While it isn’t a first, there aren’t too many dramas that can survive the loss of their leading star and forge a new path.
But thanks to Nadine Garner and producer George Adams that’s just what The Blake Mysteries is undertaking following the unfortunate absence of Craig McLachlan. Housekeeper Jean, who was always wise counsel to Doctor Lucien Blake, married her employer in the final episode on ABC. As fate would have it, it was just in the nick of time….
Now in its new home on Seven, The Blake Mysteries is a telemovie (with commercial breaks) but still in the world of Ballarat. It’s now 1963, Kennedy has just been shot and two years after his wedding Dr. Lucien Blake went missing, and has not been seen for 8 months.
“The likelihood of him coming back is…” reflects Chief Supt. Matthew Lawson (Joel Toebeck).
Indeed Matthew has moved in as a housemate of Jean’s, because mystery characters need sounding boards for their wild theories, right?
In this opening chapter (only one of which is greenlit by Seven) there are three murders and Jean thrusts herself into helping solve them. If that sounds unlikely, remember that the genre loves instant private eyes whether as novelists (Murder She Wrote), psychics (Medium), illusionists (The Mentalist) or mathematicians (Numb3rs). Why not a plucky housekeeper?
For the most part, the accommodating Matthew facilitates her nosy assistance until about 40 minutes in when he orders, “Jean you’ve been a tremendous help, but I think it’s time you left things to us.”
Never one to take no for an answer, Jean will protest.
“I can do this. I know this town better than anyone,” she insists. True enough.
But this is a show that needs a police surgeon too, requiring Dr. Alice Harvey (Belinda McClory) to step up for crime scene action as well as autopsies.
Pairing Jean and Alice together in scenes is a challenge to the 1960s male authorities (there’s a nice reference to the strength of widow Jackie Kennedy) if ironically doubling as a response to #metoo itself…
There are also some fine new additions in the form of a smiling Constable Peter Crowe (Joshua Orpin) and local girl Amy Parks (Emma Annand).
The cast also features Tom Wren, Gyton Grantley, Alan Brough, Julie Nihill & David Whitely.
But it is Nadine Garner who makes this work. In the hands of veteran director Ian Barry she commits to this with such conviction that you can forgive the absence of McLachlan, at least for a first instalment. Garner keeps Jean as whimsical and driven, and frankly it should never have taken such circumstance for her to rightfully own top billing on a television drama.
The production values from December Media are again top-notch with wonderful vintage costumes, cars, Ballarat locations and swinging ’60s hairdos.
If I have any quibble it is that it is too peculiar that the inquisitive Jean does not head off in search of answers for her missing husband. There are questions there we would all like answered.
Given the unusual context to this drama offering, The Blake Mysteries represents a leap of faith by everybody still involved. Will the die-hard fan-base accept this ‘new’ world and will Seven back itself for more?
With Nadine Garner in the box seat you’d be crazy not to.
The Blake Mysteries airs 8:30pm Friday on Seven.