No reading this review until you've watched the episode. Otherwise, it's detention for you!
Authority figures have never had it so good in the 21st century. If you're lucky enough to reach the top of the pile in your chosen career (whether through luck, birth or sheer, loud-mouthed persistence), you can do whatever you like. Reading the news these days is a head-shaking business. I can't tell you the amount of times I've read about some high-flying bigshot getting away with every social faux pas under the sun. Whether you insult, name call or abuse your position of authority for purely selfish gains, the chances are that after a couple of days, you still get to keep your position. Not to mention an extra payload when you get to sell your side of the story to the most eager newspaper rag.
Authority figures tend to literally get away with murder in the fictional world of crime. Death In Paradise is home to many an obnoxious senior figure who has cheated and murdered in order to maintain the status quo. One of the most loathsome of this type is seen in the third episode of the show.
Stand up, Nicholas Dunham. The headmaster of Notre Dame School, and a singularly pompous, self-important oaf to boot. He's obviously a bad 'un on account of two things. One – a two-inch scar that runs down his face like a crusted teardrop. The other is his constant passive aggressive attitude to everyone that isn't himself and his missus, Molly Kerr (not sure what Lewis would have to say about his two-timing girlfriend...). Constantly demanding respect from anyone who dares to even breathe air into his face, Dunham revels in lording it over Poole and his hotshot team of local police.
There's no denying that Dunham's bad news in this particular crime caper. The clever twist is working out what his actual crime is. That's the ace in the hole of this impressive third Death In Paradise story. The criminal is so obvious that the BBC announcer may well have said: “And now on BBC1, Nicholas Dunham is an evil wrong-doer in this week's Death In Paradise”. The trick is to actually figure out the evil deed that he's so obviously committed.
On the surface, the fingers are pointing to Dunham for the murder of elderly Angelique Morel. She's conveniently given Poole's team a lead in that she's predicted that she would be murdered by a scarred man. Angelique was a local voodoo high priestess who used spiritual powers to predict the future. At a local event attended by Duane, she has implicated Dunham in her murder, having already accused him of bumping off her daughter (and his former squeeze), Delilah. While no body was ever found, Angelique has remained adamant that Dunham has somehow committed a terrible deed. The morning after the beach ceremony, Angelique is found poisoned in Dunham's classroom at Notre Dame School.
What the script cleverly does is to constantly throw you off the track. While Dunham's clearly a bad 'un, he's able to provide a steady string of alibis that leaves the viewer questioning his ability to kill. Pompous ass Dunham may be, but he's generously donated a surplus of unwanted computers from his school to the local orphanage. He's also seen to be the victim in that the local vicar, Charlie Dean, had been seeing Delilah behind his back. It's neat writing to throw doubt on to Dunham's motives and personality. Better still, the ultimate revelations of who killed Angelique provide a brilliant twist. It's also one of the chilling wrap-ups in the whole series. I'll leave it to you to see for yourself, but needless to say, those old-school science lessons won't ever seem the same again.
The third episode of Death In Paradise sees a shift in the Richard/Camille dynamic. As a wise 1980s singer once claimed, the only way is up, and after the last instalment in which the pair's relationship reached an all-time low, Richard and Camille actually begin to develop a good rapport. While Richard may throw in his usual contrary insults (this time around, he's complaining about the French and voodoo), his frosty personality is starting to thaw out in the heat of the sun.
A nice element of the final who and howdunnit explanation is that Richard lets Camille have the opportunity of working out the culprit. He's not taking all the credit for himself, he's allowing his team to take a more proactive approach in the investigation. There's also that final charmer of a scene in which the local community come together to thank Richard for solving the mystery. Having whined his way through the episode about the lack of culinary appeal in the local area, Richard's Christmasses all come at once when Catherine takes the time to cook him a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings. I swear, it's the first time he actually smiles. When presented with a platter stuffed to the gills with roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, stuffing and a handy pot of gravy, his grin is wider than a pair of 1970s flares. Raising a glass to Camille, it's the first bonafide sign that these two could actually be very good friends.
Dwayne and Fidel also get some excellent material. Fidel's backstory is explored in greater detail. We get to go back to his school days, when Fidel recalls how Dunham used to be a complete martinet even back then. Confiscating some prized football shoes won't endear you to the headmaster, but then given his usual control freak behaviour, this is no surprise. In a touching final scene, Dwayne gives Fidel a present of tiny football boots for Baby Best. As with other successful ensemble dramas, Death In Paradise doesn't go for the obvious route of presenting characters bickering and sniping at each other. This is a team of good friends, and people that you actually enjoy spending telly company with.
The guest cast is small in number, and it's not helped that one of the suspects gets to say about two lines, if that. Solid support is, however, provided by Clare Holman and Michael Maloney (Jasper Pye!), with Mona Hammond providing a creepy but tragic presence as the doomed Angelique.
Stealing the show is Nicholas Farrell as his namesake. Farrell brings this uppity control freak to life with great style, and like many a skilled actor, underplays his twisted superiority. Farrell does get quite a few lines that could have been played with a pantomime moustache twirl, but he astutely plumps for the other choice, making Dunham one of the unsettling characters in Death In Paradise.
Episode Three keeps up the quality, while taking a different tack to the usual bog standard murder mystery. Charles Palmer directs with a great deal of flair, using quick, fish-eye lens close-ups of Angelique to create a disconcerting atmosphere in the voodoo ceremony scenes. And just a quick nod to that oft-overlooked ingredient in any a TV series recipe: the incidental music. It's sunny, effective, and for once, used only when necessary. Sometimes, incidental music tends to swamp the action these days, but the cues here are used in lesser measure. I particularly like the slow reggae beat/organ echo as Richard and Camille drive to their destinations.
School report? A first class script. Quality acting from the regulars and guests. Top direction. And on a chilly, overcast day like today, the location filming of the sunshine-soaked island continues to be most welcome.
An easy A grade. Top of the class.