Originally broadcast March 14, 2014
Season Five, Episode Three
Preceded by The Sinner and the Sandman
Followed by Daemons’ Roost
Written by David Renwick
Directed by David Sant
June Whitfield is a British comedy legend. Among her most famous roles were playing opposite Terry Scott in the long-running sitcom Terry and June and for Absolutely Fabulous. Mystery fans will also be aware though that she played Miss Marple in a series of BBC Radio adaptations that this blogger holds in high regard!
Josie Lawrence is a comedienne and actress who was best known at the time for her improvisational comedy on shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, her work with the Comedy Store Players and a stint on Eastenders.
A rather messy story in which the mystery element of the story takes far too long to present itself.
It’s hard to know quite where to begin with The Curse of the Bronze Lamp. While most episodes of Jonathan Creek can be easily boiled down to one or two clear and gripping problems, the nature of the impossibility here is a little harder to discern. This is not helped by the fact that it is introduced surprisingly late in the episode, meaning that the viewer will spend much of the episode unclear exactly how Jonathan will get involved with the various situations we see unfold.
The episode begins by showing the abduction of Lindsey Isherwood, a successful analyst and the wife of a cabinet minister. After two episodes which played out on a relatively small scale, I welcomed what seemed to suggest a return to some of the broader, more expansive storytelling of previous seasons. It soon became clear however that while there was a crime with possible national security implications, our focus would instead fall upon the comedic boudoir antics of the Creek family’s undersexed cleaner.
When said cleaner, Denise, finds a bronze lamp that reminds her of the one from Aladdin she gives it a rub and expresses her wish that some of her needs might be met. Later that day she stumbles onto an internet ad for an escort agency and, thinking her wish has been granted, makes an appointment.
When Kevin turns up on her doorstep she is pretty taken with him but the evening turns sour when she finds him dead in her bathtub. Panicked she calls Polly and persuades her to help her dispose of the body to avoid her husband finding out about it. When she wakes the next morning however she is shocked to find a priceless woman’s watch in the bed next to her. What makes it all the more odd however is when Jonathan identifies it as a one-of-a-kind piece belonging to Lindsey Isherwood, bringing us back to the kidnapping story thread.
It is only at this point, halfway through the episode, that anything approaching an impossibility or even just a puzzle for Jonathan to solve is introduced to the story. The problem here is in understanding how a priceless piece of jewelry managed to find its way into the bedroom of a woman with no apparent connection to the crime when we had seen it on the victim’s wrist when she was brought into the bunker.
I find this unsatisfying as a problem for several reasons, not least that I think it is introduced far too late in the story to allow for any serious investigative efforts to be made. One of the most striking aspects of this episode for me was just how little investigation Jonathan seems to do, instead wrapping up the case after a bit of a chat with the police and a trip to scout out a location. I cannot think of another episode of the show where Jonathan seems to do as little work on a case and this served to diminish the sense of accomplishment when it is resolved.
The other major issue I had with it as a problem was that it relies rather heavily on us accepting that an item would be unique and also recognizable enough as the property of the kidnapped woman for Jonathan to notice. Of course people do possess one-of-a-kind items and I can accept that such an item would be needed for this story to work and that coincidence can happen, yet the steps required for it to appear in that bed feel really quite contrived and I was left feeling rather unconvinced that they would have done so.
Prior to the problem being laid out, our attention is focused on two comedic subplots. The more minor of the two concerns a possible murder plot being hatched by two identical twins played by the marvelous June Whitfield. The explanation of the events feels startlingly obvious from the start but I enjoyed the performance enough that it was easy to view this as a piece of comedic color and appreciate it on that grounds. Don’t expect anything deep or raucous from this and you won’t be too disappointed.
The other is Denise’s botched attempt at an affair with that male escort. The tone and setup for this part of the story struck me as a little odd – as accommodating as Polly can be, it’s hard for me to imagine her as someone who would tolerate Denise’s oversharing, let alone help her hide a corpse. Comedically it all feels a little awkward (if not rather insensitive), though I did appreciate the performance from Josie Lawrence who presented a strong interpretation of the character.
The matter of the titular lamp however struck me as entirely convoluted, existing really only to allow Renwick to utilize the title of one of Carr’s novels. Unfortunately Renwick’s sequence feels more silly than moving and so, much like the previous episode, we once again find ourselves with a story that feels like it is written primarily to justify a title rather than because each of those developments make sense.
This story concludes the fifth season of Jonathan Creek on something of a low note. While Renwick’s attempts to play around with some new ideas and structures were commendable, I think that the execution of those ideas was often not ideal with the episodes suffering from the lack of focus on a single impossible problem. Were this the last episode of Jonathan Creek I think I would have felt that something else was needed to give us a proper sense of closure on the series. As it was we still had Daemons’ Roost, the most recently produced story to date, to come and give the series a much tighter conclusion. Join me next time as I share my thoughts on it and, in the process, complete this journey…
8 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (TV)”
I cannot think of another episode of the show where Jonathan seems to do as little work on a case
‘The Scented Room’ maybe? He walks into the room, says he knows how the picture was stolen, then just refuses to tell anyone for 40 minutes.
My memory of this is vague — I don’t remember the twins subplot at all — but my impressions match your conclusions. To be honest, the best thing about this episode is that it eventually brought to my attention, through the reading of this post, that June Whitfield has played Miss Marple — that sounds wonderful.
Good call, though there at least Maddy is asking questions and visiting locations.
Whitfield’s Marple is really rather charming. She plays it seriously and I feel she does a good job of it.
Well done, David Renwick. You finally managed to turn a really good series into a typical BBC upper-middle-class sitcom. One of the wonderful things about Jonathan Creek is that he was always a kind of outsider. Although many of his earlier cases involved wealthy people with big houses, he was not one of them, and in many ways, he despised them. And despite beating them with ease, he’s now joined them, along with posh wife. Still, I’ve been through the box set and only have Daemon’s Roost to go. You gave it a good review so let’s hope I finish the box-set on a good one, eh?
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I think you make a good point about the show’s changing attitude to class though I think we are meant to see Jonathan awkwardly trying to fit into a lifestyle he didn’t expect to have (and also sliding into middle age). It does change the focus and not always smoothly – I do wonder though if there had been a further series with that format whether it would have become more familiar. As it is these three episodes and one TV movie feel very different from everything else and thus stand out all the more for that.
I do hope you like Daemon’s Roost. I was very glad that Renwick made it as if it does end up being the final Creek episode it leaves the show on a higher point than this one. Do let me know what you make of it!
Oh and the other thing… Qba’g lbh guvax gur jnaxvat qbhoyr ragraqerf jrer n ovg anss?
I don’t remember them which suggests your characterization of them is fair!
Jurer WP uheg uvf unaq ol junpxvat gur fnhpr obggyr.
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Abj vg pbzrf onpx! Lrf, gung jnf cerggl evqvphybhf.