BritBox’s Murder in Provence is a marketing masterstroke

I thought I’d pay for a month of BritBox so I could watch Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, and while I’m there I thought I might as well sample some of their other “originals”, including Magpie Murders and Murder in Provence.

I could murder a tomato salad

But first, some news: they’ve got The Goodies! This was once a phenomenally popular mainstream comedy, which pulled itself up from its original silly surrealism and Benny Hill–style chase sequences to produce some televisual stunts that lived long in their legend. But, for whatever reason, The Goodies disappeared from view and was virtually forgotten. But now BritBox have about 40 of the episodes, dating from 1970. It’s a shame Tim Brooke-Taylor (who died from Covid early in the pandemic) didn’t live to see its revival. I’ve only watched one episode. I’m sure it hasn’t aged well, but the bonkers gadgets Graeme Garden used to prepare his breakfast from his bed anticipate Wallace and Gromit by thirty years.

Magpie Murders is based on the 2016 Anthony Horowitz novel, and it follows the same mise-en-abyme narrative structure (story within a story). Many of the actors play two characters, which is fun. There are a few recognisable faces, though none of the actors are household names (not in my house, anyway). It’s all right: doesn’t particularly zing, but it does the job. The basic premise is that a highly successful mystery author (played by Conleth Hill) hands in his 8th novel featuring a popular detective, and then dies in mysterious circumstances. To compound the mystery, the final chapter of his last novel is missing. His editor (played by Lesley Manville) investigates.

My main complaint about Magpie Murders is about lighting. I know what they think they’re doing: they’re going for ‘natural’, which means – in practice – dim, flat, obscure. It’s frustrating, because it all looks a bit shit to me. If I wanted reality I’d look around my own house in the dark.

Moving on to Murder in Provence, then, and I’m lost in admiration at this brazen piece of TV fluff, which seems to exist solely as a nice beano for the mostly British cast. It’s genius really: set in Aix-en-Provence, everybody is supposed to be French, but not a single actor speaks with anything other than a British accent. It’s like an episode of Star Trek, in which Kirk and Co arrive on a strange planet and – thanks to the Universal Translator – manage to speak in American English to the lumpy headed aliens.

Now, some people have complained about this, but it seems perfectly pitched for these times. It’s not just that all of the supposedly French characters speak English: they’re all of a certain age, too. As we all sit in dingy Brexit Britain, watching the price of diesel and petrol tick upwards in real time as we queue for the few drops of fuel that have made it through the blockade; and contemplate the lorryloads of fresh produce rotting in Dover; or watch the news about our lying Prime Minister and his lying Chancellor and the sociopathic Home Secretary; we can all fantasise about being in a fantasy (Le Pen–free) South of France, eating in a Bistro and buying cheap red wine by the crate. And when I say, we, I of course mean those of us who have reached a certain age, and discovered that our plans to retire to somewhere nice like France or Spain have gone up in smoke, thanks in large part to our lying Prime Minister.

Instead, we get to watch the likes of Roger Allam, Patricia Hodge, Nancy Carroll, and Geff Francis living the lives that we can no longer aspire to. The murders in Murder in Provence don’t matter in the slightest: it’s Provence that matters. Christ, I hate this country.

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