Agatha Raisin is back for a full series featuring the exploits of the glam amateur detective. Crime Scene meets Ashley Jensen and ventures into the colourful, cosy world of Cotswolds-based intrigue.
Ashley Jensen on her colourful crime-fighter in the Cotswolds.
W hen Crime Scene catches up with her, she’s comfortably ensconced in a central London hotel room, no broken windows in sight. In her everyday life, Jensen’s not particularly keen on killer heels. But for playing amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin, they’re essential – even character-defining. “It’s a whole silhouette,” Jensen explains. “We created that stamp of identity that a lot of television detectives have. It was a big deal finding the look of her. Once I had the costume on, I was like, ‘yes, I know who I am now’.”
That might be more than Raisin herself does. As you’ll know if you caught the 2014 pilot, Agatha Raisin And The Quiche Of Death, the eponymous investigator is a fish out of water in the fictional Cotswolds village of Carsley. A former high-powered London PR, she’s retired to the country for a bit of peace and quiet. But between the village’s unexpectedly high crime rate and an intense on-off romance with her next-door neighbour, Raisin finds that rural living isn’t as quiet as she expected. The show’s eight hour-long episodes will see her chasing down criminals and investigating murders. And though her colourful wardrobe – all bright blazers, impractical shoes and statement lipsticks – looked normal enough when she was working with media types, in Carsley it marks her as an outsider even before she starts trying to do the police’s job for them.
It also sets her apart from the ranks of established TV detectives. You definitely wouldn’t mistake Raisin for knitwearloving Sarah Lund, or catch her sporting anything resembling Columbo’s scruffy raincoat. And you shouldn’t mistake Agatha Raisin for a serious crime drama, either. Raisin’s creator, author M.C. Beaton, has expressed disdain for the term in the past, but – whisper it – we’re definitely in ‘cosy crime’ territory here.
“It is a family show that everybody can enjoy,” enthuses Jensen’s co-star Mathew Horne. He plays Roy Silver, a former colleague of Raisin’s who won’t let her leave him behind in London.
“Initially, Roy doesn’t like the idea of Agatha moving out to the country,” Horne says. “He doesn’t understand it. He’s very much an urbanite. But as the series progresses and she becomes more embroiled in the murders in Carsley, he quite likes the drama. He likes being involved in trying to solve these murders with her. He doesn’t take it too seriously; he just likes the drama of it, in quite a campy way.”
That pretty much sums up the tone of the show as a whole: campy, dramatic, and not entirely serious. Filmed in the picturesque village of Biddestone in
“I can walk on any terrain in stiletto heels now,” laughs Ashley Jensen. “Grass, cobbles, gravel… I’ve scaled walls! I’ve opened doors with my heels. I’ve smashed windows with my heels.”
Wiltshire, Agatha Raisin has all the chocolate box charm of Midsomer Murders, though its emphasis falls even more heavily on the ‘cosy’ half of ‘cosy crime’. Each episode is a standalone whodunit, adapted from one of Beaton’s novels or short stories, which sees Raisin struggling to find her place. She’s trying to put down roots in an unfamiliar environment, but her efforts to fit in often end badly (in hilarious ways).
“It’s quite a fine line to tread,” Jensen acknowledges. “What I think Sky is doing at the moment is taking a leaf out of the Americans’ book. This is a thing I think America does very well; Ugly Betty did it, and Desperate Housewives, and Friends, [ they’re comedies where] the emotions are just as real as they are in any drama. In this programme, we’re dealing with murder, and people are going through grief, and Agatha’s relationship situation is all over the place, and that’s all very heartfelt. We try to fluctuate between drama and comedy in the same programme.”
Ah, the ‘relationship situation’. While many TV detectives are terminally single, too married to their jobs to look for romance elsewhere, that’s definitely not the case with Raisin. At the beginning of this new series, she’s single, and not terribly happy about it. She’s still infatuated with her neighbour, James (played by Jamie Glover), but he’s now dating someone else.
