By Calvin Palmer
Masterpiece Mystery, on the PBS channel, presented the first episode of Case Histories last night. For me, this series is something of an unknown quantity. Its pedigree does not go back to when I lived in the UK; friends in the UK have not made mention of it; and the star, Jason Isaacs, does not readily spring to mind.
A Google search revealed that I have seen Isaacs before and in England; he had a role in an episode of Inspector Morse in 1992. I have also seen him in A State Within, which aired in 2006. He also played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.
I am usually good at remembering people’s faces, Isaacs would seem to be the exception.
Playing a bluff Yorkshire man – all Yorkshire men seem to be bluff although I suppose Alan Bennett is one obvious exception – and ex-policeman turned private investigator Jackson Brodie, I kind of warmed to Isaacs’s character and interpretation.
At first, I thought the series was set in Yorkshire but it soon became apparent the location is Edinburgh. Watching Case Histories you would be forgiven for thinking that the Scots have all left Scotland’s capital. I think out of a dozen or so characters, only three spoke with a Scottish accent.
Google further revealed that Case Histories is based on the novel of the same name by Kate Atkinson, where the action is set in Cambridge. I guess the choice of Cambridge for a TV series was considered to be too similar a setting to Inspector Morse and the later Inspector Lewis TV series.
The plot of Case Histories has sufficient twists and turns to keep the mind engaged. The only downside was the salacious interludes, such as the woman who has sex with Brodie in order for him to take her case; another of his clients had the hots for him from the get-go and ended up in bed with him in the closing scene; and then the sister of the aforementioned client confesses to having fabricated a significant other and we get to see her beginning foreplay with a recently acquired lesbian partner. I guess the sex romps and lesbianism help with the viewing ratings but clearly any female nudity in these scenes is strictly frowned upon.
Women and gay male viewers get to see Isaacs topless and sporting his collection of macho tattoos but male viewers are denied similar views of Brodie’s sexual conquests. Whatever happened to equal opportunity?
A series of flashbacks underpinned the main plot, where a young Brodie witnesses his sister’s body being dragged from a river. We later saw Brodie lay some flowers at her grave. She was 16 when she died. Whether her death was the result of an accident, suicide or murder will no doubt be revealed as the series unfolds.
Brodie is also facing issues with his ex-wife who plans to deny him access to his daughter, Marlee, by taking up a temporary post in New Zealand. Marlee is played in a natural and realistic way by Millie Innes. Unlike child actors in American TV series, where one’s initial reaction is simply to throttle them and put an end to their obnoxiousness, Innes gives an endearing portrayal.
From last night’s episode, viewers gain the impression that Brodie left the police force under something of a cloud. He had achieved the rank of inspector and mention was made of his exposure of wrongdoing by police colleagues. No doubt this theme will be expanded upon in later episodes.
Case Histories is eminently watchable and gives me my Sunday night English drama fix. You have to live in a foreign country to realize just how comforting it is to hear one’s native language being spoken in familiar accents. And besides, I get to see glimpses of dear old Blighty, as well as the eccentricities of the English. Little things, such as someone spreading Marmite on their breakfast toast, mean an awful lot to me. I still do the same even living in America.