Jonathan Creek series 5 episode 3 review: The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp

Review Rachel Bowles 15 Mar 2014 - 18:44

Jonathan Creek concludes its fifth series with a satisfying, comic noodle-scratcher...

This review contains spoilers.

5.3 The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp

After a disappointing start to the new series, Jonathan Creek seemed to return to form last week in The Sinner And The Sandman with a much more recognisable setup with one key mystery to solve. Despite not being the most exciting of mysteries, nor one of the most bloodthirsty; The Sinner and The Sandman certainly turned in some great performances, notably from John Bird. Alan Davies seemed more enthusiastic in the role as the eponymous hero and the whole setup felt a lot less perilous with far fewer contrived jokes or plot points.

Despite a more positive start to the episode, The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp still lacked pace and excitement. It has often been the case with previous series of Jonathan Creek that the ‘middle episodes’ tend to veer away from more grisly setups to focus on something more light-hearted and intricate. Fans of earlier series may remember episodes such as The Scented Room and The Omega Man which certainly were in this vein.

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp however, the final episode in this new series, felt altogether different from the previous two with a far meatier and more sinister central mystery. The wife of a noted cabinet minister is abducted from her home and locked up in a remote location. Items of her jewellery then start to appear in random and unconnected locations despite video evidence proving she is still well and truly under lock and key.

The mystery itself is a satisfying noodle scratcher and thankfully this time, there are very few glaring signposts or obvious red herrings to keep you guessing right to the bitter end.

From the outset, this episode felt far pacier and the fantastic supporting cast of Josie Lawrence, June Whitfield (twice!) and John Bird, helped significantly to elevate the calibre of performances and keep the tension mounted throughout. The three episodes in the this series have all benefited from the shaved run-time of sixty minutes which stops the viewer feeling like there is a midway slump which has often been the down fall of some of the one-off ninety minute specials.

The comedic performances provided by Lawrence and Whitfield also create a sense of levity which feels much more in keeping with the Jonathan Creek style of former years. Similarly I felt the writing from David Renwick was more sophisticated with just the right amount of comedy which made me feel at ease and the twists and turns within the plot were reminiscent of some of the ‘glory episodes’ from series one to three.

All in all I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that the new series ended on a high after what was definitely a shaky start. In hindsight I feel the episodes ran in the correct order, saving the best to last, however I can’t help feel that the sum of their parts would have been better in one episode with a really gritty mystery, rather than the three shorter episodes with some very noticeable peaks and troughs.

Read Rachel's review of The Letters Of Septimus Noone, here.

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I enjoyed this one, especially compared to the previous week's daftness, though it annoyed me at the end with the patronising flashbacks to remind us of things we'd already seen and remembered. I guess they think audiences have got dumber since the late 90s.

I tried to like this latest series, I really did. I like Alan Davies, and I liked the character of Jonathan Creek. But this one lost my interest, the way the last series of Red Dwarf had done. What does Creek do for a living now anyway? I can't be bothered to go back and rewatch to find out.

This was terrible. Embarrassingly bad. Polly Creek appears to be written by someone who hates women

I get the impression David Renwick has run out of ideas. I'll just watch the old ones I think. A shame really I was about 12 when this came out originally and I loved it. I pestered my mum for a duffle coat for months.....never got one!

They both work in marketing or some other slick business in a shiny office. You probably blocked it out of your memory, sorry for reawakening it.

I agree with you about new JC and RD, but neither has been bad enough that I'd rather they hadn't made them. I just treat them as optional supplements to the classics.

It's so sad that, when a show only has sporadic episodes, love and care is not put into the script. There was so much they can do with the character (and still can do) but David Renwick seems to have fallen into writing his most cliché stuff (and outdated One Foot in The Grave jokes) rather than spending time putting a great character in great situations. Instead we get an inconvincing Miss Marple parody and poor cinematography (see: the pan to Nostrodamus), and bad actors (see: the two old ladies in the third episode). And I love Sarah Alexander in most stuff, but she either acts it poor or the scripting isn't right and it just makes for a depressing marriage.
(PS I'll always welcome more Jonathan Creek to the telly)

Does anyone know what other BBC/ITV mystery used that cottage across the small footbridge that was seen in The Bronze Lamp? I've seen that cottage before and I can't recall the context. Does anyone know where it is and if it has a name? Perhaps I can work from there. . .

