Sylvia Fox didn’t really want to go to small-town Italy for her niece’s wedding.
She had plenty of things to do in London. Working for the MI-6 unit, she handled informants worldwide; also, she had an ex-husband with benefits.
But after fuming at her bosses, she departed for the wedding. She would soon prove to be one of the greatest aunts in fictional history.
That’s the start of “Signora Volpe” (shown here), an exceptionally good mystery series. The first season – three movie-length tales – streams over three Mondays (starting May 2) on www.acorn.tv.
The British keep concocting new crime shows, many of which end up on Acorn or Britbox or PBS. Even in this crowded field, “Volpe” stands out. The stories – by relative newcomers Rachel Cuperman and Sally Griffiths – are smart, the settings are gorgous and the central character is first-rate.
Emilia Fox, 47, is imbedded in British drama. Her father (Edward) and uncle (the late James Fox) have filled classic British roles, as leading men and stuffy officials. Her brother and cousins are actors; one cousin, Laurence Fox, spent nine seasons as Detective Sergeant Hathaway on another mystery series, “Inspector Lewis.” For a time, Richard Harris was Emilia’s father-in-law and Billie Piper was her sister-in-law.
Her own career has ranged from classics (“The Pianist,” the “Pride and Prejudice” mini-series) to 17 seasons on “Silent Witness.” Now she has her own show.
Other notable people appear occasionally, including Jamie Bamber (Apollo in “Battlestar Galactica”) as Sylvia’s ex-husband and Tara Fitzgerald (Selyse in “Game of Thrones”) as her sister. But mostly, this is all Fox – the actress Emilia, the character Sylvia, even the title. (“Volpe” is Italian for Fox.)
Sylvia is quiet and observant – good qualities, we’d guess, in a spy — but also has professional skills. In the third film, we see that she’s a good fighter; in the first, we see that she’s a great driver.
We could gripe that the show stretches believability. Things fall into place conveniently; characters need little prodding to break into long stories about their backgrounds. And then there are the clothes: Fox keeps showing up in new, stylish outfits. She must have packed a bottomless suitcase; we really doubt that the shops in this Italian village have that many choices that are perfect for skinny, 5-foot-6 blondes.
Then again, her sleek look seems to fit the show’s splendid visuals. “Signora Volpe” is smarter than most other mysteries and prettier than any of them.