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Sunday, October 2, 2011


When Don Knotts finds a dead body in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, someone tells his excitable "Luther Heggs" character to calm down.  "Calm?" Luther blurts.  "Do 'murder' and 'calm' go together?  'Calm' and 'murder'?"  Well, if you replace "calm" with "gardening", you'll get a pretty good idea of my initial reaction to Acorn Media's ROSEMARY & THYME: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION.  But after watching a few episodes, I was surprised to find that, in a strangely entertaining way, murder and gardening really do go together.

Rosemary Boxer (British TV mainstay Felicity Kendall) is a plant pathologist whose entire university department has just gotten the sack, and Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) is a housewife recently traded in for a younger model by her longtime husband Nick.  They meet during a gardening-related murder case, which they help solve thanks to Rosemary's scientific skills and Thyme's experience as an ex-policewomen, and start their own gardening business.  Naturally, in the tradition of these rural English mystery series, murder follows them everywhere they go.

It all sounds rather improbable but the show's writers are well aware of this and have quite a bit of fun with it.  In fact, the two plant enthusiasts barely get the chance to have a go at their latest gardening assignment before a dead body pops up among the flora.  Each new situation gives them an opportunity to snoop around a different bunch of shady eccentrics and get involved in their scandalous affairs, ultimately using their natural detective skills to solve whatever deadly crimes of passion occur along the way.  Fortunately, the answers to these puzzles are often botanical in nature, and with Laura's son Matthew (Ryan Philpott) still on the police force, they can also avail themselves of his reluctant assistance.

Kendall, whom I recall from the 70s Britcom "The Good Neighbors", is a petite bundle of energy with an impish sense of humor as Rosemary.  Ferris' Laura Thyme, somewhat frumpier in appearance but a reliable and goodnatured friend, gives the show its more poignant moments as she struggles through the heartache of her failed marriage with Rosemary's cheerful support.  Wisely, however, the stories never dwell on such things for long and a light tone dominates each episode as the gals throw themselves into each new murder investigation with the exuberance of a couple of overgrown Nancy Drews. 

Unlike many British shows in this vein, ROSEMARY & THYME is fast-paced (each episode is under an hour in length, lean and free of unnecessary padding) and often ends with a tongue-in-cheek action sequence such as a car chase involving Rosemary's ancient Land Rover or the comically melodramatic revelation of the latest murderer.  Despite the humor, however, the stories are grounded in reality, with our heroines often finding themselves in genuinely perilous situations that generate a good deal of suspense. 

The finale of "Up the Garden Path", a tale of a village gardening competition turned deadly, finds the ladies at the business end of a poison-filled blowgun.  "A Simple Plot", in which they investigate the seemingly accidental death of an old friend, ends with a classic serial cliffhanger as Rosemary is trapped at the bottom of a shaft beneath a descending elevator.  "Swords into Ploughshares" begins with a shocked Laura receiving the news of Rosemary's murder.  In other episodes, arrows, harpoons, and other arcane weaponry are wielded to lethal effect.

Gardening fans, of course, will have a field day admiring some of the most colorful spots in England along with a wide array of beautiful settings (the show is shot entirely on location) including various estates, cathedrals, monasteries, etc. and their celebrated gardens. "They Understand Me in Paris" finds the gals weeding their way along the French Riviera, while scenic Italy is the backdrop for "The Italian Rapscallion."  "Agua Cadaver" takes them to Malaga, Spain, where their horticultural pursuits are interrupted by murder and suicide. 

The show's production values are consistently good, as is the guest cast for each episode.  I was particularly impressed by how the writers kept coming up with imaginative ideas for what would seem to be a very limited premise, and how they kept the main characters both funny and three-dimensional without ever lapsing into either oversentimentality or farce.  Another major asset of the show is its autumnal, melancholy musical score, including a haunting main theme (with the expected nod to "Scarborough Fair") featuring virtuoso guitarist John Williams. 

The boxed DVD set from Acorn Media contains the complete 22 episodes on 7 discs in three keepcases, all in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of an 8-minute interview with the two stars, text-based production and location notes, and photo galleries.

For a series that I feared would be about a couple of nosy old busybodies puttering around in the soil, ROSEMARY & THYME: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION turned out to be a delightful and invigorating, not to mention fun, experience.  In other words (and I apologize in advance for the following pun)--it really grew on me.

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Melissa said...

Great review! I have enjoyed this show over and over again for years now. When the show was currently airing they had a lovely website and gave detailed information on filming locations. Would love to see a list of episodes with actual film locations. I might just do the research!

Thank you for this lively and fun review!

porfle said...

Thank you--I'm glad you enjoyed the review! I had a great time watching this series. I'd watch it again but I gave the DVD set to my sister for Christmas.

Melissa said...

Oh, but you can watch on youtube. Here's the link for the first one. The gal who posted this, also has all three seasons. Enjoy!!

p.s. Acorn Media has a channel on youtube you can subscribe to for $4.99 a month. They put on all these great British programming favorites. I've enjoyed it immensely as it's a nice way to see some favorites, as well as discover new ones.