Welcome to the fictional county of Midsomer: England’s TV murder capital.
You may well laugh, but it truly is a miracle that there’s even a single person left standing in that place! I’m not over exaggerating when I say that the body count really is extortionately high (around 300 villagers have been slain over the years!), but then again, this series is as old as I am – it first started broadcasting in 1997 – and in that time we’ve seen everything from women killed by wheels of cheese to men covered in truffle oil and mauled to death by a wild boar. That’s the series in two words: successful and unique.
Watching the programme has become a kind of family tradition over the years, and I just felt like sharing some thoughts on this series in particular, because if nothing else it’s jolly good fun.
Structurally, the series has slowly been returning to its roots, balancing fewer episodes with longer run times. For crime dramas (particularly those that follow a ‘crime of the week’ format) this can often be highly beneficial as the story has ample time to grow into something complex and exciting, weaving in all those red herrings and introducing different characters. Some shows don’t have the time to flesh out their episodes before the killer gets revealed, but with Midsomer Murders it feels as though you get to know the characters. They feel like they belong in the idyllic countryside they inhabit, and therefore their lives, and more importantly their motivations for committing murder, seem genuine. I’m thinking particularly of episode two, which utilised the often overlooked yet incredibly strong motive of love for one’s children as the driving force behind the killer’s actions.
My next point is one that not everyone would probably agree with, but I do love the quaint, picturesque setting of the series. There’s something very relatable about it. The area is based upon the county of Somerset, fairly close to where I live, so perhaps it’s that which endears it to me? I also appreciate how not setting the series in a single town but rather a much wider area opens up more possibilities for the sorts of stories that can be told, and allows for greater freedom to spread the crimes out a bit, although I’m still surprised anybody would willingly choose to live within a hundred miles of that place!
Now we come to the spoiler section; my favourite episode. This year it’s ‘A Vintage Murder’, the season finale. Why, you may ask? Really, it’s down to the storytelling. The plot was a smart one, and played well on our preconceived notions of how crime dramas are written. Everything is connected – one crime links to another, one action always leads to the next, right?
The beauty of this episode was that everyone was working at cross purposes and most of the links between crimes were unintentional. Timing was key here, in the sense that, just because a murder took place after an attempted mass poisoning, it didn’t necessarily mean the two were related. As a result the audience is left so desperately trying to connect the dots and figure out the why, that they never consider that it could simply be a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’. I loved this! When I was playing detective trying to figure out the killer, it never occurred to me that the storylines were a series of simpler, separate threads as opposed to one big complicated tangled mess whereby the killer is trying to prevent things spiralling out of control.
Let me break it down for you.
We start with a bribe for a bad wine review and the poisoning of said wine with some slug pellets. This is thread one – the vineyard owner’s missus is sick of wasting money to keep the failing business alive so she tries to secretly force her hubby to sell.
Then there are the two murders, the alcoholic wine critic and the cocky hotel owner out to buy the wine business. Both, at first glance, are to do with the vineyard. Thread two is the central one, but it turns out the killings are related to a little girl’s death several years ago after a hit-and-run. Her mother Judy was left distraught and with severe anxiety, agoraphobia and OCD. When she saw the woman she believed to be responsible for her daughter’s death back in town, she killed her and the man who had helped her get off of the drink driving charge.
But wait, the girl was actually hit by another woman who is a nurse, now helping to treat the grieving mother for her anxiety. Think of this as thread three. She dumped the car she was driving that day in the pond and has since been trying to stop the water levels from dropping too low and revealing the concealment.
Which nearly fails anyway because of thread four: the little girl’s older sister had this forbidden love thing going on with the son of the vineyard owners. Their families hate each other; it’s all very Romeo and Juliet. Anyway, she’s waiting to elope with him when she chucks some stones in the pond and they hit the metal roof of the car. But before she can look into it she’s kidnapped!
Which brings us to thread five (oh yes, we’re still going!). This girl’s dad is trying to keep her and the boyfriend apart, so he has some guy who works at the vineyard (and fancies the girl himself) go and grab her and shut her in a basement. Quite why he thought kidnapping was the best solution, I’m not sure. Maybe some parenting classes are in order?
Thread six is back to the vineyard, where the mother of the woman who owns the place with her husband – that’s right, her with the slug pellets from thread one – tries to empty all of the vats of wine to help her daughter in her mission to go out of business, not knowing that the kidnapped girl is tied up beneath her feet and soon to be drowning in wine.
Phew! As you can see, we Brits don’t do things by halves.
As any of you here who are familiar with my reviews will know, there is nothing I detest more than a predictable plot twist. Suffice to say I was over the moon with what we got here! I never guessed who the murderer would be, and just when I thought I’d figured something out I was proven to be completely wrong. And I had to laugh at the irony when my mother announced that she had no idea who the killer was, but “it’s definitely not her [Judy].” Nice try mum, better luck next time!
As the above summary probably demonstrates, some of the plotlines that spring up on this show are bizarre verging on outlandish. There are points when I have to suspend my disbelief quite a lot, and it can get a bit hard to buy into. If you don’t like your crimes over complicated, you might find it best to avoid some of the later series.
Plus, if we’re being picky, Midsomer Murders is all very… clean. It’s all terribly genteel, picture postcard stuff set in an imaginary land free of litter, graffiti and swearing. I think the word I’d use is ‘twee’. If it weren’t for the grizzly deaths it’d be bordering on silly. The format obviously works and makes for popular viewing, otherwise the show wouldn’t still be around today, but I can understand why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
In my experience, a show like Midsomer Murders is very difficult to rate. I’m going to go with 2.5/5 stars because although the format isn’t exactly innovative, the storylines this series have been consistently creative, compelling and engaging. The acting is always great and the cast do a fantastic job. I think the important thing to remember if you want to watch the show is not to take it too seriously. Enjoy it for what it is: a bit of fun!