If you were going to be an oldish lady in 1920s Britain, you might want to be Diana Rigg as Adela Bradley in "The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries." You'd want her milliner and her dressmaker, for one thing. (Some women say they watch "Sex and the City" for the fashions, but the actresses on that show might as well be wearing sweat pants and dirty T-shirts compared with Rigg in her Roaring '20s chic.)
You'd want her supply of ready wit, too. Mrs. Bradley quotes Wilde ("The truth is rarely pure and never simple") and Shaw ("The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is") and offers the occasional nugget of wisdom that seems to be her own. "There are three golden rules for bringing up children," she says to the camera (a habit of hers). "Alas, nobody knows what they are."
Rigg is back in four new episodes of "The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries". (She is also the host of the series, which gives her an opportunity to introduce herself.) Her style carries the day. Which is completely in character for both the actress - who will turn 65 later this month, with her sly sex appeal from "Avengers" days intact - and the detective she plays.
Adela Bradley, noted British criminologist, author, psychoanalyst, liberal thinker and sardonic widow, was created in 1929 by Gladys Mitchell, who wrote 66 "Mrs. Bradley Mysteries"; she died in 1983. Mrs. Bradley and her dapper chauffeur, George (played by Neil Dudgeon in the television films), drive about the countryside in a royal-blue Rolls-Royce with full bar, and wherever they go, they find murder. If the people they encounter occasionally speak in impossible cliches (has anyone on a real-life stroll ever ended a serious conversation with "I'll race you"?), that's offset by the characterizations and unpredictable twists.
In tonight's episode, "Death at the Opera," Mrs. Bradley is reluctantly attending a student production of "The Mikado" at the Hadleigh Heights Academy for Young Ladies, her alma mater, when the art teacher misses her entrance because she is lying dead in her dressing room. Oh, she had heart trouble, says the local doctor, it was just a matter of time. But Mrs. Bradley notices the scratch marks on the door and the door varnish beneath the deceased's fingernails.
Everyone at the school seems suspicious, especially Max Valentine, a faculty member whose real name is Massimo Valentino. Several of the students, whose course of study includes diaper changing, so they'll know in later life whether the nanny is doing it correctly _ seem capable of dastardly deeds. And a visit to a bookstore establishes that the art teacher's favorite reading materials were novels about love between women, which sheds new light all around.
In the second episode, "The Rising of the Moon," set among traveling carnival people, the victim is the knife thrower's assistant, and Mrs. Bradley suspects the thrower. Noticing scratch marks on his person, she notes: "Scratches on the back would indicate a passionate relationship. Which is why my late husband's body remained totally unscathed." Sex is an omnipresent subject in Mrs. Bradley's adventures, and it's discussed gingerly, as the times demanded, but knowingly.
In the third episode, "Laurels Are Poison," an old friend's cranky cook is the murder victim. Mrs. Bradley proves her sleuthing skills by noticing that the woman wasn't wearing a corset at the time of her death, and knowing why that's significant. There is a soldier's ghost (the Great War is the one subject that everyone in these stories speaks of respectfully), a sexy young gardener with blackmail on his mind, and one of the series' two cases of unconsummated marriage, apparently not that uncommon a phenomenon in the 1920s.
"The Worsted Viper," the fourth and final episode, takes place in a charming seaside village (where George's daughter is about to be married), and it involves devil worship and the cult of Beelzebub's Virgin. The killer trips up, however. After murdering the vicar's lovely young daughter, he - along with everyone in town - learns that she was pregnant, so he has to kill again. Really, if you can't trust a girl named Chastity, what is there to believe in?
Mrs. Bradley may be well over 50, but she can still catch a man's eye. George has an unstated but apparent crush on her, which she respects and appreciates. And during this round of murders, she enjoys a flirtation with a certain Inspector Christmas (Peter Davison), whose back story comes to the forefront at the end.
"The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries":
Diana Rigg stars in the first of a series of "Mrs. Bradley Mysteries" as a stylish and confident 1920s detective who gets plenty of help from her chauffeur George (Neil Dudgeon). In the opener, Bradley visits her old finishing school where a murder takes place during a performance of "The Mikado." It airs at 9 tonight on KCET/Channel 28.