney, as opposed to “barrister,” which is what they call a courtroom attorney) Nick Turner (James Weber Brown). When the episode opens he’s just taken a plunge off the roof of his home, and the question the cops have to ponder is whether he killed himself or was murdered. Of course they immediately suspect Nick’s wife Felicity (played by the striking red-haired actress Lucy Russell) and guess that Nick might have been killed either by Felicity herself or by his friend Jack Wilmot (Matthew Flynn), with whom Felicity was supposedly having an affair. But this theory is complicated when Wilmot disappears, and as Barnaby and Scott dig deeper into the case they run into a locally unpopular old man named Otto Benham (Oliver Ford Davis), who has a wife who uses a wheelchair (thanks to injuries she sustained in a car crash) and wants to be rid of him because he abuses her; Peter Blagdon (Charles Millham), ne’er-do-well brother of local landowner Anthony Blagdon (whom we never see) who’s just returned to the area after years outside the country — or has he? Maybe he’s just impersonating the real one … which turns out to be the case, since he’s part of an elaborate scheme along with local con artist Mike Spicer (Robert Daws — and yes, under current U.S. political circumstances it was nice to be watching a show in which one of the bad guys was named “Spicer”!).

They stumbled on a long-lost secret cellar on the Blagdon property that had once been used for wine, and while the cellar was empty when they found it they hit on a scheme to defraud Nick Turner of 150,000 pounds by claiming it was full of 1960’s era wine of especially high quality and selling it to him on the black market. They put one bottle of genuinely rare, collectible wine in the cellar so Nick would check it with a vintner and be told it was valuable — the rest they just bought at local supermarkets and soaked off the original labels (one gets the impression it was the British equivalent of Two-Buck Chuck), then put on counterfeits of the high-priced vintage labels and sprayed the cellar with white gunk to make it look like the cellar and the wines inside it had been gathering dust for over 40 years. Then, after taking Nick’s and another “investor”’s money, they ran the van containing the false wines off the road and claimed the whole lot had been destroyed in a regrettable accident — and Nick, realizing he’d been conned, worked out an elaborate revenge plot. First he would fake his own death — with his wife’s assistance: she flirted publicly with his friend Jack to create the illusion that they were having an affair, then Nick pushed Jack off the roof of his house and passed Jack off as Nick, going to the point of dressing him in a suit identical to one worn regularly by Nick (though how they kept Jack’s own wife Antonia, played by Nancy Carroll, from recognizing her husband was something writer David Hoskins didn’t do a good job explaining), then knocked off the other participants in unusual and kinky ways. Nick nailed Otto to his own croquet field and used a reproduction of an old Roman catapult that was part of Otto’s collection to fire wine bottles at him — and in the show’s most chilling moment Otto’s wife, watching the scene from her balcony window, said to the masked killer, “I would suggest you aim a little bit more to the right” — and he literally drowned Mike Spicer (a former actor who was once up for a BAFTA — the British equivalent of the Academy Awards — “or at least I should have been,” he adds) inside a television while videotaping the killing (and later watching the tape with his wife; the cops arrest them just as they’re gleefully watching the tape of Spicer die). This was one of those British mysteries that almost sinks from the sheer confusion of its multiple plot lines, plethora of suspects and overall level of chaos, but the kinkiness of the murder plot and the outrageousness of the situations makes up for that.