Sunday 15 December 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler

Julie Graham and Olivia Vinall talk Acorn TV’s Queens of Mystery

Queens of Mystery – Acorn TV

Acorn TV’s fem-tastic New Series Queens of Mystery is a treat. The Stone sisters, three fifty-plus renowned murder mystery authors live in the seemingly charming English village of Wildemarsh. Its gardens, smiling citizens and peace is suddenly dashed by the murder of a famous author – and an agent. The Stones’ 28-year-old niece has just moved to Wildemarsh to join the local constabulary as a detective, and solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance years earlier. But Matilda had no clue how full her hands would be with rate of murders in that lovely spot. Chiming in with their tips on solving cases are the sisters, masters of literary mayhem including Cat Stone, a former rock and roller now boho, an acclaimed detective novelist. I spoke with Julie Graham (from one of our fave UK shows Shetland) who plays Cat, from Los Angeles.

Here we are in a pretty but apparently crime ridden English village. In fact, these seem to be the most dangerous spots in the world!

They are! We’ve just been saying than New York is much safer! I think that’s one of its charms; its funny you have these beautiful villages where everyone wants to live, but there is something deeper going on. It’s like Midsomer Murders but we are tongue in cheek. As soon as you see a small village you know its trouble.

Murder mysteries endure and travel so well, why is that?

I jus think they come from a literary background – in our DNA. When I was a child my mum always had Agatha Christie books around the house, and there were always murder mysteries on TV. Its one of the few things we can watch as family viewing. Mystery novels going back to Sherlock Holmes are so much a part of our culture. It’s like a bond between us, a shared experience, I think that’s why they are so popular. And people want to be able to participate to work out who did it and experience the suspense and the payoff.

And on top of that the human interest in the procedural – the police and detectives – and the suspense and payoff. And on top of that that there is human interest procedural things anyway, the police an detective. There us no doubt about it, murder is universal and they’re fun to watch. They can be set in any time so they have that universal appeal, the twenties, the thirties and still have those properties, and so they are comforting.

You are one of four Stone women, you’re the flamboyant, sexy, tough one, even her name evokes those images – Cat! How did she come to you?

She’s just terrific fun to play; she’s a rebel and a loner. Those characters are fun to play. They put on a front, and can be arch and she doesn’t care what people think about her. She’s outspoken, she was just great fun to play and I immediately related too her. I like that she’s no-nonsense. Don’t mess with her! but she is very loyal with a soft heart.

I’m excited for the series, about women working together as family and problem solvers. It’s inspiring.

I agree. I have to say when I was first sent the script for the project, something unusual happened, I looked at the script, at Cat, Jane and Beth and they are all in their fifties. Oh my God I couldn’t believe it. And even sometimes when you see a character as older and they end up casting a 35-year-old so it was a joy to see scenes about authentic females in a family. It’s unusual and its important and of this moment. We see them working together in an egalitarian way and they are careful of each other and smart, problem solvers. They don’t take any bullshit from anyone.

One of the sisters is dressed and made up to be plain – big glasses, unkempt hair and frumpy clothes.

We thought it was important that when we’re reading the manuscript to wear glasses. Any woman in her fifties has glasses so we all need to be sitting around close to them! And even as actors, we can’t find them! Just like real life.

How does wardrobe help your characterisation?

The costume designer Charlie Knight has a strong idea of the design of what these characters look like. Cat has a bit of fun, used to be in a rock and roll band so we had a lot of fun picking the costumes. I think with Cat there is no limit. She’s kind of natural and she’s the only one on the motorbike. She’s cool. Then we came up with her air and it’s a nod to the 80’s when it was big. In a future episode we will look into her background, get her backstory and see a different side to her a vulnerability. In the next story we see flashbacks to Cats band. They turn up in the village.

There’s a fable like quality to the series. I’m thinking of the raven that’s always around.

