Great Britain seems to be one big murder mystery. Every Englishwoman and her grandfather are busy committing, solving or writing about homicide.
And Olivia Vinall’s life does nothing to dispute that.
She’s a serious actress, with Shakespearean credits and recent raves for her double role in “The Woman in White.” But now she’s a police detective in the breezy “Queens of Mystery” TV movies.
“There’s an incredible history with crime fiction within the UK,” Vinall said, citing Agatha Christie and the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle. “It kinda feels in the blood.”
And yes, her grandfather was a crimewriter. Bryan Flynn wrote 54 novels, with murders being solved by Anthony Lotherington Bathurst.
“Queens” emerged at a time whrn British producers savored the darkness of “The Bridge” and “The Killing,” said creator Julian Unthank. They wanted “sort of Scandi-noir type shows, (but) I really wanted to do something bright, more colorful.”
He also wanted to address the shortage of roles for older actresses. The result? “It’s the first time I’ve ever opened a script and it said, ‘… three women over the age of 50,’” said actress Julie Graham.
All three are mystery writers, in a town that has a castle, a mystery-book shop, author awards … and, of course, a murder. It happens just as their niece arrives as the new police detective.
That’s the role for Vinall, about 30, whose mobile life prepared her for such things.
As the daughter of a British diplomat, she lived in Washington, D.C., from ages 4-8. “There’s something about the idealism you have and seeing the institutions where they began,” she said.
She also lived in Belguim (one reason she likes Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective) and France and back home. “In England, we only had four (TV) channels …. There really is a love for the language and the power it has.”
And being theatrical helps when you’re the new kid at school. “You’re looking for a way to connect.”
She went on to the National Theatre, landing the female leads in both “Othello” and “King Lear.” Then came “The Woman in White” and a chance to play sisters, opposites who had never met.
“That had never been done that way,” with one actress playing both, she said. “I thought it was such a wonderful opportunity. The whole nature-vs.-nurture debate is so interesting.”
She got raves and could have gone directly to other heavy dramas. Instead, she was solving murders in a tiny town with a big castle. It’s a British custom and a family tradition.
— “Queens of Mystery,” www.acorn.tv. Three movies, debuting April 8, 15 and 22