"The countryside? A place where the birds and animals wander about uncooked."
That's Mrs. Adela Bradley speaking. The mystery is titled Speedy Death, the first of five in The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries Set. The place is an English country manor home. The time is the 1920s. And the who include an old friend of Mrs. Bradley, the wealthy Alastair Bing; his daughter Eleanor, who is Mrs. Bradley's god-daughter, confined to a wheelchair since an auto accident two years earlier and who will come into a fortune when she marries; Eleanor's fiancee, Everard Mountjoy; Bing's son, Garde; Garde's best friend (who was driving when Eleanor was crippled), Bertie Philipson; and Garde's house guest, Dorothy Manners. Of course, there are assorted servants as well as Mrs. Bradley's chauffeur, George Moody (Neil Dudgeon). George is big, capable man who dislikes boredom as much as Mrs. Bradley does.
Adela Bradley (Diana Rigg) is a wealthy woman of a certain age, a divorcee, a psychoanalyst, a catcher of criminals, a woman who drives about in a Rolls Royce, enjoys cocktails, is skeptical about many things, especially love and husbands, and who some might say is, in one of the great descriptive words of the Twenties, louche. "I'm never entirely sure if I'm famous or notorious," she confides to us in one of her asides spoken into the camera. "Someone once said famous is to live in poverty and end up as a statue. Naturally, I prefer to be notorious."
Little does Mrs. Bradley realize that during her weekend at the Bing estate, where Eleanor's engagement to Mountjoy will be formally announced, she will encounter murder. That's in addition to calculated emotional manipulation, pre-planned adultery, psychotic obsession and a shocking discovery that takes place in a bath tub. Several people also wind up getting happily married, a state that neither we nor Mrs. Bradley expect to last for long.
In addition to the 90-minute Speedy Death, the set includes the four 60-minute stories that made up Mrs. Bradley's second (and last) season. We have Death at the Opera, where a person at a posh finishing school for proper young ladies is finished off properly and permanently; The Rising of the Moon, which involves a traveling circus; Laurels Are Poison, where a haunted house may include too many ghosts from WWI; and The Worsted Viper, a tale of ritual murder in a cozy coastal village which involves the daughter of Mrs. Bradley's chauffeur, George.
Does this all sound a bit over the top? Or just "Scary biscuits!" as one character says in Speedy Death? While the mysteries are variable, the series are a good deal of fun, thanks to Diana Rigg. She brings to the role authority and skeptical amusement. One or two of the stories become a bit too serious for their own good, but Mrs. Bradley soldiers on.
Diana Rigg was 60 when she made Speedy Death. She's a first-rate actress to begin with; she looks a knock-out in some almost outlandishly sleek Twenties dresses and hats; and she doesn't hesitate to show us the character, meaning herself, without make-up. If you like stylish mysteries, made with wry humor and a certain cynicism about human behavior, you'll most likely enjoy these.
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