Found the first episode disappointing but giving the new series another try with this episode.

I don't get it. The biggest mystery is how on earth Jonathan gets stuck with Polly .. who is .. and let's be fair here .. a miserable, controlling bitch. She doesn't seem to like or appreciate anything about Creek's character and only grudgingly recognises his ability to solve crimes. From the moment I heard her say "we don't do that sort of thing anymore" referring to solving mysteries - the really unpleasant passive aggressive way of excluding anything she doesn't like from what "we" do - she hasn't changed my mind about her character in this series. I wasn't really a fan of Caroline Quentin's character, but she was much, much better than Polly.

Optional supplements? I can go with that, thanks :-)

That was a terrible episode, and awful series. I don't know what Rachel Bowles was watching, it certainly wasn't the same programme I saw!

Which is heart achingly sad when you remember Maddie.

Unfortunately there is ZERO chemistry between Alan Davies and Sarah Alexander. There seems no credible reason why she would ever have married him. He seems embarrassed to be with her and shows no romantic interest whatsoever - in real life he would drive her to distraction in a week. Perhaps they chose Sarah Alexander because she's only 43 to Alan's 48, whereas Caroline Quentin is now 53. Sheridan Smith was terrific as Joey Ross but at 32 maybe she was thought to be too young. By far the most credible option would have been to bring back Julia Sawalha's character Carla Borrego and get her to divorce Brendan Baxter (Ade Edmonson) and go back to Jonathan. Perhaps she wasn't available.

Absolutely terrible series. Im sorry but the great Jonathan Creek has fallen a long, long way. In every aspect. Worse, it has reminded me of Midsommer Murders....... Time to put an end to this once great show.

Well they have. Havent they?

Or perhaps she had more sense.

Whatever happened to the eccentric duffelcoat-wearing-loner who lived in a windmill, designed magic tricks for a living and solved mysteries in his spare time with the help of a feisty female sidekick/potential love interest? The quirks of the character, and the chemistry of the two leads were enough to hold together some of the weaker plotted episodes. I watched Friday's episode - the first I've seen in a number of years - and found a much loved character has been reduced to some kind of middle class wet dream - a suit wearing millionaire with a city job and an insufferable nagging wife for company. Why don't they just give him a short-back-n'sides and be done with it?

What's hard to understand? They have a LOW budget and they no longer can afford to film around London, built elaborate sets, or rent windmills. Renwick has stated outright that they use abandoned buildings and dark lighting to hide the fact that sets aren't fully dressed. Polly gives an excuse to move to the village setting. Give her a chance. She certainly provides energy and physical comedy to offset Alan Davies sleepwalking style of acting. Now that Renwick has moved past the stage where he has Polly adamant about Jonathan NOT solving crimes (see Bronze Lamp), we can get on with the series. Sarah Alexander is fun, smart, and pretty and I'm sure she can be given something to say and do as Jonathan Creek's partner in crime solving.The series is finally back on track after losing its way in some of those sporadic once-a-year specials. Let's savour that, while we can. Renwick is trying something original, mixing in everyday mysteries (where did the ashes go?) with life-and-death puzzles. Let's see where that goes. You can't say you saw that before.

Maddie was written by someone who hates humanity. She crossed the line from "lovably nasty" to despicable when she guaranteed that Jonathan and his one true love would never get together by lying to each of them when she knew the whole true story. Not keeping silent, mind you, creating a lie to tell each.

While I do agree that this was better than the two previous episodes, which were both pretty poor and made no sense (re the first one - would the make-up artist really have kept quiet once he realised the wound was actually very serious; re the second one, why didn't the SA captain just buy another ticket - it's not like the draw had happened yet), it was still no great shakes. True, the central mystery was better, but (as others have noted) is there a reason for Polly being such an awful shrew all the time? Some might argue that helping deliver a baby was a good and kind thing to do, certainly not deserving the vitriol Jonathan received. The double June Whitfields were embarrassing and, although Josie Lawrence was very good, even that element of the plot fizzled to nothing (except a final part which suggested that people generally leave answer phone messages waiting for days on end). Sorry, as much as I was looking forward to seeing Jonathan Creek's return, I now very much hope he's gone for good. The character I liked has all but vanished and instead we have some hen pecked yuppie solving mysteries utterly devoid of thrill. No idea why they decided to ditch the magic element altogether, as without it Jonathan is really very dull indeed.

