Many of you may have heard of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the fairly new Australian drama series in which a young flapper of independent means solves crimes in 1920s Melbourne. I watched many of the episodes (probably about a third) and found the show very enjoyable, although I will admit that it will probably not revolutionise television.
Watching Phryne Fisher solve crimes made me think that I could write a few lines about The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, a nearly 20-year-old BBC crime drama series consisting of only five episodes, starring Diana Rigg in the title role.
While Miss Fisher is quite a bit younger than Mrs Bradley (who is a middle-aged divorcée), the two have a lot in common. Both are characters originating in novels. Both are independent 1920s women rejecting all social conventions of their time and are wealthy enough to be able to afford that attitude and their own independence. And both use their intelligence to solve murders, especially within their own social circles.
Both shows lavishly display the splendour of the 1902s – the fashion, the cars, the manor houses, the dinner parties, etc. – while also shedding light on the social divide of the times. Although I am not an expert for the 1920s, I assume that the portrayal of “flappers” in these shows are slightly exaggerated and that modern ideas about feminism may have rubbed off on the portrayal of these protagonists. But I may be wrong – I never read any of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley novels, the earliest of which had been published in 1929. Maybe it would turn out that the difference between novel and TV show is not that big after all.
Diana Rigg playing the protagonist is of course one of the selling points of the show. The character of Mrs Bradley features a sardonic wit, and the show opts to have her break the fourth wall frequently. She addresses the viewer directly (without the events around her ever stopping) in order to comment on something or someone around her or to make some apropos observations regarding humanity or society. And Rigg is perfectly suited for that form of delivery.
Neil Dudgeon is a perfect match as Mrs Bradley’s chauffeur and sidekick, George. The interaction between the two greatly enhances the show. And as with most BBC productions, this show contains a number of famous British actors in very solid performances. Because of the episodic nature of the series, their characters mostly appear for only one episode. These actors include Peter Davison, Annabelle Apsion, David Tennant, Nicholas Woodeson, Janine Duvitski, Kenneth Colley, Ronan Vibert, and Eddie Marsan.
The cases are quite solid and enjoyable – in terms of content and atmosphere, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries play out like your average crime story set in the interwar period. If you have seen David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot on TV, then you know the sets, environments, pace and tone of any Mrs Bradley episode.
So if you like the TV outings of Phryne Fisher (or, for that matter, Hercule Poirot), then you will probably also enjoy The Mrs Bradley Mysteries.
PS: Technically, the series consists of one pilot episode (90 minutes) and four regular episodes (60 minutes each). If you buy a DVD-set, make sure you get one that includes all five, for example the “Complete Collection” (Region 2), or the “Complete Series” (Region 1).
Alternatively, there is the comprehensive Region 1 set “Diana Rigg at the BBC”, which allegedly also contains all five episodes, and much more besides, and which is therefore said to be better value for money than the “Complete Series”.