The Game Is Afoot With ‘Queens Of Mystery’
by Rachel Bellwoar
Queens of Mystery isn’t Pushing Daisies, but there are moments when you could confuse Julian Unthink‘s series for the other (and Pushing Daisies isn’t an easy show to replicate, so that’s saying something). It’s not just the narration (other series use voiceover), but the turns of phrase Juliet Stevenson uses, like being specific about dates. The aunts (Queens of Mystery has three, Pushing Daisies had two) and how different they are, while being close, and the look of the show, from the colorful costumes designed by Charlie Knight to the direction by Ian Eames and Jamie Magnus Stone, are also very similar.
On Pushing Daisies, it was the aunt’s niece, Chuck (Anna Friel), who solved crimes and the same is true on Queens of Mystery. Episode one shows Matilda Stone (Olivia Vinall) moving to Wildemarsh to start her job as a detective sergeant with the local police. In her free time, she’s trying to figure out what happened to her mother, who disappeared when she was three years old.
Where Queens of Mystery differs from Pushing Daisies is in what Matilda’s aunts do for a living – they’re crime fiction writers, which means every time Matilda gets a case, they do some amateur sleuthing of their own. It’s easy to root for amateur sleuths when they’re pitted against the police but, on this show, it feels like Cat (Julie Graham), Beth (Sarah Woodward), and Jane (Siobhan Redmond) are taking advantage. It’s not that they don’t find clues that the police miss, but that they don’t consider how their actions could hurt Matilda. She’s always being nice about asking them to stand down but in a bonus feature one of the producers, Tim Vaughan, mentions that the aunts came first when the series was being developed. Matilda came later, and you get residual vibes of that in how the series divides its time.
Matilda is an enjoyable character, thanks to Vinall, but (unlike Sherlock Holmes) she’s not the central figure you might expect. It’s not just her aunts she’s fighting for attention with, either, but the suspects. One thing the show does differently from other detective shows is the way you get to spend time with the characters before any murders take place, so it’s not just a question of who the killer is but who’s going to be killed (a killer twist, to put it cornball-y).
Season one is six episodes long, but they’re two-parters, which means the guest stars get meatier roles. “Murder in the Dark” feels slightly thinner than the others. It’s easier to solve and the big house/castle setting is better left to Agatha Christie. “Death by Vinyl” tackles the music scene and is a rocking good time, with the reveal that Cat was in a band in the 80’s. The clues, like blackmasking, give away a knowledge of the world and the humor really lands in this one (like using a hair flip to transition into a flashback). “Smoke & Mirrors” sees Aunt Jane’s book being adapted for the stage, except someone doesn’t make it to curtain.
Besides Pushing Daisies, Queens of Mystery should appeal to fans of Ally McBeal. Characters indulge in daydream fantasies and there are on-the-nose music cues (wedding bells when Matilda meets her would-be love interest, played by Andrew Leung).
The DVD for this series has more bonus features than Acorn shows usually come with, too, with featurettes on everything from process to locations. The cast also get asked some fun interview questions, like what was the first band they saw for “Death by Vinyl” and whether or not they are superstitious for “Smoke & Mirrors.”
Queens of Mystery is available now on DVDfrom Acorn and is currently streaming on Acorn TV.