Give Polly a chance? There is nothing to give her a chance on! She clearly despises her husband and everything he enjoys doing, which is a sure-fire way to get the audience to hate her before she has a chance to do anything. She's a posh, stuck-up snob and possibly the last person on Earth Jonathan (who used to himself dislike upper-middle-class pretentiousness) would have ended up with.

It would have been OK if the series had revolved around Jonathan solving crimes whilst hiding it from her, giving both narrative and comedic opportunities; and if, by the third episode, she'd come around and was starting to enjoy sleuthing, something she'd seen as 'common' until then. If she had had an *actual character arc*. But she doesn't. She's just a moany, whiny, cardboard character who trundles around middle England like so many Midsomer Murder wives. I like Sarah Alexander. I do not like Polly Creek.

I think the double June Witfields were there to make up for the shoddy job they did with the Black Canary and her twin sister. There they cast two actresses that weren't even the same height! And looking perfectly alike was a key element in the whole story--they had to fool the audience AND they had to fool the 12-year-old daughter of the Black Canary's double--which is ridiculous in its own right. Since the backstory was fiction, all they had to do was make the daughter six or something. At the time, many people said "why didn't you just use one actress and do the double special effects thing?" If they could do it in the 1960s for Patty Duke, there must be someone at the BBC who could do it.

Then there was the time that Jonathan spent all day cooking her an elaborate dinner including stuff from his own garden and she did a spit take at her first bite, telling him it was the worst thing she ever tasted and told him to take her out for dinner. While he got ready to go out, she was shoveling the food in her face and acting orgasmic. She couldn't have him thinking that he did everything well. Or having him cook for another woman.

OR, just acting like a grown up, with a real job and not putting his life at risk (and his family) by investigating murders with police backup. Polly wants to start a family with Jonathan. With every episode now, she is warming up to what he does and who he really is. She is becoming more like him. Can't we just give it a chance? Besides, they can't afford to do the magician's stage and London sets anymore and Stuart Milligan has bowed out for good. And millionaire? No. Polly has just put his skills to work in advertising at her agency.

Thanks, Comrade. But in Bronze Lamp, she is helping him--Polly was the one the found the monogram on the watch on the internet. She wanted him to move away from danger because she wanted to start a family with him. But now she is getting hooked as well. Yes, her character can be better written. But has any female character in Creek ever been done well? Aren't they always lacking in morals, honesty, self-esteem, cleverness or some other important trait? Polly may be the best one yet.

Um, what are you talking about? Hannah Gordon played the twin sisters in Black Canary.

More likely; she didn't want to work with Alan Davies again. They were dating when she starred in Series 4.

Nasty piece of work. What the hell is going on with Creek and the women he spends time with? Is Renwick using Creek to have a go at his Ex, or Exes? I take it back - Polly and Maddie are both bitches.

Did anyone else think Josie Lawrence's character's 'fall and leg break' was an unnecessarily dark end to the episode? I'm all for the dark elements in JC but I found it a bit uncomfortable.

Or did I see it wrong? I assumed Polly should have been 'careful what she wished for', Dean found message, broke his wife's leg, she could no longer work for the Creeks.

I think it was in Lewis.

Thanks!
I was thinking Lewis or Midsomer.
Now to find the episode.

In the few seconds they showed the "two" together on the practice stage in the long shot, one "twin" was a different height--and it was obvious. They must have used a double for the shot instead of using special effects. Gordon could have done both close-ups.

?? Yes, it's fine for the lead to act like a grown up if we were talking about real life, but we're talking about an hour of escapism here. The magic shows, etc, were what made the character unique! I don't want to watch some boring advertising exec having a mid-life crisis which is effectively what JC has reduced to. There's too many detective shows on British tv as it is - JC was different and the stage magic made it a little bit exotic and interesting. Now it's just meh - even the mysteries aren't that mysterious (although I concede that ep 3 was an improvement on the first two).
Frankly, 3 eps is enough of a chance (not to mention the sub-par episodes that came before). JC is long past its sell-by date. I almost wish the BBC had gone for a total reboot with a new lead ...

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. Midsomer Murders is nowhere near as good as it once was and this series of Jonathan Creek was forgettable.

I've seen that episode numerous times as it's by far my favourite episode. I've also just skimmed through it on YouTube. The only shot where the twins appear together onscreen (necessitating either a second actress or a split-screen) is about an hour in and lasts for no more than a couple of seconds.

