DVD Review: Queens of Mystery, Series 1
By Chris Chan
Queens of Mystery is an amiable crime show, with a promising premise that starts solidly and could blossom into something brilliant in future seasons given the proper writing. The show centers around the investigations of the Stone family. Matilda Stone (Olivia Vinall) is a young police detective just starting a job in her hometown. Matilda’s mother vanished when she was very young, and she was raised by her three aunts, Beth (Sarah Woodward), Cat (Julie Graham) and Jane (Siobhan Redmond). All of the aunts are successful crime writers. Beth writes traditional whodunits with a member of the clergy as the detective, Cat writes and draws graphic novels, and Jane blends the crime and sci-fi mysteries into a futuristic setting with an android sleuth.
Series 1 consists of three two-part episodes, each with a different aunt at the center of the plot. In Murder in the Dark, an unpleasant writer wins an award few people think he deserves at a book fair, and Beth is the prime suspect and won’t defend herself. Death by Vinyl sees Cat reuniting with the members of her rock band and finally investigating the death of her former lover. Smoke and Mirrors deals with the turbulent stage adaptation of one of Jane’s novels.
While Queens of Mystery is very much its own show, I detect a distinct influence (maybe a loving homage) to the much-missed series Pushing Daisies, with perhaps a touch of A Series of Unfortunate Events as well. The narration, the use of pop-up art, the stress on parentage and family secrets, the relationship between niece and aunts, the references to untold stories from the past, and the use of wry dark comedy all bring back fond memories of Pushing Daisies.
Woodward, Graham, and Redmond are terrific as the aunts, all of whom are kind, intelligent, and just a little odd (but in the best way possible), though each is so in dramatically different ways from the others. Their sisterhood is at the heart of the show, as is their well-intentioned conspiracy to hide some secrets about their vanished sibling from their niece. It’s clear that there are dark secrets that the aunts think Matilda is happier not knowing, but it’s also obvious that there is at least one person busily unearthing long-buried secrets from the past, though the motives for these revelations, and the identity of the person behind these exposures, remain obscure at the end of the first series.
The show is genuinely charming, guided in part by the darkly whimsical tone that permeates each narrative. This is helped immeasurably by Juliet Stevenson’s Emmy-nominated narration, which helps create an atmosphere of a twisted fairy tale, coupled with wryness that is somehow blended with heart. Another performance that elevates the show is Martin Trenaman as Matilda’s dour superior officer Derek Thorne. At first glance, Thorne is a stock character, an abrasive company man who resents the possibility of amateur sleuths interfering with the investigation. In his first scene, just as we think we know this character from all the times we’ve seen his ilk before, Trenaman absolutely nails a ten-second moment that magically turns him from a human bramble bush into a sad yet sympathetic character. With a handful of similar short moments throughout the show, Trenaman develops Thorne into a potential romantic lead who the audience can root for to find happiness with the woman he can’t bring himself to tell his true feelings.
A second season of Queens of Mystery has yet to be announced as of this writing, but I hope that the show comes back to explore the series’ expanding fictional universe and resolve some of the numerous open plotlines.
Right now, Queens of Mystery is a good series that has three pathways open to it. It could continue plugging forward as a solid series, it could decline, or with a generous serving of inventiveness and intense focus on characterization it could achieve greatness. There are several ways that a series can rise above “just okayness.” It can come up with incredibly unique plots and solutions (very difficult), it can provide great characterizations and dialogue (definitely a possibility for Queens of Mystery), or it can create a fictional world that is unlike anything else on television (I really hope that the show can develop its hints of an epic backstory into some brilliant and unpredictable). Turning away from looking at the future and focusing on the present, what we currently have is a fun series with a great deal of promise.
Queens of Mystery, Series 1