Queens of Mystery’s Julian Unthank
By Chelsea Regan
Queens of Mystery made its off-beat bow on Acorn TV mere weeks ago, but already series creator Julian Unthank (Doc Martin, New Tricks) is pitching a season two. And if his passion for mystery’s many sub-genres and stated commitment to entertain its countless fans is anything to go by, there’s every reason to believe that Unthank has more than enough ideas for quite a few more seasons of Queens of Mystery, a series that manages to send up the 200-year history of detective fiction while feeling thoroughly modern.
Set in a seemingly sleepy English village called Wildemarsh, Queens of Mystery centers on local rookie police officer Matilda Stone (Olivia Vinall) and her three aunts—Cat (Julie Graham), Jane (Siobhan Redmond) and Beth (Sarah Woodward)—all of whom have a vested writerly interest in and knack for solving murders, though their methods are decidedly at odds. Complementing the vibrant cast of strong female central characters are compelling mysteries awash in red herrings and startling revelations, and whimsical visuals that give the series a unique aesthetic.
Unthank talks to TV Drama Weekly about his desire to write a starring vehicle for women over a certain age, his daring stylistic choices and the enduring appeal of the whodunit mystery genre.
Queens of Mystery’s first season (six episodes/three two-part mysteries) arrived on Acorn on Monday, April 8. Acorn Media International is distributing the series in all English-speaking territories, while ZDF Enterprises is distributing it internationally.
TV DRAMA: How did the idea for Queens of Mystery come about?
UNTHANK: I was speaking with an actress, an older actress, and she was talking about the trouble there is, the difficulty of getting interesting roles and good roles if you’re an actress over the age of 40—instead of a bit playing a mum or grandmother. So I thought it would be really interesting to write a show to have three female leads all over the age of 40, and more importantly, not make it a show about women over the age of 40, just make it a normal show. And that’s where we started from.
TV DRAMA: Can you tell us a bit about the stylistic choices you made for the series—from the narrators to the title cards to the moments of surrealism?
UNTHANK: We’ve got this whole kind of “imagi-narrative” thing going on, where we’ve got Juliet Stevenson as the narrator, as the author of the show, the author of the world. And then we have our aunts—who are themselves all crime writers—and their niece. And then, as the show progresses, the characters they write about also appear within the show. So we have this show within a show. It's a Russian doll thing, really. A lot of these shows, they’re like parlor games, these kinds of murder mysteries, these classic [Agatha] Christie-style shows. The game is, in the first 20 minutes, introducing all of these characters, all the way up to the murderer. There’s always a murder on the [20-minute mark], and it’s just trying to lay the groundwork and establish those characters as quickly as possible and establish the world that they’re going to be in. Obviously, that's harder in the pilot, but we tried really hard to get that world across. And then, of course, a nice fun murder at the 20—nothing too gruesome. I think the audience gets a lot of fun trying to guess who the murderer is, trying to pull the clues together. It’s part of the fun. I was always watching those sort of Agatha Christie-type shows growing up. And we wanted to instill the show with that same sense of that puzzle, fun element to it.
This interview continues here.
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