Hetty Wainthropp Investigates –
Pilot (Missing Persons) + The
Complete First Series
Sound: B- Extras: C Pilot: B- Episodes: B
Why is it that in British fiction, elderly women suddenly
get the urge to stop just sitting around, get up, and solve murders? Well, the shadow of Agatha Christie casts a
very large shadow in literature, as she remains the most read female writer in
print. Her immortal Miss Jane Marple
has inspired endless imitators and a few satires, including a great send-up in
the underrated Murder By Death (1976), but a vague send-up of the
convention can be found in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.
Acorn Media is now issuing the lost pilot telefilm Missing
Persons and the first of the shows four seasons (known as series in
Britain). The initial film offers Hetty
(Patricia Routledge, in a great character turn after the international hit
success of the BritCom Keeping Up Appearances) deciding to take it on
herself to find the long lost son of a personal friend. If money is not the motivation, good
detectives who know their powers (or just go and look in Hetty’s case) do it
for personal reasons. David Cook wrote
the original book and did the teleplay here, so it is no wonder it works as
well as it does, but the latter part of the film was not as involving. Producer/director Derek Bennett knows he has
got some fun material to work with and the cast clicks. Legendary British character actor Jimmy
Jewel also appears in the pilot.
The Complete First Series offers
all six hour-long slotted shows for the character’s more familiar format. Cook teamed with John Bowden to come up with
the teleplays this time around, while John Glenster and Robert Tronson split
the directing duties. Seeing what
worked in the pilot, each show gets to the point and runs with each story. Those shows are:
5) A High
6) Safe As
Four of these shows have appeared on PBS’s Mystery!
Showcase with Diana Rigg, though Miss Rigg does not appear in this set. That leaves two more shows most people have
not seen. I should add that the series
restarts Hetty’s adventures, as a post office worker who is getting bored with
her work and believes she can do even more.
So, why not a detective? Unlike
the formula of the single American counterpart to all such fiction, the Angela
Lansbury hit TV series Murder, She Wrote, this show is broader with the
comedy and the cases are not direct detective show per se. As a matter of fact, Hetty never has a really
good relationship with the police or any other authorities, who keep writing
her off as a quack of some sort. That
makes it a much more effective show.
The new show also has the bonus of excellent early work by
future Lord Of The Rings franchise star Dominic Monaghan as Geoffrey
Shawcross, who becomes her sidekick, since it will keep him out of relatively
more trouble. Riding her around with
his Vespa Scooter, he is funny and they are a good match. The telefilm had only a passive equivalent
for a time, so he is not repeating any character from it. As a matter of fact, the series is a whole
new show, built to survive the TV series grind and it is well thought out. They make for fine viewing and comparison.
The full frame 1.33 X 1 image looks about as good as can
be expected, likely shot on film, though the pilot has some visual noise
throughout that cannot be ignored.
Color is consistent on it, but the episodes fare better in color and
clarity. Peter Jackson, B.S.C., shot
the 1990 pilot, best known for his work on TV’s Beiderbecke Affair
franchise. He is not the same
Mr. Jackson who directed The Lord Of The Rings franchise. John McGlashan, B.S.C., is the cameramen on
all the episodes, making some of the last really good looking 1.33 X 1 work
British TV is going to see before its permanent cross-over to 16 X 9.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has Pro Logic surround in all
cases, making the jokes and locations more engaging in particular. David Snell did the score for the pilot,
while Nigel Hess covered the series, both of which work well. Extras for the pilot include a text episode
guide for all four seasons/series, filmographies of the four main actors and
three text pages that offer a very brief history of the series. The set offers a Routledge interview
(3/30/04) that is taped and anamorphically enhanced at 16 X 9/1.78 X 1, stills
and three new cast filmographies. The
interview lasts just over 26 minutes and is really good. Be sure to catch both versions if you like
mysteries and comedy.
- Nicholas Sheffo