Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: detective drama

Availability:  Acorn –  French subtitled

Plot: Created by Clothilde Jamin and Clélia Constantine, this French series was broadcast in Belgium and France in 2018. It was a big hit for the British streaming service Acorn, and they have announced a second series to come. The first episode starts with  Raphaël Balthazar in his apartment eating breakfast, and chatting to his wife, Lise. He is stripped to the waist (this happens often in the series for reasons you will discover). Soon though, we realise that Lise is dead, murdered a number of years before. Her death continues to haunt Balthazar, who works as a forensic pathologist assisting the police in solving crimes. It is a standalone episodic series, each crime solved within an episode. But the death of Lise is an ongoing thread running through the series, increasingly involving Balthazar in dangerous and questionable practices. In the first episode we are introduced to Inspector Jérôme Delgado, who has worked with Balthazar for some time, and to Chief Inspector Hélène Bach who is new to the division. It’s clear from the start that the Chief Inspector finds Balthazar arrogant and egotistical. She has little time for his continuing demands for praise as he makes the discoveries that turn out to be critical to the solving of the case. But as Delgado explains to his boss, Balthazar is a brilliant professor, but he’s also a pain in the neck. He is certainly obnoxious, but in a triumph of scriptwriting, we find him really likeable. Central to the success of the series is the wonderful chemistry between Balthazar and Bach that carries the drama along.

Filming and setting: There is a lot of action in this series as the police and forensic pathology teams come together to solve crimes. Important to know is that a good deal of time is spent in the coroner’s laboratory where Balthazar dissects the corpses. When he is on his own in the morgue, he talks to the dead in the same way he talks to his wife at home, and they talk back. These imagined conversations help him solve the crimes. In any event, the autopsy scenes are not for the squeamish. I kept my eyes closed throughout the most graphic parts, and it wasn’t too bad. 

Cast: Tomer Sisley is absolutely outstanding as Balthazar. He carries the role with aplomb – he is funny, inappropriate, haunted, passionate and full of egotistical self-importance. Hélène de Fougerolles plays  Bach equally well and is a great counter to Balthazar. She is smart, serious, and also has her own family issues to deal with bringing additional depth to the series. The rest of the excellent cast support the action in their own ways. Côme Levin as Eddy and Philypa Phoenix as Fatim, Balthazar’s intrepid assistants, bring much humour to the series as they compete against each other for ascendency in the lab. 

Personal Comments: This is a really excellent series, and I was disappointed to realise that series 2 will not be available until sometime later this year. Unlike the really dark detective programmes that are increasingly serialised, Balthazar has an enjoyable light-heartedness about it – similar to the wonderful Belgian series Professor T (if you haven’t seen that one, you have a treat in store). Balthazar is a five-star series that is worth signing up for Acorn’s free trial to watch.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Comedy

Availability: Netflix, Acorn

Plot: The British miniseries detectorists was first conceived by the comedian Mackenzie Crook who then wrote, directed and starred in what became an award-winning series. First broadcast in 2014, its difficult to provide a synopsis of this lovely programme, where nothing much happens, and we get to know unremarkable people going about their unremarkable lives. But it doesn’t take many episodes for us to discern deep currents in a screenplay that deftly lifts the ordinary to the extraordinary. Andy and Lance are friends who share a common interest in metal detecting. They go together regularly, sweeping the pastoral landscapes with their metal detectors in the hope of finding Saxon treasure that they are convinced is lying beneath the green fields of Essex. But this is more than a series about men and their hobbies. It is about the ways in which people struggle through life, their vulnerabilities and strengths, their joys and disappointments. And it’s very funny.

Filming and setting: Although the series is set in the fictional town of Danebury Essex, much of the filming takes place in Suffolk. The photography, in its long-shots and close-ups, captures the serenity and beauty of the English countryside. There are long, lingering shots of the most beautiful insects, meadow flowers, and hazy sun drenched evenings as Lance and Andy sweep for gold. The rest of the action happens in the village as the series makes great use of local facilities – a scout club in Framlingham becomes the headquarters of the Danebury Metal Detectors Club, Framlingham College doubles as the local University, and various community inns give us the feel of British pub life. Danebury is the quintessential English town.

Cast:  It turns out that the casting in the Detectorists is something of a family affair as Crook brings together a reunion of friends and family – Becky (Rachel Stirling), Andy’s partner in the series, is actually Lance’s wife in real life. And Becky’s mum is played by the late Diana Rigg, Rachel’s real mother. It’s all a bit odd, but makes perfect sense in a series where relationships are central and where close friendships lay the foundation for the best comedy. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones play Andy and Lance brilliantly. They are sometimes hapless, often exasperating, but always endearing.  And the rest of the cast is outstanding too. Of particular note, Gerard Horan plays the wonderful Terry, President of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club. Sophie Thompson, Terry’s delightful and eccentric wife Sheila is fabulous, and   David Sterne is terrific as Larry Bishop, the mad farmer upon whose land Andy and Lance detect.  The beautiful theme tune of the series by Johnny Flynn is a character all of its own. Multilayered with a haunting refrain, we get to know the first verse in series 1 and, joyfully, we hear the second verse in series 2. Then if you have any doubt that this is a love song, a grieving lament, as well as a celebration of metal detecting, just have a listen (

Personal Comments:  You might wonder why a series about a couple of blokes who spend their time searching for treasure with their metal detectors has caused such a sensation. The answer rests in the simple perfection of the series. The pace won’t suit everyone. But the series is full of melancholy, beautifully crafted, funny, and believable. It playfully captures the art of the almost – Andy and Lance believe there is treasure there and as the series evolves they almost find it. Through aerial shots the film makers cleverly show us just how close they are to finding it. It doesn’t surprise me that after the series was launched there was a 35% increase in the sale of metal detectors in the UK. Watch this one. And if you have already seen it, give yourself a treat and watch it again. 

