CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on TV: Sacre bleu! Who put ze cyanide in cheating hubby’s cheroot lighter?

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: Sacre bleu! Who put ze cyanide in cheating hubby’s cheroot lighter?

The Madame Blanc Mysteries


The Larkins


Murder on the Antiques Roadshow — it’s such an obvious idea. There’s all those priceless heirlooms in a country house setting and a cast of eccentric experts for the suspects.

Former Coronation Street star Sally Lindsay has seized that as the concept for her new series, The Madame Blanc Mysteries (C5), and cast herself as the sleuth.

In a perfect world it would be called Miss Fiona Bruce Investigates, but you can’t have everything. Anyway, the Roadshow hostess already has her own detective adventures, with Fake Or Fortune?.

Sally, who created and co-writes Madame Blanc, says she got the inspiration after meeting an antiques dealer named Jan, one of the buyers on Dickinson’s Real Deal, while holidaying in Majorca.

Sally Lindsay has cast herself as the sleuth in new series, The Madame Blanc Mysteries

Sally Lindsay has cast herself as the sleuth in new series, The Madame Blanc Mysteries

When C5 announced the series, it was billed as ‘gritty’. Any grit has been sieved out, because this mild and milky crime story could easily be an afternoon offering, with the central character renamed Madame Blancmange. That’s fine. We don’t watch antiques programmes for their noir nastiness, especially when they’re filmed in the sunny South of France.

Sally plays Jean White, whose husband Rory is bumped off during one of his regular buying trips to the French flea markets. She discovers he has left her bankrupt — and when she flies to France to learn more, realises he was leading a double life, with another woman.

We know it’s murder, because someone put cyanide gas in Rory’s cheroot lighter. There’s little subtlety about the acting or the dialogue. Each scene progresses slowly and stolidly, like an overweight gendarme on the beat, and the clues land with a thud.

I’m quite certain I’ve spotted the murderer, though I won’t spoil it by airing my suspicions — but one character stood out like a light bulb on a Louis XIV candelabra.

Eliminations of the weekend: 

What with heart problems, dodgy backs and cases of Covid, the stars in Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) have been dropping at an alarming rate. There might be no need for the judges — this year, the winner will be the last one standing. 

The sheer fun of the escapade more than makes up for that. Sally’s co-writer, Sue Vincent, plays a jolly mechanic, and Steve Edge is the lugubrious taxi driver who listens dubiously to every murder theory while ferrying Madame B around.

When his motor is in the garage, the duo pedal a tandem. It’s that sort of show. Extra comedy is supplied by Sue Holderness, as a ghastly snob up at the big chateau. Robin Askwith plays her husband, though you won’t recognise him if you remember him from the Confessions films in the 1970s.

He’s beautifully preserved, with flicked blond hair, but he keeps his trousers on here . . . and his bottom was always the famous feature on those cinema posters.

Robin and Sue could just as well have been the toffs up at Bluff Court in The Larkins (ITV). Pop Larkin (Bradley Walsh) was trying to persuade Lady Rose and Sir George (Georgie Glen and Nicholas Le Prevost) to sell them their stately pile for a song, so he could pull it down.

Meanwhile, Pop’s children were plotting to win the village pram race, part of the fete festivities that seem to be staged every weekend in this bucolic corner of 1950s Kent. I want to love The Larkins, not least because of the splendid cast. Joanna Scanlan is warm and loudly affectionate as Ma, and Peter Davison is enjoying every minute as the beer-sodden, chain-smoking vicar with a rude word for everyone.

The trouble is, though it rattles along at pace, it keeps veering off the path, like a wonky pram.

Some of the dialogue is especially suspect. ‘Nice bod,’ declared 30-year-old teenager Mariette (Sabrina Bartlett), as tax inspector Charley (Tok Stephen) stripped off in the woods.

Bradley threw in a ‘perfick’ but none of it feels quite real — not nostalgia, just pastiche.


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