Asked about Raisin’s feelings for James, Jensen sits back in her chair and smiles knowingly. “It’s Moonlighting, isn’t it?” she grins. “Will they, won’t they? They’re drawn to each other like a magnet, but sometimes it’s like the opposite end of a magnet and they rub each other up the wrong way. He’s the total opposite of everything that she is: he’s academic and sensible and quiet, a proper gentleman in the old sense of the word. She’s become fixated on him, really.”
Glover reckons she still has a shot, too. Miss Marple might have been an avowed spinster, but by dabbling in detective work, Raisin draws people like James to her – and she sometimes uses that to her advantage, like in the first episode where she convinces him to pretend to be her husband so they can go undercover. “They get to live the life of a married couple without being married,” explains Glover. “I think it’s the start of James thinking, ‘I don’t want to be with you,’ but also ‘I want to be with you.’ It’s good dramatic tension.” And will there be a happy ending for the two of them? “I remain completely silent,” he smiles.
Rounding out Raisin’s crack team of would-be detectives is Gemma Simpson.
There’s a place for colour, this is an antidote to Scandi Noir like The Bridge
Played by Katy Wix, Gemma’s a local woman employed by Raisin to clean her house. “I don’t do much cleaning,” Wix laughs of her role. “Too busy trying to catch murderers!”
Gemma is Raisin’s first ally in Carsley, and the two of them form a strong bond. Wix explains, “Gemma’s quite tough and no-nonsense, but I really like her relationship with Agatha. It’s really essential that she has people she can trust around her, in this world with all the deceit and lies and murders, and I like that Gemma becomes that. She’s got that honesty, and she’s quite fearless.”
The atmosphere behind the scenes seems pretty friendly, too. Jensen hugs Wix enthusiastically when she arrives, and all of them are bubbling over with praise for one another – particularly Jensen. “It’s difficult to talk about Ashley without sounding like an absolute sycophant,” says Horne. “She’s dynamite. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that level of professionalism whilst remaining an absolute angel of a person.” Glover agrees. “It’s not always easy making an adaptation of something like this, finding exactly what the tone is,” he says. “Ashley was instrumental to that, giving it a lightness and a wit and intelligence, yet keeping the stakes high; I think if the stakes weren’t high, if the crime was incidental to the programme, we’d have been nowhere. She has a great emotional capacity.” For her part, Jensen seems pretty humble and pragmatic about the whole thing. In person, she’s more softly spoken than Raisin (though she’s still got that unmistakeable Scottish accent) and she’s unfailingly polite, making eye contact with everyone and interrupting herself mid-sentence to thank a waitress for her coffee. “I’ve had an entire career playing people’s best friends, so I hope I know how to behave as a leading actor,” she says. “I feel grateful to be given the opportunity, and I’m at this stage in my life where I’m ready to do it. I felt a bit motherly towards everybody! I wanted to know everyone was all right, because if an actor comes on for a day and they’re a wee bit worried, you’re not going to get the best performance out of them. I know, because I’ve been there.”
Though she’s best known for comedy like Extras and Catastrophe, Jensen has appeared in The Bill, Taggart, City Central and Silent Witness. Agatha Raisin seems like a logical progression – a chance for Jensen to show off her comedy chops as well as finally claiming the limelight in a crime series.
And she doesn’t begrudge the show its light-heartedness. “I love watching The Bridge and The Tunnel,” she says, “But I think this show is kind of an antidote to that kind of Scandi Noir. There’s a place for everything, and there’s definitely a place for a bit of colour.”
Agatharaisin (Ashley Jensen) androy Silver (Mathew Horne) behindmary Fortune (Daisy Beaumont, far left) at an event.
Agatharaisin and neighbour James Lacey (Jamie Glover). Dc bill Wong (Matt Mccooey, left) andchief Inspector Wilkes (Jason Barnett) staking out. Deborahcamden (Rebecca Night) and Charles Fraith (Jason Merrells) share a drink.
Jensen has previous police experience – sort of – withricky Gervais in Extras.