Monday, 25 January 2021

TV review: Death in Paradise, series 3 episode 3 (‘An Artistic Murder’), BBC (2014)

Lovely relaxing episode of one of my favourite shows! I adore most British murder mysteries and the light-hearted ‘Death in Paradise’ usually does the trick when I want to unwind. As I did yesterday following an afternoon spent listening to other people’s amplified music – I sympathised with Camille (Sara Martins, pictured below) when she had to put up with the bad driving of Humphrey (Kris Marshall) as I, too, felt a bit knocked around by the time evening quietly emerged and I could settle down in peace in my new home.

‘An Artistic Murder’ was, with its overly deterministic title, an episode where a lot of false leads result in a comforting degree of thinking outside the box. Humphrey as the local Saint Marie detective is especially adept at this, as when he takes some words spoken by Fidel (Gary Carr) – centred on the word “reflection” – and extrapolates from it to solve the crime. I’d seen this ep before but had only a faint inkling, before the final scene, of who the killer was. When everything became clear however the relevant thoughts came back to me. 

A bit problematic, from my point of view, is the fact that the painting at the heart of the drama is spectacularly bad. The fact that the murdered gigolo, Carlton Paris (Steven Cole), was using art to flatter and beguile his clients – all women, naturally – felt unpleasant in a patronising way, but I’m used to art being demeaned like this. Paris might’ve been prone to scrubbing up on his knowledge of antiques and oil paintings in order to seduce women into giving him money but he was also Fidel’s friend and the lover of Fidel’s old friend Lauren Campese (Vinette Robinson).

The theme of friendship abandoned snakes its way through this ep like the tune of an old song heard while walking at night in a hot city, the summer air caressing your arms as you move from doorway to corner, and from traffic light to kerb. Always on your tracks, dogged in pursuit, is the idea that regardless of what happens you’ll be, at the same time, true to your own nature and to the pact that you’ve made to be faithful to one whose wellbeing you value as much as your own. This is the risk and the burden of friendship, that it taxes us at the same time as it sustains.

Humphrey is aware of this dichotomy, just as, grasping a copy of an old island guidebook, he tricks Camille into thinking he’s an idiot when, in truth, he’s always just been awkward. At the end, when the two of them are sharing a companionable beer on the beach in front of Humphrey’s shack, she asks him about his internet dating. With a smile of forgiveness for his gauche attempt to resemble a normal person, Camille settles the score. 

And the sum of the show is as rare as sunshine, and as ubiquitous as the sea. The two elements forging a close bond in this ep, where a dreadful painting that features both not only forms the backdrop for a lonely American’s (Sharon Small) yearning for love, a judge’s search for authenticity as a woman, and a lover’s regrets – it also contains the clue. 

Humphrey dodges for cover like the show’s signature virtual green lizard when the commissioner (Don Warrington) comes down to the station to find out what’s happening with his enemy, the judge (Josette Simon), who gives the best performance of all when her eyes fill with water when being interviewed by the detectives. 

As usual, the filmmakers make a lot of mileage out of small points of characterisation and plotting. I was – again, as usual – impressed by the way the writers tied into the process of investigation so many secondary themes, such as love, desire, and solitude. It’s astonishing that a murder mystery can end up being so redolent with ancillary meaning as to almost resemble life itself. The crime is almost irrelevant, a hanger for clothes of astonishing beauty.

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