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THE BEIDERBECKE AFFAIR
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Create by Alan Plater (A very British Coup), one of Britain's most prolific and entertaining writers, this lighthearted series centers on a pair of wisecracking schoolteachers turned amateur detectives. When Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam, New Tricks) buys a set of jazz records that go missing, he and his girlfriend, Jill (Barbara Flynn, Cracker), decide to track them down. Soon they are drawn into a mystery that includes secret meetings, black market goods, and local government corruption. With colorful characters and a soundtrack in the style of 1920s jazz great Bix Beiderbecke, this is a wry, dry romp of a mystery series. See on public television in the 1990s. 6 episodes.
The charms of The Beiderbecke Affair aren't immediately apparent--but before long, you're hooked by this sneaky combination of screwball-inspired dialogue, off-kilter yet genuine characters, and hopelessly loopy plot. Schoolteacher and aspiring political candidate Jill (Barbara Flynn) doesn't pay much attention when her boyfriend Trevor (James Bolam) says he was sold some Bix Beiderbecke records by a beautiful platinum blonde door-to-door saleswoman. But when the wrong records arrive in the mail, Trevor sets out to correct the situation--and both he and Jill tumble into a mystery involving junior football matches, the basement of a church, an overzealous and overeducated detective sergeant, two peculiar men called Big Al and Little Norm, an ex-fiancee who is alarmingly like the current girlfriend, and a mysterious man with a dog named Jason. This British mini-series will madden anyone who expects their mysteries to feature murder, easily identifiable suspects, and a logical process of elimination--in fact, it may take a few episodes before you see this as a mystery at all. But what emerges from the seemingly random incidents is a sly sense of humor, dialogue that bounces to and fro like a badminton shuttlecock, and the engaging characters of Jill and Trevor. Flynn and Bolam have been solid character actors for decades; fans of British television will recognize their faces. It's a pleasure to have this talented pair taking the lead as two ordinary people who accidentally fall into out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. Don't let the seeming casualness of the beginning put you off--The Beiderbecke Affair grows more delightful the more you watch. --Bret FetzerSee all Editorial Reviews
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Jill Swinburne, who teaches at the same school in Yorkshire, is an assertive activist out to change the world; or at least some of it.
They are friends as well as lovers who, almost by accident, get involved in investigating some shady dealings by local government.
"The Beiderbecke Affair" takes its name from the fact that Trevor (played by the brilliant James Bolam) is a jazz fan, and especially a fan of the late, great Bix Beiderbecke. He orders a set of Beiderbecke LPs from a door-to-door saleswoman and is distressed when the wrong records arrive on his doorstep. In trying to get the right records, he and Jill (played by the delectable Barbara Flynn) get drawn into the slightly seedy world of gray market goods. Harassed by an over-zealous local cop, rubbing shoulders with a variety of interesting - if not completely honest - folks, and dealing with the reappearance of Trevor's former fiancee, who dumped him because he was "boring" just before they were to be married, Trevor and Jill try to figure out just what is going on.
Some reviewers have compared "The Beiderbecke Affair" to the screwball mystery/comedies of the Thirties and Forties but I can't agree. Instead, this is a gentle story that does not gallop so much as stroll. Trevor and Jill are not Nick and Nora Charles, the high-living protagonists of "The Thin Man" movies. They don't party all night and their banter, while witty, is not sharp-edged. They are appealing characters in their own right.
The music that is a constant throughout this six-episode series, is almost a character in itself. Scored by Frank Ricotti, it sets the mood of each scene and is wonderful.
The pace of the series is, as I've mentioned, slow. This gives the actors time to develop their characters and for the viewer to appreciate a lot of little nuances that might be missed if this series was more madcap. It also gives the actors time to voice some sharp observations about the often-too-cozy relationship between government and big business and the lack of support for schools.
The pace didn't trouble me but I recognize that it might be difficult for some viewers, who are more used to the fast scene cutting that is characteristic of more modern films and television programs, to enjoy. There are no high-speed chases, no shootouts, and the only real violence is a shoving match between two soccer coaches. Again, I recognize that the lack of blood, guts, and gore might not be a plus for viewers used to watching current mystery programs.
However, if you enjoy a nicely written, albeit gentle, story with appealing protagonists then I think you'll enjoy this tidy little mystery.
I certainly did.
The film is a bit grainy. This first part is longer than than the other two parts of the trilogy. But please view the whole series. PS - look for two supporting actors here who also appear in the Lovejoy series and also the Inspector Morse series.
I fell in love with Alan's work with Oliver's Travels. Those who enjoyed that series will no doubt want to try this one as the same elements of mystery, comedy, romance, and farce (not to mention philosophy of life) are found in this series. Two teachers who are romantically inclined who find themselves involved with the mysterious doings of a platinum blonde, promised jazz albums, and council elections have to deal with the police, a past romantic encounter, and scores of memorable characters in order to discover their true feelings for each other.
This is British writing at its finest but be forewarned--the writer isn't going to spoon-feed you 'action'. Instead, he leads you up and down so many paths that you can't possibly see how they will all tie in until the final episode. The accents are a bit cumbersome, so I suggest tuning the volume a bit higher. A second viewing allows you pick up something you may have missed due to mumbling or dialect.
If you are looking for pure mystery, you may find this tedious for it's so much more. I'd buy it just to hear 'Big Al' give his view on politics and life!
We finished the series last night and immediately ordered the second series. As the third one is due out shortly, I am sure we'll be purchasing that as well. If you like British series, appreciate great writing, and are willing to 'ponder' a bit while watching a show, this series may just be for you.
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