TV Review: Magpie Murders / Hotel Portofino

In which I sample the first episodes of new Britbox series Magpie Murders and Hotel Portofino

“Do be careful not to get smuts on your dress”

Across the various streaming platforms that I’ve signed up for, it can be hard to keep track of just how much there is to watch. But Britbox are standing out at the moment as they’re pumping out quite a bit of original content and so I thought I’d dip my toe into the waters of two of their latest dramas.

Magpie Murders has been adapted from Anthony Horowitz’s book of the same name and is one that you definitely need to pay attention to for its a murder mystery that all gets rather meta. When mystery author Alan Conway is bumped off at his country pile, his editor sets about her own investigation as the answers seem to lie in an unfinished manuscript which we also see onscreen.

Not only that, Conleth Hill’s Conway populated his novels with thinly veiled versions of the people in his life, so some of the cast are pulling double duty to further try and catch you out. Hill is predictably excellent as the dislikeable author but the show’s trump card is Lesley Manville as Susan Ryeland, the editor turned sleuth. I’m very keen to see how this one turns out.

Britbox have also just released Hotel Portofino, an altogether more stately affair. It’s a period drama set in 1920s Italy where Natascha McElhone’s Bella Ainsworth has opened a hotel for upper class British people and so it is able to tread familiar Downton-ish ground as upstairs people fret about money and marriages and downstairs people fret about new-fangled things like olive oil, all while the shadow of Mussolini looms.

There’s quite a lot of setting up going on in this episode, naturally, given there’s a hotel full of characters to introduce us to but writer Matt Baker does a job of steering us through the multiple storylines kicking off here. And it helps that he’s got the likes of Anna Chancellor, Adam James and Mark Umbers alongside some bright young things in the cast. 

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