Kate Phillips’ efficiency is so enthralling it brings thrills by itself.
The Victorian period has been formed by its males, from Sherlock Holmes to the dastardly deeds of Jack the Ripper. That’s to not say that inserting a lady into this world instantly revolutionizes the premise. Actually, there have been quite a few feminine detectives created for the interval, with the plotlines typically revolving round how unusual and strange she is for coming into a person’s area. Perhaps that’s why Rachael New’s PBS thriller collection, “Miss Scarlet and the Duke” feels so charming, as a result of Being Feminist (capitalization supposed) isn’t what it units its concentrate on.
Eliza Scarlet’s (Kate Phillips) father was a retired detective who taught his daughter the whole lot about detection. When he dies, Eliza is left needing to discover a strategy to preserve a roof over her head, so she decides to hold on in her father’s footsteps and grow to be a personal detective. Nonetheless, the boys of Scotland Yard, particularly her childhood pal William “The Duke” Wellington (Stuart Martin), see Eliza as little greater than a hindrance.
What makes “Miss Scarlet and the Duke” work so nicely is what seems like brevity. In 5 episodes, 50-minutes every, there’s a breathless high quality to its mix of mystery-of-the-week and an overarching story. We meet Eliza as she learns her father has disappeared. Branded the city drunk, she doesn’t pay a lot heed to what’s occurred till his physique is introduced to her. This matter of necessity may put Eliza on the trail to a hasty marriage with the kind-hearted, if nerdy, Rupert Parker (Andrew Gower). As a substitute, she decides to proceed her father’s work. The person mysteries are all enjoyable, starting from straight-up homicide to Eliza infiltrating a presumed terrorist group… which is definitely simply girls attempting to realize suffrage.
As she turns into extra enmeshed in native occasions, she returns repeatedly to Martin’s “the Duke,” who, at occasions, sees her femininity as a bonus however typically simply needs her to surrender the life and fall again into typical gender roles. Audiences would possibly bear in mind Phillips for enjoying the demure Jane Seymour in “Wolf Corridor,” and Eliza Scarlet has the same primness to her. She elegantly deduces data in a Sherlock Holmes approach, with out falling into the entice of presenting an overbearing “Lady Detective” veneer. When Eliza results in jail or in entrance of a decide for attempting to be a lady doing males’s work, she’s annoyed, after all, however the script by no means beats the viewers over the top with “she’s hindered as a result of she’s a lady.”
Phillips’ warmhearted presence is tempered by Martin because the loud, brash Victorian “Duke.” Exterior of being the heavy to scream at villains or ship a punch, his relationship with Phillips’ Eliza is one in every of equals who see two totally different strategies of fixing crimes. When Duke calls for Eliza surrender being a detective it’s not wholly as a result of it simply isn’t completed in the course of the occasions, however due to a promise to her father to maintain her protected. The collection, correctly, avoids giving them a “will them, or gained’t them” sort of relationship, like a Victorian model of “Moonlighting,” although the finale leads one to query if that would nonetheless occur. Hopefully not, because the pair appear to work finest as foils. He sees crime as a unclean, grotesque enterprise that advantages from Eliza’s extra calm, analytical thoughts.
For a lot of the collection, their relationship is akin to an annoying little sister and her large brother. Martin’s scowling, growling, and eye rolls obscure an apparent respect and admiration for Eliza. The remainder of the forged is especially charming, from Gower’s candy Rupert to Ansu Kabia’s horrifying Moses, whom Eliza employs as a “debt collector.” Kabia and Phillips even have a powerful chemistry, particularly when she believes he is perhaps concerned in an enormous forgery that her father found. Moses is given some backstory, involving his father and slavery, that explains his taciturn persona and, hopefully, future scripts give Kabia a possibility to be a part of the motion alongside Phillips.
As the primary season goes on, Eliza’s mysteries begin to pivot towards a grander plot involving her father and police corruption, and whereas that comes collectively properly, the person tales really feel much more entertaining. Episode 4, entitled “Momento Mori,” is one of the best of all of them, with Eliza investigating a doable haunting from past the grave involving dying images. This mixing of parts in Victorian tradition lets totally different genres come via and the episode turns into a spooky throwback to Gothic horror tales of the period.
By the point the primary season involves an in depth, you’ll need to see extra from Eliza Scarlet. Drawn from the likes of different heroines like Elizabeth Peterson’s Amelia Peabody, Phillips’ efficiency is so enthralling it brings thrills by itself and enhances everybody else’s work. If you happen to’ve been in search of a brand new Victorian crime present to binge, that is it!
“Miss Scarlet and the Duke” premieres Sunday, January 17 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS.