Kingdom series 3 episode 1 review

Did series one and two of Kingdom exhaust all the jokes and best lines, or does series three have something good to offer too?

Sunday night television ain’t wot it used to be. It used to be full of drivel that made you feel even worse about going back to ‘school’ the next day, while Saturday night was filled with excitement that you always missed because you were too busy out getting drunk.

Then along would come Sunday and just when the hangover started to fade (around 5ish) what is affectionately known as ‘old people telly’ started to flood the system. Until this Sunday that is.

It was never going to be easy for Stephen Fry to compete for attention yesterday evening, sandwiched as he was between Kate, Yasmina and Suralan (AKA Sir Alan) at 9pm. But, for those of us who’ve got access to either iPlayer or on-demand TV, he didn’t disappoint.

Who’d have thought that a story about a country solicitor in a picturesque Norfolk town would have an increasingly old and increasingly cynical person like me, smiling and chuckling to myself over a programme I fear my parents perhaps also watch and enjoyed? But, I feel no shame in admitting that, for Kingdom is a fine specimen of a programme. And the fact it’s now in its third series is testament to that fact.

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Produced by Philip Schofield’s sister-in-law (I only found that out via Twitter a few hours ago), with Simon Wheeler as executive producer and aired on ITV, it’s hard not to like Peter Kingdom, portrayed, as he is by Fry. You can’t help thinking that Fry is only partially acting in this role as Kingdom is as witty and intelligent as his real life persona and perhaps that’s what makes him so credible and likeable.

The first episode opens with Kingdom being chased from his late brother Simon’s grave by a slight tubby and very grubby Tony Slattery (Sidney Snell).

The credits then open to Kingdom’s newly qualified assistant Lyle Anderson (Karl Davies) jogging along the beach, gazing at a beautiful young lady (Kate) riding on a horse alongside him. This single horse romantic canter soon turns into the thud of hooves as he is chased along the beach and knocked into the wet sand by the mounted army folk, accidentally, of course.

“You’ve got a crab where you don’t want one,” opens the lovely lady in question to Anderson.

Hermione Norris is brilliant as Kingdom’s ridiculously flirty, single mother sister Beatrice, who delivers sleazy lines such as “When did you stop being 12,” to Anderson (played by Davies of former Robert Sugden Emmerdale fame for those who like that sort of thing).

In this episode, she does what I fear I would do if I were a parent and leaves her child in a supermarket. But as soon as she remembers, she heads back and makes a tannoy announcement. “Wherever you are, just give me a nice big scream…”

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Norris is not the only brilliant piece of casting on the show. John Thomson is there as regular cast member Nigel Pearson, following a guest appearance in series two. and Sandi Toksvig and Jack Dee make an appearance in later episodes too.

Celia Imrie is back playing Gloria Millington, while her stubborn lock master father Cyril is played superbly by Peter Sallis for this episode. His altercation with June Whitfield (who’s playing Mrs Earnshaw) about the Market Shipborough Navigation Act of 1793, where she sits herself down and exclaims that “The lady is not for turning” reminded me of the good old days when my staple diet was made up of Carry On films.

In amongst the comedy of the first episode is a touching story about an Iraq war hero, Tony Gillespie, who lost a leg and damaged his eye while serving. He’s being offered a pathetic amount of compensation by the MOD who have itemised his injuries. It soon transpires that Kate lives with him because her fiancé served with him and lost his life. She, it turns out, wants to get into the regiment to feel close to him. Kate cries sexual discrimination when she’s turned away but Anderson does some digging and finds out her real motives.

Kingdom is clearly frustrated by what Tony is being offered. “I’m just a local solicitor, this could be out of our league. I promised him his country will deliver, but will it?”, Kingdom laments after a meeting with him.

After an even more frustrating phone call, Kingdom later adds: “They keep putting me through to some Whitehall inadequate. Tony is the sole survivor of a roadside bomb in Iraq… He lost his leg and an eye and they have itemised his compensation… They fought a war in our name… You agree to serve the queen and she agrees to look after you… It’s a contract between a solider and his nation, each promising to protect the other, in theory. It’s such a noble concept.”

En route to check on Gloria’s father, Kingdom believes his car has been stolen. Gloria’s father turns out to be okay, but he’s been having blackouts, which is why he pesters his daughter on the telephone so much.

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Beatrice’s body clock is not working as it should. This is discovered after Kingdom is woken up at 5am by his sister making ‘Avocado surprise’.

Kingdom asks if they can come to an arrangement to stop this early morning wake up call. Having heard he’s working on an army case, her idea of what that arrangement could be is predictable, but still comedic.

“As your sister and a woman keen to discover her sexuality after giving birth, I must insist an introduction!” she quips.

Later, Kingdom finds out that Beatrice is the one who caused the dent in his car, and it wasn’t – as she’d previously suggested – caused by a pigeon…

“The Alvis was fine if you wanted to get laid, but there are three of us now!”, Kingdom retorts slightly grossed out by his discovery: “You told me those dents were where you ran into a pigeon… They were buttock marks?”

She bites back: “You can be so spiteful…You won’t even introduce me to a single cavalry man with a sword down to his ankles.”

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It then transpires that Kingdom’s car hasn’t been stolen. Beatrice had just borrowed it and now can’t remember where she left it.

The car is found, Kingdom is happy and he takes Tony to a home filled with war heroes to help him be proud of fighting for his country and for being alive. But there are still many unanswered questions.

The episode ends with glimpse into what episode two has in store and, by the looks of it, it looks set to be a hit with those intrigued by crop circles.

Kingdom will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found this first episode very promising. It’s certainly not easy to mix humour and serious, heart-wrenching topics in the same 60-minute slot, but Fry et al managed it – this week at least.