10/01/2016

Midsomer Murders Habeus Corpus



Midsomer without any murders? ITV’s longest running non soap drama returns with a surprise.
ITV continue to retain faith in what is, in TV terms, an old warhorse of a show which next year will celebrate its 20th anniversary and has over 100 episodes behind it. There’s 6 new ones this year, 2 more than has been the case in recent series and they kick off with this moody tale of missing bodies. It’s one of those episodes that the series does so well building momentum gradually- though some may find the pace a little too slow- until a moment that seems to open up a more dynamic final section. Midsomer Murders is a director’s show in many respects with the mix of the macabre and the ordinary offering a wide palette. The countryside- especially at night- is a vivid backdrop with which all sorts of things can be suggested. Because it is not a fantasy series there has to be a reasonable and probable explanation for any strangeness but directors often use the tools of fantasy or horror to suggest all kinds to the viewer.  Here for example a drive along a night time country road becomes full of danger especially to a character trapped in the boot of a car with a body. The sequence climaxes when an illicit burial in a lake is exposed yet this itself is a large red herring but the choreography of the scene is impeccable. 
"No bodies then? What shall we do?" "I did catch a fly." 



Remarkably this is the first ever episode of the series in which there are no murders! It's a bold move for a series with a title like theirs but it adds a different feel to things. There are plenty of bodies which then vanish but all have died of natural causes. The one apparent murder turns out to have been faked! The story concerns the disappearance of the lately deceased patriarch of a large estate which is, unknown to the family, already promised to Sonny Desai, a childhood friend whose now become a rich businessman through not entirely ethical means. Desai is lined up as the main suspect by way of his seemingly friendly attitude which hides a ruthless streak. 
Many episodes of the show have used the fate of an estate or large house as a plot fulcrum but this is a unusually normal family at least by the series’ standards. Navin Chowdhry is a standout as the charmingly ambitious Desai and there’s a strong turn too from Diana Quick as the harassed but opinionated Hermione Lancaster.
As the theme is bodysnatching thee’s a different slant whereby Barnaby and Nelson are more concerned with where the corpse is rather than how they were killed though there is a new pathologist in the form of Kam Karimore played by Marginder Verk who makes a strong debut. She has to examine crime scenes rather than bodies though.
The story draws out another Midsomer trope in the form of a significant event from years back that’s left its mark and due to the relatively small number of characters it is tricky for the culprit to remain hidden until the reveal but writers Rachel Cuperman and Sally Griffiths do this rather well by making him an apparent victim whose body disappears so we almost forget him. The climactic peril is slightly untenable though- could one person really rig up such a set up?  That the drive for the killer’s acts turns out to be unrelated to either inheritance or family differences adds a final flourish to what is a slow burn success.




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