Tuesday, 21 July 2015
The Ruth Rendell Mysteries
I promised to review the Ruth Rendell mysteries for Past Offences' 1987 challenge, but second time round couldn't get through Ep 1 of Series 1. An eccentric young woman has gone missing, and her hopeless myopic artist brother looms large - literally. His bottle-bottom glasses fill the screen.
Rendell's series characters are established. Gruff, older Reg Wexford (George Baker) is the liberal one, and skinny, younger Mike Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft) is the uptight conservative. He complains of the missing woman "She's 28! Why isn't she married?" He is also repelled by her lack of housekeeping skills (her cottage is a filthy tip, and this is too much dwelt on by the director).
In the 80s, we were going to remake everything - gender roles, housework and all. (Just like we tried to in the 70s and 60s.) I feel Rendell is struggling to be relevant. I wish the series had started with From Doon with Death, her first book. (Her early books are wonderfully snobbish – perhaps her editors asked her to tone it down, and keep up with the times.)
What else do I remember from the series (which I enjoyed when it was first screened)? It captures the atmosphere of ordinary English people leading ordinary lives in ordinary flats, houses, pubs, offices – thanks to real locations. The top-rank actors like Imelda Staunton, Sylvia Sims and Lesley Joseph.
I was annoyed as usual by soapy details about the series characters. In A Sleeping Life (great plot), we get way way too much of Wexford's daughter, who's quit her husband thanks to some ill-digested feminism. Why must fictional feminists be stroppy all the time? Couldn't they be coldly rational? In this episode Wexford quite unnecessarily visits France (as do the film crew, lucky them). There's a lot of faff about oysters and chablis. What's that all about? Eighties middle-class aspirational lifestyle?
More mystery here.