Title: Rosemary & Thyme
Subtitle: PBS Offers Feminist Mystery And A Feast of Flowers Too
Reviewed by Norma J. Shattuck
The two appealing star characters in the British mystery series, Rosemary & Thyme, are adjusting--to suddenly altered life circumstances made necessary by men they feel betrayed them; to supporting themselves in a field still dominated by men; and to creating beauty and aesthetic balance on property owned by the financially fortunate, mostly male.
Qualities they call upon to steady themselves in transition include humor, grit, quick wits, and a deep love of nature. The feminist example is wrapped in a package making for lively, literate entertainment in the best British mystery/ Public Broadcasting mode.
Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal) and Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris) are of a certain age and not without liver spots and some creakiness of limb. They are nevertheless more than fit for the physical labor their work requires and even the un-nerving extracurricular incidents that crop up. Harrowing on-the-job moments have seen Rosemary chased through a maze of manor house rooms by a crazed, knife-flourishing crone and Laura clinging to a slippery metal railing high above the ground of a deep and bosky dell.
Nevertheless, the pair carry on though the bloom is definitely off the rose of Laura's marriage and Rosemary is suffering career blight. She's been pink-slipped-- Given the bloody sack! --by the university where she taught plant biology, while Laura is more than sympathetic, having been pink-slipped, too, by a husband who dumped her for a 23-year-old tart.
Yet, in addition to recording abundant personal angst, hard work, and bleak deeds afoot, the cameras offer surcease, too. It starts as the opening credits scroll, when we are encouraged to study, in close-up, a huge mixed floral bouquet through a time-lapse progression tightly furled buds to falling petals. In life, the message seems to be, everything changes, but beauty remains.
Which is not to say that glossy post-card views of lush landscapes and breath-taking floral abundance never segue to scenes suggesting genuine toil. In the episode called The Language of Flowers, an elaborate cascade created of seemingly random piles of enormous boulders dominates an almost Disney-like dell. After long neglect and on orders of the elderly mistress of the estate, water flow is to be restored; a perilous natural stone spiral stair-case made safe again; and all plants, though healthy, rooted out and replaced.
There follow scenes of Laura squidging around knee-deep in the muck-clogged lower pool of the once bountifully flowing cascade. As the two begin wrenching out the mature plants, Rosemary is applying her plant scientist acumen to the question of why her client is so anxious to be rid of them. Her curiosity takes her deep into a book on an ancient code based on flowers and used by lovers for sending secret messages.
But what could certain of the cascade's plants, such as wolf's-bane, marjoram, bellflower, and bleeding heart, have to do with a tragic chapter in their client's family history? For the pair, there's no extra charge for the explanation even though it results in solving a long-ago murder.
A rare, protected orchid species (Ophrys sphegodes) stars in both the title and plot of the episode called Arabica and the Early Spider. In it, a famous pop musician is, first, bedeviled by odd incidents centering on improvements to his new country estate and then found murdered on the grounds.
On the scene to oversee an elaborate landscape re-design, Rosemary and Laura are soon aware of an even larger than usual array of people with suspect motives and shady histories. That ties in with what seems a sub-theme of the series: that the lusher the landscape and the more bucolic the views, the more likely human misconduct is to be found.
As for the rare Early Spider orchid discovered by Rosemary on the pop idol's grounds, it provides a key clue to the murder when a broken off piece of it is found stuck in a car's tail-pipe. That pinpoints where on the grounds a suspect had backed up during a frenzied getaway.
That doesn't look like any eczema I've ever seen, says Rosemary at the horrifying sight of a client who is suffering from a grisly and mysterious skin disease. She has been retained (in And No Birds Sing ) to diagnose a tree problem on his grounds--a condition which seems an odd parallel to his own. That is, his skin is direly afflicted even as his trees are shedding bark and oozing blood-colored sap.
While Rosemary sleuths for answers to the tree mystery by tests and consultation, the partners search out clues to back up suspicions about the origins and treatment of their client's affliction. Could explanation of the latter be a deliberately misused plant, Heracleum Mantegazzianum? Rosemary speculates.
Laura, not schooled in Latin nomenclature, nevertheless knows her plants when she sees them. And what she sees is giant hog-weed, its sap highly harmful to the skin, especially when accompanied by sun exposure. Thus, client ailment is identified, the evil-doers who caused his misery caught, and the tree blight diagnosed.
Generations removed from Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Rosemary and Laura reflect, nevertheless, the same fictional milieu. That is one in which serene and scenery-rich dots on the map of England's green and pleasant land sometimes prove to be sinister indeed.
BIO: Norma J. Shattuck is a free-lance writer of articles and commentary for publications in the San Francisco Bay Area.