The shot is in the middle of a flashback (and, as is the show's style) is filmed at a slight angle making it difficult to see any difference in height between the twins. Adjusting it by rotating my screen (something beyond audiences in 1998) showed negligible difference in body height - just hairstyles.

I couldn't even say for sure if there is another actress and it's *not* a split-screen. I'd dispute that *anyone else* would be bothered to ask ""why didn't you just use one actress and do the double special effects thing?".

I'd say this was a shining example of how dual-roles should be done, unlike the June Whitfield effort - which drew attention to itself.

What? Josie Lawrence didn't break her leg, the weather girl who fancied Jonathan did!
Seriously, try to keep your criticisms limited to things that actually happened!

"the 2 old ladies" ?
That was comedy legend June Whitfield, via the wonder of split screen. some people pay NO attention, then complain!

Do you also think it was smart to make the Canary's daughter 12-years old? Do you think a 12-year old wouldn't recognize her own mother--one she lives with daily? Since it's a fictitious backstory, wouldn't it just make more sense to just make her 6? I saw a height difference in the actresses--I remember screaming WTF! at the TV. Saw it again a couple weeks ago and did the same. I remember comments at recap sites at the time, too. These things seem minor to you maybe, but they tarnish a very good episode--almost perfect. And for people that didn't know that June Whitfield DIDN'T have a twin, they didn't even notice any special effects. They were just unclear why those scenes were there to begin with. The special effects were great, though. But then again you might think they did a bang-up job in the Avengers with Diana Rigg--with the guy they used for her action stunt double. Often not even dressed in the same outfit as her.

You're right, I didn't spot the casting, or the split-screen. But I paid attention!

I'm inclined to screenshot the shot, rotate it so the actresses are lined up and dump the picture somewhere as I really don't know how you can claim a WTF moment! I'll have to take your word for it that people were in outrage at the time (I certainly don't recall any) over that 2 second image.

As I say, I remain unconvinced that a double was used at all. Incidentally, while there's an end credit for the very minor (and line-less) role of "Young Charlotte" who is seen only from the distance, there's not one for the role of Beryl Carney.

The fact is; it's not minor to me. That's why I'm debating it. I think the show was made with a lot more care back in the late 90's. To compare it to the infamous Avengers stuntman is not the same at all.

As for whether Charlotte should have been 6 rather than 12 to make the deception more believable; I'm not sure it really matters. It's more of a stretch that her brother-in-law wouldn't realise that she's his wife's twin. When you consider that, the age of the child is actually pretty irrelevant. However, it's necessary backstory so you're going to have to go with it. The actual mechanics of the central mystery in that episode don't rely on it at all, so it doesn't feel like a cheat to me.

Meanwhile, June Whitfield playing twins is just a silly subplot, unrelated to the main story of the latest episode. There's no reason for her to be playing identical twins (there's no reason for the sisters to be identical twins at all, frankly). I found Whitfield's performance when acting against herself (and even trying to match her own eyeline in the scene in the kitchen scene) stilted.

Blimey!

Alright, my apologies! Sorry I offended you so greatly. A half criticism that I did, in my comment, ask if I saw correctly.

In that case, it was a funny end to the episode. In your case, thanks for clearing it up for me?

I agree this series hasnt been as good as the previous I mean the humor and writing is not as good but I still enjoyed the show overall. I was rather annoyed that they showed what happened to the victim in episode 1 before she was even discovered but to be honest columbo does it every episode. And I didnt know that the reason JC no longer lived in a windmill etc was because of budget issues. I thought it was a choice the writters came up with knowing that I am not as bothered by it anymore , overall it was a good series

I thought it was a rather mean-spirited end to it actually. We're supposed to like Polly are we? When she wishes for a girl to get an injury because she's better looking and is friends with her husband. Really nice.

I don't really see what's original about yet another show about solving crimes. The whole magic background was what made it original. I'd have like to see the programme evolve properly - imagine old-fashioned Jonathan Creek with his love of stage magic working for some up-and-coming street magician like Dynamo - that would have been interesting to watch. What's interesting about a bored advertising exec solving mediocre crimes? Stick it in the Caribbean, you'd have Death in Paradise.
Quite honestly, if the powers that be at the BBC didn't have the budget to bring it back with full magic guns blazing, it would have been better if they hadn't bothered at all. This watered down version is a pathetic shadow of its former self.

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