PBS: Miss Scarlet and the Duke

The year is 1882 and Miss Eliza Scarlet (Kate Phillips of “The Crown”) has a tip, but from an undependable source and that ends with her in the possession of a glass eye. Miss Scarlet has ambitions to work on her own, but she’s not quite ready. In flashbacks, we see how her father has been teaching her some of the things he knows and in this first episode, “Inheritance,” that will be part of the legacy he leaves her.

Mrs. Parker, large and opinionated woman stiffly draped in black, is waiting in the parlor with her son, Rupert (Andrew Gower), a more mild-mannered soul. She wishes to see Miss Scarlet’s father, Henry (Kevin Doyle from “Downton Abbey”). Ivy has let them in.

Mrs. Parker intones, “The streets of London are not what they once were. If a lady must walk she should be in the company of a gentleman.” Rupert is a most unsuitable suitor for the lively Eliza who has just very determinedly come from her amateur attempts at investigation, very much alone and a bit bruised.

Eliza learns that the accounts are overdue at the butcher and baker. Her father, Henry, who has been drinking excessively of late, has not returned home. In search of her retired police officer father, she inquires with a man who was once her father’s protegé, a fatherless boy of the streets who under Henry’s mentoring has now risen to the position of Detective Inspector, William “Duke” Wellington (Stuart Martin).

The mystery of her father is soon solved; he has died on the street. Now, Miss Scarlet must take his client, a man, Alfred Winters (Aidan McArdle), looking for his niece who had married a man he didn’t approve of. She pretends her father is embroiled in a government assignment. Miss Scarlet tells her worried housekeeper Ivy, “This isn’t about ambition; it’s about money.”

Wellington is not particularly progressive. He tells her, “Being a detective is a job for a man, Eliza.”

Miss Scarlet tells him, “And yet you do it every day, William. William is a bit of a rogue. He was once charged with taking care of her, and she recalls on the death of her dog, he kissed her. She was 16 and, as she recalls, she slapped him.

The niece Miss Scarlet is looking for is Clara Simms (Ellise Chappell). Clara has escaped from her husband Joseph, who was only looking for a well-moneyed wife.

Fans of Downton Abbey won’t be disappointed. Kevin Doyle, Downton Abbey’s Moseley, appears in five episodes as Miss Scarlet has flashbacks, remembering her father’s admonitions (“Women do not have the same freedom as men.”) and lessons in forensics and investigative sciences. It’s lovely to see him in a different role, one of competence and support.

For history buffs, 1882 was the year PT Barnum would buy an elephant named Jumbo from the London Zoo. Roderick Maclean attempted to kill Queen Victoria. The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 allowed women in the UK to buy, own and sell property and keep their own earnings. Women in the UK wouldn’t get the vote until 1918 (women over 30 along with all men over the age of 21) and in 1928 (all persons over the age of 21 under equal terms). 

In the US, Charles J. Guiteau was found guilty of the assassination of President James A. Garfield and hanged. Polygamy was made a felony in the US (Edmunds Act). The bacterium responsible for tuberculosis was discovered by Robert Koch. Jesse James was shot by Robert Ford. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in the US. 

Sometimes the cure for murderous intent is laudanum (tincture of opium) in coffee.  If that doesn’t make you think of a line from “Baby, It’s Cold Out There,” then pause for a minute. This has a happy ending. Miss Scarlet has her first case end well enough. I’m not totally convinced there is chemistry between Phillips and Martin and somewhat disappointed that both father and daughter don’t take advantage of such a colorful name. At this point, episode one is a study in blues.  One hopes that maybe the mild-mannered Rupert, might become involved, particularly since Gower played Sherlock Holmes in the past.

Even though this episode involves Miss Scarlet going to a place of questionable reputation, there is no nudity, making this a suitable family program. “Miss Scarlet and the Duke” at this point doesn’t have the wit or chemistry to really intrigue murder mystery fans, but let’s see if things warm up as the season rolls out. 

“Inheritance” originally aired on 31 March 2020 on Alibi and premieres on PBS Masterpiece Classic.
























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