After many years of reading Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Hitchcock, and the like, I had begun collecting any “good” film, radio, or television productions of Mysteries and Detective Stories that I could get my hands on. Mostly found in BBC productions, and released in America through PBS, you have Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (undeniably the truest Holmes ever), Joan Hickson as Miss Marple (again, the best manifestation of Marple), and David Suchet as Hercule Poirot (the embodiment of the little Belgy). There is even a very good American-made series of Ellery Queen starring Jim Hutton. Ellery Queen I enjoyed very much when growing up and they still keep my attention, even if mostly in a nostalgic way. There are many other series that are totally enjoyable but not in the same sense (or league) as what these actors brought to their fictional literary alter egos.
The only problem has been finding more of this type of work to devour. I have been absorbing these prior productions for decades and still enjoy them immensely, but I always look for more. And now another hidden gem has found its way into my video library. I stumbled upon a title during my never-ending Amazon searches. It seemed like it could be interesting so I took the chance and ordered the six DVD set of The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Complete Collection starring Ian Carmichael.
I honestly thought these were going to be some quaint, dated, badly remastered, cracked-leather-dry rehashing of typical murder mystery tales. They are not. I am amazed at the entire series. What luck! An entire new set of deep characters, intensely funny banter and wit, and wonderful and creative storytelling. The conversations fly quickly much like Blithe Spirit, but if you are used to British chatter, then you will be right at home here. But do pay attention, because some of the off-the-cuff remarks and comments are tiny treasures of hilarity and historic information not to be missed.
The series was filmed from 1972 through 1975 and share both a filmic quality in outdoor shots (akin to diversions in Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and an almost live or video feel during the indoor shots (think of Dark Shadows). The entire series runs almost like a soap opera of sorts. Every story is delivered in about three hours total, so they were aired as four and five-part feature-length mysteries.
Growing up, I never turned my attention to Dorothy L. Sayers’ work. I was too absorbed with reading every Agatha Christie story ever written. There were also Doyle, Poe, Lovecraft, and eventually Michael Moorcock. But that’s another article in itself. Just let it suffice to say there was no room in my head for Sayers. How unfortunate. I see how even Ruth Rendel may lose her slot on my Beloved Authors altar now. I would venture to say that Sayers’ character development equals, if not outshines Christie.
Without spoiling any of the stories or their outcomes, I will try and sell this series just a tad more to the lover of mystery stories, British drama, and dark humor. The entire series is set in 1920’s England and hovers mostly around the British Upper Class. Carmichael delivers an impeccable Lord Peter Wimsy (Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsy). His rapid-fire delivery is flawless and is often filled with colloquialisms and jargon that simply make you smile. He is middle-aged by the time he gets to play this role, but does it with vigor and a well-crafted weaving of etiquette and fun. His Batman, Bunter, played by Glyn Houston, is perfect as well. And as a pair, they are sort of a British Green Hornet and Kato in the making. Unfortunately, Houston vanished for two of the five stories in this series, but returned as Bunter for Five Red Herrings and The Nine Tailors. Bunter is an obvious character study for Stephen Fry’s Jeeves in the glorious Jeeve’s and Wooster series.
The stories are intricate and elevated. They require the viewer to pay the most attention to all of the conversations going on. It’s not just filler, but wonderful bits of banter and seething remarks. It is where you get all of the real clues to deal with. Every character has wonderful quirks and realistic dispositions – driving one mad with anticipation while trying to figure out “whodunnit.” Nothing is obvious, like American film-making and storytelling. The sets are divine. Filled with details that make the mansions, apartments, and stodgy men’s clubs very lived-in. Very real indeed.
I cannot say enough about this series. It is a gem for any mystery lover’s DVD collection. You can find lots of great information on Sayers at The Dorothy L. Sayers Society web site.