Episode: “The Dark Rider”
(Season 15, Episode 1, 2012 in UK— in US/Canada Set #23)
Producer: Jo Wright
Director: Alex Pillai
Writer(s): Michael Aitkens
Based on characters in Caroline Graham novels
Cast: Neil Dudgeon, Jason Hughes, Fiona Dolman, Tamzin Malleson
Guest cast: Eleanor Bron, James Callis, Raquel Cassidy, Kerry Fox, Natalie Mendoza, Paul Ritter, James Clay…
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Not rated.
Runtime: approx. 100 minutes per episode.
Genres: Crime drama/Mystery
The dark rider of the title is the headless ghost of the great ancestor of the De Quetteville family who was decapitated in the battle of Naseby. The curse goes that if you see the headless horseman and it points at you, you will shortly be killed. After an extended absence, the dark rider is seen in modern day Midsomers and members of the De Quetteville family start dying, much to the concern of DCI John Barnaby and DS Ben Jones. After the first death, which the medical examiner concluded was by natural causes, and additional sightings of the dark rider, there was no doubt that the second death was murder.
Barnaby and Jones find the De Quetteville family members uncooperative. The once great family can barely afford to run the lands and buildings. They resort to opening the grounds and their living quarters to the public for a fee. The big money maker is their reenactment of the cavalry charge at the battle of Naseby. The father and mother are pompous upper class landed gentry with delusions of their social and civic importance. So much so that the De Quetteville family rigs the battle so their side wins, contrary to historical fact. Despite their proud front, the family is on its last legs, financially and genetically.
The mother is a pompous upper class snob who takes every opportunity to put down the daughter-in-law who was not of their social class. The sons are both in their own ways incapable of doing anything practical by way of making a living or managing the family estates. The older son is not unintelligent, but spoiled, mean spirited, and a womanizer. He feels no responsibility to the family. The other son is a simpleton and gentle soul. Both their wives see the sons as meal tickets. Betty, though, the wife of the younger son, does her bit as the untitled estate manager. The grandson is a teenage boy who five years ago was traumatized by his mother’s death. He is withdrawn to the point of being a mental case. He has not spoken since the death of his mother.
Suspicion for a time falls on the rival family who have been trying to buy the De Quetteville lands and buildings. For Barnaby, the crutch of the investigation is the dark rider’s gray horse.
“The Dark Rider” is what we’ve come to expect from the long running TV series. Plenty of pastoral England, local heritage, red-herrings, a dysfunctional family, the decline of the “old” English families, and a convoluted motive. Neil Dudgeon has become comfortable as the amiable DCI, who as an outsider, is amused by the locales of Midsomers.
That being said, I have to say I found “The Dark Rider” tiresome to watch. I suppose that is because I am an American. I do appreciate that MIDSOMER MURDERS is written for a British audience. Hence the great many stories about once great English families and the disappearing of English heritage in the modern age. But the way the English landed gentry and titled families are depicted in this TV series makes them out to be pompous, lazy, morally depraved, inbred, snobs, and generally unpleasant. This made it difficult for me to really get into “The Dark Rider.” I really didn’t care for any of the characters who are under suspicion. For them, the value of human beings depends on accidents of birth, not on what a person accomplishes. (They forget that it was some great act or service that their great ancestor was awarded their lands and titles for.)I did enjoy the repartee between Barnaby and Jones. The scenery was pleasant. But the final solution was unsatisfying for me and probably for the same reason it would go over well with English viewers: the importance of heritage and bloodlines.
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