There are better written crime shows, and definitely grittier crime shows, but there’s no crime show more fun than Midsomer Murders. It returned for its twentieth series with ‘The Ghosts of Causton Abbey’, a serviceable instalment which works perfectly in highlighting both the good (guest stars, the interplay between the main cast) and the bad (a fairly weak plot). It’s most definitely enjoyable, but it doesn’t really surpass okay.
We kick off in 1539, and a suspected poisoner suffers a grisly death – he is boiled alive but, before he dies, he places a curse on Causton Abbey. Skip ahead to the present day, and Causton Abbey is now a brewery, looking to launch its new product. However, the day after the launch, a body is found boiled alive in one of the vats – writer Adam Osaba (Justin Pierre) has a lot of connections to many at the brewery and in the surrounding village, but which of them killed him? DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and DS Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix) investigate the murder, and establish whether the death was down to a supernatural curse, or something all too human…
Although Midsomer Murders is frequently derided for the flimsiness of its plots, you can always trust it to deliver on a star-studded ensemble cast
Although Midsomer Murders is frequently derided for the flimsiness of its plots, you can always trust it to deliver on a star-studded ensemble cast, and ‘The Ghosts of Causton Abbey’ is no exception. Michael Byrne is having great fun as Keith Grundy, an old-fashioned crook from yesteryear who delights in his roguish persona, and the story does light up whenever he’s onscreen. Elaine Page also makes a rare TV appearance as Sylvia Reynolds, playing very close to type as a fading stage actress struggling with obscurity – it’s just a shame, really, that her storyline is a bit of a tangent that doesn’t connect to anything.
A major addition to the cast is our new pathologist, Fleur Perkins, who is played by Annette Badland. She makes an immediate impression, cracking deadpan jokes and clashing with Barnaby in a way that previous pathologists haven’t. I like her, and she’s certainly a step up from Manjinder Virk’s Kam Karimore, whose acting felt like a school play with lines she didn’t understand. It’s a strong opening episode for Badland, and I look forward to seeing how she develops and fits into the cast.
‘The Ghosts of Causton Abbey’ is a fairly average Midsomer Murders episode, with an enjoyable cast carrying the episode more than a somewhat scattershot story
Having sung the praises of the cast, I guess we must return to the plot of ‘The Ghosts of Causton Abbey’ and, although it’s far from the most ludicrous Midsomer I’ve ever seen, it’s a bit of a dull starter. The central storyline concerns a fraudulent cheap beer scam – it’s not particularly interesting, and it really peters out into nothingness. And that’s true of a lot of the episode’s tangents – we’re introduced early on to Kwame Asante (Chu Omambala), who it transpires was in a gay relationship with the victim (Winter catches him in a chase scene that seems incredibly slow, with Asante essentially lightly jogging). When we learn that, the storyline is then essentially dropped – if the character reappears, I don’t remember it.
The murder storyline isn’t much better. One of the main clues that forms the pivot of Barnaby’s conclusion is thrown out in passing at the start of the episode and, when he mentioned it at the end, I had no idea what he was talking about. Similarly, a big part of the conclusion relies on Barnaby breaking an alibi – an alibi which, again, I didn’t know had even been presented. It really tries to come together after a second murder (and, kudos to director Matt Carter, this scene is wonderfully shot, juxtaposing the murder with Barnaby reading the story of Little Red Riding Hood to his daughter), but the groundwork isn’t really there for an entirely satisfying conclusion (it is a very bittersweet end scene, however, which may leave you with a few tears).
‘The Ghosts of Causton Abbey’ is a fairly average Midsomer Murders episode, with an enjoyable cast carrying the episode more than a somewhat scattershot story. If you’re a fan of the show, there are definitely far worse episodes, but I’m hoping that later episodes will be a bit more focused.