There is a storybook quality to it. There is a character in the narrator who has an overview of the show. The raven also has a constant overview. I liked that. You know, it’s hard to be objective so it’s great to have feedback.

I’ll bet its great fun and great chemistry on the set.

It’s fantastic. I don’t think the show would work if we didn’t have good chemistry. We all got on terrifically well, our favourite parts were what we did together. Olivia and myself and Siobhan and Sarah just all got on very well, and we had these amazing guest stars and such terrific parts for older women. In the next episode we add four or five women parts, from Cat’s band. It’s really good fun!

Olivia Vinall who won raves in a dual role in The Woman in White makes a major U turn in the intriguing new Acorn TV series Queens of Mystery. Vinall plays Matilda Stone, a young and driven police detective who find a job on her hometown police station. She is reunited with her three loving and perhaps over-protective aunts. One thing they have in common is the love of a good murder mystery and taking the problem into their own hands to solve crimes. This fresh new series has a lot to offer, as I found in a conversation with Vinall from Los Angeles.

I’m excited for the series, about women working together as family and problem solvers – its inspiring.

I agree something that drew me to it, feels really truthful the way the women behave, so connected, with different relationships with each other, there is unity and no one’s vying for attention. It’s something to celebrate, three aunts and a niece. They frustrate each other. They embarrass her at work but she loves them, they get involved in her blind dates and they fuss. They think the more the merrier. When I opened the script, I had never seen before where its not about characters having to be with a man or a woman or their age isn’t hammered home. They are just human beings in their own right, so much more than any other show. That was a joy to see.

Your character Matilda Stone is a real-life detective who uses actual police procedure to solve crimes, versus her three writer aunts who use their writerly imagination. I love their interference.

I think there’s a push pull, isn’t there? She has a great deal of respect for their knowledge, she’s grown up with each of them. They’ve all given her a glimpse into how they’ve seen the world. They’ve expanded her mind through their knowledge of murder and esoteric things. But at the same time, she has to follow her police training, and abide by what her boss wants her to do. She finds freedom within that and uses them at times and they work as a team. She also has to do this on her own, interpreting her way through the story, and find her own path, and needs to find out what happened to her mother. The fact that her aunts could help her solve the greatest mystery -that’s a dynamic start to explore, and she’s more hopeful.

Also, Matilda’s single, and the aunts definitely interfere. Love’s hard enough, but she’s in a village and she’s an authority figure, and maybe she’s too progressive for some.

In one episode one she comes back to Wildemarsh, there’s a reason, to do with her mystery of missing mothers and that is at the core of her world. That’s what interests her, not being in a relationship. There’s a sense of restlessness not knowing who she is. She wants to discover the world. They tenderly care for her and on both side there’s that struggle. That’s the problem. It’s one of these things, what does she want, and the aunts want her to be in a relationship.

Then someone catches Matilda’s eye.

As many of us have found, you work with someone and it’s a proximity thing. He’s the local pathologist and she’s direct and she’s an authority and in control, but at the same time, she has this quietness and reservedness living within these books and being shy. She’s not an extrovert, she hasn’t found that connection. Daniel is a reflection of who she is, you align yourself with someone you might not expect but there is an affinity. And the date, its wonderful if your eye is turned.

Matilda’s drive to solve her mother’s disappearance and the crimes in her job seems to be an effort to bring balance back to the world.

That’s completely central to who she is and there is a mystery at the core of her. What happened to her mother? Becoming a detective is all a search for that. Fundamentally at the root of it, I see her motivations and I see why she makes a good detective because she has an upbringing of noticing details in everything. And that necessary. Julian Unthank (Doc Martin, New Tricks) has written her so well. Like Poirot or Miss Marple, some people have that extra eye or other sense. When I was little felt connected to that and I always wanted to be a detective.

And here you are. Acting must be great, you can learn to ride a horse, or solve a crime

Yes, or you can learn archery or boxing!

by @annebrodie

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