Monday, November 14, 2011

Immersed in Dalgliesh

The Norfolk Coast of England, setting for P.D. James' Devices and Desires.

Here's what I've been up to lately: enjoying the fruits of my Netflix subscription. I've been watching episodes of P.D. James Adam Dalgiesh series shown by PBS in the 80's and 90's.

I did read several of the books way back when but haven't read any lately. I am not the biggest fan for multiple points of view and have been known to chuck a series in which murder is the least of what's going on.  Not that James isn't a good writer because she is, it's just that her way of telling a story sometimes wears me out. (Though I have high hopes for her latest book - a murder in the world of Jane Austen.)

Anyway, I like Roy Marsden and his portrayal of Dalgliesh is the big draw for me so I did watch most of the series the first time around, at least the early episodes.

The later episodes were unwatchable as far as I was concerned because of Marsden's ridiculously obvious hair piece. When the series went on hiatus and then returned in the mid-90's, Marsden showed up with this hilarious hair piece that ruined everything. I couldn't help gawking and, let's face it, laughing. I kept thinking he must be in disguise. Any moment now he's going to rip that thing off and declare himself. But no. They weren't kidding. It wasn't some sort of macabre joke!

Adam Dalgliesh would NEVER have worn such a rug. He was a poet for goodness' sake!

I know he wore a bit of a toupee in the earlier shows, but that was unobtrusive and I didn't mind it. But the later pompadour (I exaggerate, but honestly...!) ruined everything.

So there went the those episodes. I simply couldn't watch.

But I thought the early ones deserved a second look and that's what I've been up to.

I began with SHROUD FOR A NIGHTINGALE, Season One - 5 episodes - about murders at a nursing school/hospital. DEATH OF AN EXPERT WITNESS, Season One - 6 episodes - about murders at a government evidence lab and DEVICES AND DESIRES, Season One - 6 episodes - about a serial killer called 'The Whistler' on the Norfolk coast of England. THE BLACK TOWER, Season One, 6 episodes - about murder and nasty doings at The Grange, a cliff top retreat/nursing home in Dorset.

But as in most of James, the murders often take a back seat to the various characters' conflicted private lives. No one in these stories seems to like anyone else, even lovers have antipathy for each other, so it's all kind of depressing. Who can we root for? Outside of Marsden, no one. Any good people inadvertently wandering into the story are usually done away with. It's just constant rancor and Sturm und drang, if you know what I mean.

In the world P.D. James has created, the motives for murder can be so convoluted that by the time the killer is caught or killed, you've forgotten what it was they had against the world to begin with. Unpleasant people, doing unpleasant things, that's it in a nutshell. Reminds me why I stopped reading James' books.

But I do like Marsden and the English scenery shot on video, so I persevere.

And another thing:  While scenery is gorgeous on video, most people who are not gorgeous do not take well to video's clinging eye - an eye that shows off all imperfections.

On the whole, these shows are filled with actors who are decidedly NOT beautiful - for verisimilitude, I expect. But, here's the thing, sometimes you have to wonder why they're all sleeping with each other. I mean, unpleasant and unattractive - what's the draw? Propinquity?

There are forms of ugly that are attractive or even sexy, but that's not the case in these instances. It is very difficult to imagine any of these people capable of developing grand passions. I mean, ugh, it's all so sordid.

So why am I bothering to talk about these shows? Well, because despite the short-comings, they are kind of interesting takes on life in the 80's and early 90's. The episodes are shot on locations which are often beautiful and reeking with atmosphere AND the oddly attractive Roy Marsden is a very tall man usually navigating through ancient doorways with low lintels and rooms with low ceilings. I get a kick out of watching him. He can be quite elegant. Plus I like his quiet self-confidence, his innate sense of superiority, after all, he is a Chief Superintendent.

Silly enough notions, I know. But I suppose I am strangely fascinated.

Note:I haven't, as yet, watched any of the Martin Shaw episodes of the Adam Dalgliesh books. But I might.


  1. Hello Yvette:
    This review has really made us laugh and, we have to say, think about these books and films in ways very different from how we saw them the first time around.

    We certainly accept your view of the convoluted plots and the unlikeable characters that James always seems to employ. However, we do like Roy Marsden and a 'Shroud for a Nightingale' we found eminently watchable. However, Dalgleish as a character rather than an actor is more finely drawn but the films do convey English scenes with reliable accuracy. Great cinema, no. Romping yarns, quite. But then, James is nothing if not prolific!!!

  2. I like Marsden as Dalgliesh, too. Shaw is interesting but not at all how I picture Dalgliesh. If you want to watch one of the Shaw versions I'd say go for THE MURDER ROOM. Of the two in which he plays Dalgliesh that is the better one, IMO.

  3. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the post, Jane and Lance. 'Romping yarns' - yes.

    It's always nice to get a different view. :)

    I also meant to add that I LOVE the opening credits music. Just gorgeous.

  4. I'm a bigger fan of these then you are I suspect Yvette - I particularly like DEATH OF AN EXPERT WITNESS, which was the first serial. The characters are certainly relentlessly dour and depressing, but that is my recollection of the books too - though I really like the way the depict couple who live out on the woods (with a very young Brenda Blethyn). I'm also a big fan of A TASTE FOR DEATH in print and on TV, thought hat one is incredibly depressing now that I think about it - of welll ...

    The badger-like hairpiece in the later years, when it went from video to film, is definitely a mistake - Marsden always wore a toupee as you say and his best one is probably in DEVICE AND DESIRES.

    If you really want to see Marsden at the top of his form,, then you should watch him in THE SANDBAGGERS if you can, a really complex and cynical spy show from the late 70s that can really take your breath away some times. You have to watch it from season 1 though to get the most out of it.

  5. There are some lovely coastal views in Norfolk. I found the PD James I read, invigorating to start with, but became too much of a challenge later on. Maybe it was just me.

  6. Sergio: Possibly you are more indulgent than I am. :)

    Yeah, I can't believe that hairpiece. It totally ruined those episodes for me. Shallow, I know.

    I will take a look at The Sandbaggers, if I can find it.

    Brenda Blethyn did a lot of crying in that episode. Very grim. And Dalgliesh kept looking at her as if she were an exhibit at the zoo or something.

  7. Dave: Nah, it wasn't just you. :)

  8. I've been a PDJ fan for years & I remember vaguely enjoying the TV series but they haven't stuck in my mind. I enjoyed the more recent Martin Shaw series as well. Are you planning to read her new book, set in Jane Austen's Pemberley? It's sitting on the desk right now but I haven't been brave enough to start it. I'm not a fan of Austen sequels, prequels etc. However, if I'm going to read one it will probably be this.

  9. Lyn: I'm definitely planning on reading the new book. I hadn't realized it was in stores already. So many books out at this time of year, you have to move quickly. :)

    I've read a couple of Austen pastiches that I've enjoyed, but on the whole, I stay away. But I'm with you, I'll be reading this one.

  10. These were wonderful. If netflix wasn't so pricey now I would resubscribe.

  11. Well, Patti, you can get just the streaming for, I think, 8 or 9 bucks a month.

    I've kept my subscription because I don't take cable anymore and Netlix is still cheaper.

    That's how I rationalize it, anyway.


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