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Miss Scarlet and the Duke - Inheritance - Review : Move over Sherlock, Miss Scarlet is here!

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Miss Scarlet and the Duke creator and showrunner Rachael New describes herself as a costume drama fan, a crime junkie and an enthusiast of the will they-won’t they Moonlighting dynamic. Out of this genius mind springs the excellent PBS Masterpiece series Miss Scarlet and the Duke, which wonderfully incorporates all these different elements.
In the lead role of Eliza Scarlet, we find Kate Phillips who may be known to a larger audience as Arthur Shelby’s suffering wife Linda in Peaky Blinders. Others may know Phillips from her roles in Wolf Hall and The Crown.

Kate Phillips
brings a smart, witty bravado to Eliza. The character has a fresh and modern energy, but at the same time, feels very much at place in 19th century London. In the first scene of the series we immediately meet Eliza Scarlet, albeit in a shadowy and misty London without really seeing her features. Director Declan O’Dwyer uses a motion picture aesthetic in the way he shows us Eliza in those first scenes and how he depicts Victorian London (the series is filmed in Dublin). It is like we are watching a sheriff walking into a saloon and hearing the distant whistle of a harmonica. The dark bluish visuals of a gloomy London are also a bit reminiscent of a show like Penny Dreadful. Fear not, we quickly realize that this show is without horrific supernatural beings. Nonetheless, a tame show, this is not. The show is often light and humorous, but it also might have been the first time I saw two women beat the sh*t out of each other in a 19th century period piece, ha!

We learn in the first scenes that Eliza actively looks for leads to murder cases that she can attempt to solve. Eliza has always dreamed of following in the footsteps of her father, a retired police offer turned private detective. Henry Scarlet (Kevin Doyle) has gone missing but Eliza is not distraught. After her mother’s passing, her father turned to alcohol to cope with the grief and seems to go missing regularly, only to turn up again. When her father is found lying unconsciously in the street and is brought back to their home, she naturally thinks he’s sleeping off his hangover. Eliza is left bereaved and penniless when it turns out her father is not in a drunken sleep but has actually died this time.

Eliza has two choices: continue her father’s agency to financially support herself or marry Rupert Parker (Andrew Gower), a wealthy man whose overbearing mother is pushing him to propose to Eliza. Eliza chooses the first and she and Rupert, who’s secretly gay and relieved not to marry Eliza, become friends and confidantes. Rupert loans Eliza money as an investment in the agency.

For assistance in cases and possibly more work, she frequently visits Detective Inspector William Wellington (Stuart Martin) at Scotland Yard. The Duke, William’s nickname, loves his liquor and women, and, even though Eliza gets on his nerves very quickly, he views her in a high regard. She and William go way back. Eliza's late father Henry had saved William from the London streets as a child, and later mentored him through the police academy. When William and Eliza were 19 and 16 they once shared a kiss. Though William is extremely frustrated by Eliza's detective aspirations, he cares for her and tries to keep her safe as a promise to her late father. Eliza and William banter and argue constantly, but also share moments of subtle flirtation and desiring glances. There is a deep underlying respect and admiration on both sides.
In Eliza's first case an elderly man tries to find his niece regarding an inheritance. Throughout the case, Eliza uses her prudish and distinguished appearance to her advantage. She also doesn’t shy away from using some minor seduction to get her way, much to the surprise of the other person. With some dubious help from a con artist called Moses (Ansu Kabia), Eliza tracks down the niece called Clara Simms (Ellise Chappell). Eliza brings Clara to the elderly man, who turns out to be Clara’s philandering and abusive husband and not her uncle. Eliza and Clara were both deceived. The devilish husband tries to gain custody of his wife’s heritance by getting her locked in an asylum. The power a husband in this era seems to have over a wife probably contributes to Eliza’s avoidance and hesitance to marry. Marriage would appear to be the only option for a woman’s financial security. Running the detective agency may be a way for Eliza to avoid being trapped into a loveless marriage. The camaraderie between Eliza and Clara at the end of this case is very nice to see. Overall, solidarity between women is a common theme in the series. We see it between Eliza and her housemaid Ivy (Cathy Belton), who serves as a mother figure for Eliza, and with many other female protagonists throughout the series.
Every episode of Miss Scarlet and the Duke intertwines the ‘crime of the day’ with the overarching storylines of all the supporting characters we get to know and love over the 6-episode first season. Even if this series is set in 19th century London, many topics feel very contemporary. Miss Scarlet and the Duke is not your typical prim and proper custom drama; it has some real humor and edge to it!

Find out for yourself. Both PBS Masterpiece and Alibi are showing repeats of Miss Scarlet and the Duke in April and May. Check your local listings for dates and times.

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