Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is That the Case?

Stay tuned tonight for the PBS-TV debut of Case Histories, a quirky and quite entertaining mini-series based on the first three of Kate Atkinson’s highly regarded novels featuring gumshoe Jackson Brodie. Shown originally on the UK’s BBC One, this drama will be televised in the States under the Masterpiece Mystery! umbrella.

Tonight’s two-hour episode gives the whole series (which ran in Britain in six one-hour segments, rather than three parts) its title. It’s based on the 2004 novel Case Histories, and finds former police detective Brodie--played by English actor Jason Isaacs--becoming involved in a trio of
ostensibly unlinked family tragedies: the disappearance of a 3-year-old girl from her family’s back garden 30 years ago; the supposedly random killing of a solicitor’s daughter; and the long-ago slaying of a husband. The story rolls out in a somewhat complicated, interweaving manner that demands attention from its audience, but the rewards of that attention are great. Brodie has his own troubled family past (he lost a sister in boyhood, and his brother has since been institutionalized), plus present-day woes--his wife is threatening to relocate to New Zealand with their 8-year-old daughter, Marlie, who longs to be her father’s investigative sidekick. Los Angeles Times TV critic Robert Lloyd explains further that
Brodie is a man whose need to do right has gotten him kicked off the police force--some old colleagues regard him as “a nutter”--whose resources he nevertheless continues to employ, courtesy reluctantly [of] accommodating Detective Constable Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington). Munroe, who regards him both with trust and expectation of disappointment, calls him “the most irritating man north of Hadrian’s Wall and a better cop” than any of his critics--which is to say they might be in love. They are, at least, lovely to watch together.
Case Histories will continue for the next two Sundays. Its second installment, adapted from Atkinson’s One Good Turn--and the least satisfying of these three episodes--is scheduled for broadcast on October 23; with episode three, about a resourceful and charming teenage nanny looking for her missing employer, set to show on October 30. Masterpiece Mystery! begins each Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

You needn’t have read Atkinson’s books to enjoy or understand this mini-series (although if you have read the books already, you’ll notice right away that Brodie’s turf has been moved from Cambridge to Edinburgh). Between its engaging cast, led by Isaacs, its sometimes-unexpected story turns, and its layerings of humor, Case Histories is a welcome addition to PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! line-up.

READ MORE: Criminal Element’s Leslie Gilbert Elman reviewed all three episodes of this first Case Histories series--“Case Histories,” “One Good Turn,” and “When Will There Be Good News”; “This Is the Good News, Right Here,” by Ali Karim (The Rap Sheet).


Robin at CrimeTimePreview said...

And don't forget, Case Histories won the TV Dagger for 2011 at the CWA Crime Thriller Awards in London a couple of weeks back.

It beat some really strong shows – Luther, The Shadow Line, Vera and Zen.

While The Shadow Line was my absolute favourite – I even voted for it in the preliminary rounds – I was still please that Case Histories won.

It is funny and tender, while still being a captivating crime story. And if you don't know Edinburgh, this is a good snapshot.

John said...

Though I don't think this adapatation will get me to read any of Atkinson's books I thought it well done. Jason Isaacs has been a favorite of mine since I saw him do Captain Hook in an otherwise pretty wretched version of Peter Pan a number of years ago. He sold this program for me - plus a touching performance by Fenella Woolgar as the oppressed sister. I think Atkinson overloads the story with multiple cases (do private eyes really take on so much in so short a period?) but with some wizardy I can't quite figure out she managed to turn what seemed like a mess into three neatly tied up packages by the end. Enviable to say the least.