English villages, we’ve learned on TV, are pleasant places designed for murder mysteries.
They have quaint buildings and quiet people, stone walls and stoic constables. So imagine the fictional village of Carsley, when the very-fictional Agatha Raisin swooped in.
“It was quite a sleepy village before she came in,” said Matt McCooey, who plays local cop Bill Wong in the “Agatha Raisin” tales. “And then this whirl of color and energy and beauty.”
That’s Agatha, played by Ashley Jensen (shown here with McCooey). “The color palette is just so glorious and such fun to pick out when we go to costume fittings,” Jensen said.
She and McCooey were talking last month to the Television Critics Association, about the new films on the Acorn screening service. And in a very un-Agatha approach, she was wearing subtle colors.
“I tend not to wear clothes quite as loud as that,” Jensen said. “Although, having said that, my (red) shoes are a bit of a party today.”
Everything about Agatha is a party. She moved from London, hoping for a new life … and soon was a murder suspect. She solved the murder, then some more and then opened a detective agency.
Wong – hampered by an incompetent boss – keeps asking her to step aside. She refuses.
“You would think that Bill would get better with his job,” McCooey said, “having about 20 murders in the village recently. But he always finds himself second to Agatha.”
It’s around 20, because there are sometimes multiple murders in an episode. At first, there were nine hourlong (45 minutes without commercials) episodes. When the show wasn’t renewed, Acorn – which has the U.S. rights – commissioned 90-minute movies. There were three last winter, one that aired at Halloween and now three this year.
Each is based on a novel by M.C. Beaton, who died Dec. 30 at 83, leaving lots of material. She wrote 39 Agatha Raisin books (plus three short stories) and many others; her Hamish Macbeth novels were previous turned into 20 TV mysteries.
“We do have to change them quite significantly,” producer Barry Ryan said. “Agatha is quite a loner in the books and that doesn’t make (good) telly. So we needed … our kind of Scooby Doo ensemble.”
Agatha was courted by Sir Charles and James. She settled on the latter, but uses both (plus others) to solve cases. “I think Agatha always thought she was rather good at” detective work, Jensen said, “but just no one else did …. People have begun to realize that she does have a talent.”
For Jensen, 51, a talent for comedy has flourished at mid-life. She received an Emmy nomination in Ricky Gervais’ “Extras,” co-starred in “Ugly Betty” and became Agatha. “I get quite excited by physical comedy … like Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball and Laurel and Hardy,” she said.
Agatha falls, flops and flails. In one scene, however, she’s trapped in a steam machine, using only her face to react. “I’ve got quite an expressive face, I think, and I’ve had no work done, so it moves.”
– “Agatha Raisin” at www.acorn.tv, a streaming service focusing on shows from the United Kingdom. Australia, New Zealand and sometimes Canada
– New movie-length “Agatha” stories available Feb. 10, 17 and 24
– Acorn also has the four previous movies and nine 45-minute episodes