The Dig

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Period drama

Availability: Netflix, local cinemas

Plot: It’s 1939 and Britain is on the verge of war. Edith Pretty has a impressive manor house in Suffolk and upon her land there are large mounds that she is keen to excavate. Interested in archeology, she thinks it may be a Viking burial ground, and so hires a well-respected but amateur excavator, Basil Brown. The film is based on the Sutton Hoo find, the most important archeological excavation in British history. The film takes us through the dig, exploring the impact it has on all those involved, and illustrating the tensions and rivalries within archeological circles that both unsettle and challenge ideas about who owns a dig.

Cast:  Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes are both outstanding as the film’s two main characters, Edith and Basil. United by a common purpose, the characters carry the action throughout the first half of the film. Hinting at an attraction between Edith and Basil that was non-existent in real life, the second half of the film switches toward other characters for a romantic interest, in particular, the young archeologist Peggy Piggott, played by Lilly James, and Rory Lomax the dig’s (fictional) photographer, played by Johnny Flynn. Both are excellent in the film, as is Ken Stott, the pompous British Museum archeologist who ultimately takes over the dig, and Monica Dolan as May, Basil’s wife. Interestingly, Johnny Flynn wrote the hauntingly beautiful theme song for the successful series, the Detectorists that also explores the joys and disappointments inherent in the search for ancient relics.

Filming and setting: Simon Stone directed The Dig based on John Preston’s well-received fictionalised account of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo. Moria Buffini wrote the screenplay and Mike Eley’s cinematography captures perfectly the muted palette of the beautiful English countryside. The film-makers recreated the Sutton Hoo site in Surrey, making use of farmland so they could create the burial grounds which they would then excavate. Great effort goes into making the scenes authentic.  

Personal Comments: This is a beautifully produced film that captures well the significance and fascination of the Sutton Hoo find. More broadly, the film gently unearths the physical, and emotional, elements relating to death, loss, and human connections over time. But despite many brilliant scenes, the film loses impact in the second half when Edith and Basil retreat into the background of the story. Perhaps the lack of any romantic potential between the lead characters proved too much of a challenge for the filmmakers. There is a sense in which the romantic liaison between Peggy and Rory feels like a tag-on too late in the piece. Even though the actors do well, there is a missed opportunity for the film to continue its focus on the extraordinary archeological discovery and the fascinating people who actually took part in it.

Enola Holmes

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Detective mystery

Availability: Netflix

Plot: In 1884 Enola Holmes, sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, is sixteen years old. We learn from the charming cartoon at the beginning of the film that her father died when she was young. Her two older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, left home to make their own way in life, leaving Enola to be raised alone by her unorthodox mother. Encouraged to be splendidly independent, Enola’s education was equally unorthodox. But then, on Enola’s sixteenth birthday, her mother disappears and she is left completely alone – until her brothers arrive. Then Enola’s life takes a sudden turn to the orthodox when Mycroft decides to send his ward to finishing school in the hope of taming her wild spirit. Sherlock, while sympathetic, is no help at all and Enola realises she must take control of her fate – she runs off to London to find her mother. We then follow her adventures as she uses martial arts and her detective skills to negotiate complex and sometimes dangerous situations. Sherlock pursues her, but is always one step behind. Enola’s journey is set against a backdrop of political change and in particular the hotly debated Reform Bill which is purposefully linked with the suffragette movement in the film, although women’s enfranchisement actually occurred much later in England. But nobody seems to mind the occasional lack of detail as the action romps delightfully along. 

Cast: Milly Bobby Brown absolutely radiates fun as Enola. She has a strong presence, and her asides that are made directly to the audience adds much humour to the film. At one stage when she falls off her bike in the mud, she looks directly into the camera and announces that ‘cycling is not one of my core strengths’. It’s a joy to watch. Helena Bonham Carter gives an exceptional performance as Enola’s mum – no politically-correct parenting here. It’s clear that she fully intends to prepare her daughter for any predicament, and so she home-schools her in science, the arts, tennis, archery, jujitsu – whatever is necessary for her to be successful in the world. Sam Claflin as Mycroft and Henry Cavill as Sherlock, are wonderful as Enola’s brothers – Cavill in particular brings a new look to the famous detective. Louis Partridge is terrific as Enola’s young love interest the Viscount Lord Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether.

Filming and setting: Harry Bradbeer does a fabulous job adapting Nancy Springer’s book to film, and Jack Thorne has written a clever screenplay. The scenery is terrific, and if you like trains you will enjoy the early scenes as Enola and the Viscount flee from danger. The costumes are fabulous, and the houses are resplendent in Arts and Crafts colours and designs. Care has been taken to create visual authenticity as we are treated to tours of the British countryside, and the spectacular and seedy sides of London.

Personal Comments:  This is a joyful and exuberant film. At just over two hours, it’s a little long, but everyone is having such great fun I can see how hard it must have been to cut things out. I expect Netflix will be testing the waters to see if there is an audience for an ongoing series. On the basis of this film, I think that’s highly likely.