There has been a distinct lack of crimey wimey stuff on the box this year –plus ça change – but look hard enough and there are a few nuggets embedded in the frozen edifice of festive television that is comprised of Christmas specials and the discarded boxes of a million Yule logs, with the wind of family arguments howling all around it. One of those little nuggets was an adaptation of MC Beaton’s novel, which introduced us to a new, very modern amateur detective, Agatha Raisin.
A mug of steaming Lemsip in my hand – yes, it has been one of those Christmasses – I snuggled up in need of something light and jaunty. And Agatha Raisin gave me exactly that.
Name any character Agatha and you’re setting yourself up for a trot into amateur detective territory, and Beaton is unashamed in her character and story’s make-up.
The always-watchable Ashley Jensen plays Agatha Raisin – a high-powered, high-heeled PR executive whirring around the capital with several iPhones on the go, managing her clients’ lives to the millisecond. When it comes to her own life things are (surprise, surprise) markedly different – she’s a perfectly manicured but hollow shell, guzzling molten ready meals as she chats to her therapist via tablet.
She’s decided to relocate to the Cotswolds, to fit in, to feel something again (it was later revealed that a still burning childhood memory was behind her move the village). When she finally makes the move out of the rat race, she zooms into the village of Carsley in her flash car and a set of aggressive London ways. She festoons her sweet, thatched cottage with a hideous collection of garish tat. If she wanted to fit in she certainly wasn’t doing a good job.
Soon, she meets her neighbours. There’s lothario Adam Cummings Brown (Robert Bathurst), his wife Jo (Hermione Norris), frosty neighbour Sheila (Caroline Langrishe), local bobby DC Bill Wong (Matt McCooey) and cleaner Gemma (Katy Wix). They all know each other; they all have history. Sure enough, beneath all the organic markets, the gentile pace and beautiful scenery, there’s all sorts going on. Especially with Adam, who is sleeping with pretty much the entire female population of the village. Knowing this was a murder mystery, it was pretty obvious who was going to cark it.
Aggie is so desperate to fit in she decides to enter the local quiche-baking competition at the annual fete. The competition, judged by Adam, had been won by Ella Cartwright (ooo, that Ella Cartwright) six years in a row, and when she beat a determined Aggie to win for a seventh time Adam took the second-place quiche home and had it for his tea. It was the last meal he ever ate – the quiche was poisoned.
Because it was her quiche that poisoned Adam, naturally Aggie became the prime suspect. Having wriggled out of that one, Aggie was on a mission to find out who did kill Adam, to the extent that she set up her own evidence board in her cosy cottage. Still tottering about the place in her Jimmy Choos, Aggie then sets about redemption, trying to find some meaning to a life that previously had none.
It was light, it was frothy and it enjoyable, although utterly formulaic and a bit predictable. There was a bit of a Vicar Of Dibley vibe about it, not least because of the comedy and lightness – the main character was also a lightning rod for the self transformation of the villagers. I always thought that this was a bit patronising to country folk (out-of-towner-city-type comes along to help them break free from village convention and the constraints of familiarity), but the fact that Agatha Raisin needed the villagers as much as they did her balanced it out.
I have no idea if Sky is planning to continue to adapt Beaton’s novels (there are 25 of them), but for now this was more or less enjoyable, light holiday fare. Right, I’m going back to bed.