I generally don’t review much film, but every so often I see something that feels a little special, and obscure—most movies and television get so much publicity that I don’t know how, or what, to add to the conversation. This past weekend I watched an older—it was originally aired in April and May of 1998—Masterpiece Theatre mini-series titled Painted Lady. It stars Helen Mirren—who captured my imagination in her role as DCI Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect series—and Iain Glen. It was written by Allan Cubitt, and directed by Julian Jarrold.
Helen Mirren plays aging blues singer Maggie Sheridan—Sheridan was one of the most popular blues singers in the 1960s, but she has faded away with a long trail of drug abuse, hard living, and depression. Maggie is penniless and living off the goodwill of Sir Charles Stafford. Sir Charles and his son Sabastian took Maggie in after a failed suicide attempt, and she now lives in the guesthouse on the Stafford estate. She is relatively happy, and even recording again when one night a robbery in the main house goes wrong. The robbers want the artwork hanging on the walls, but Sir Charles interrupts them, and they gun him down.
It doesn’t take long for Maggie to realize that nothing adds up in Sir Charles’ murder, and she doesn’t trust the police with her suspicions. Maggie's suspicions lead her the long process of uncovering what really happened that night. In the course of her investigation she goes undercover as an art dealer, faces brutal criminals, finds heart-breaking betrayal, and finally discovers the truth she is seeking, and it is much more than she had ever anticipated.
Painted Lady has the feel of a novel. Its running time is more than three hours, and the plot moves along swiftly while each character—specifically Maggie and Sabastian—are developed into full and likable people. The mystery has the feel of something you would read in a Dick Francis novel. We get a view into the art world—something I know very little about—as well as the world of professional musicians. The mystery is also strong: the early whodunit of Sir Charles Stafford unravels to reveal much darker and more sinister plots. It kept me guessing until the end, and when it was done I actually wished there was another episode.
I don’t know how much the DVD of Painted Lady costs—I checked it out from my local library—but I do know it is, at a minimum, worth the rental fee, or better yet looking for in your local library. I enjoyed it very much, and it reminded me just how good some of the mysteries on PBS are.