It's official: Buzzy period mystery series Miss Scarlet and the Duke is coming to Masterpiece early next year.
The series, which mixes feminism, crime-solving, and the sort of will they/won't they chemistry-filled central relationship that has helped make Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries so popular together and then drops it all in nineteenth-century London, arrives on PBS stations beginning January 17, 2021.
Kate Phillips is probably best known among Americans for her role as Linda Shelby on Peaky Blinders but she has has also appeared in such familiar production as The Crown, Wolf Hall, and the Downton Abbey movie. Here, she stars as Miss Eliza Scarlet, the first-ever female detective in Victorian London. Stuart Martin - familiar to PBS fans as Silas Sharrow on Jamestown - plays her childhood friend, professional colleague, and potential love interest, Scotland Yard Detective Inspector William Wellington, a.k.a., The Duke.
The series aims to put a fresh spin on the standard period mystery story by framing it around a female lead, who would naturally have a much more difficult time being taken seriously both as a businesswoman and a detective because of her gender. (If we're honest, women often only exist in these stories to be physically menaced or die violently, so the idea of watching one driving her own story is pretty exciting.)
When Eliza's father dies, he leaves her penniless in a time when the only real option open to a woman looking for financial security was to get married. Headstrong Eliza has little interest in life as a wife, however, and is determined to find another way. So she turns to her father's business – a private detective agency. After all, she watched him solve crimes for years, she knows all the tricks of his trade. But to successfully operate in a male-dominated society, she needs a partner. Which is where the gruff, womanizing gambler known as the Duke comes in.
The series also stars Downton's Kevin Doyle as Eliza's late father Henry, World on Fire's Ansu Kabia as Moses, a well-known but often useful criminal from Jamaica, and Carnival Row's Andrew Gower as Rupert Parker, Eliza's friend who helps launch her detective agency.
The six-episode series was created by Rachael New, a former writer for Grantchester and The Mallorca Files.
“I was doing a lot of detective shows and I had just come off New Tricks. I had been thinking for a while about a female Sherlock Holmes. The idea was cemented when my niece asked me to read her dissertation for her history degree about women in 19th-century asylums. I was shocked by how few rights they had and that they could be thrown into an asylum for all sorts of trumped-up charges," New said in an interview earlier this year.
“Often they were going through what today would be premenstrual tension or postnatal depression or the menopause. But the Victorians saw this as a sickness of the mind. And I thought, what a great time to put a progressive, ambitious woman at the center of things, who wanted to pay her own bills and be financially independent and who wouldn’t toe the line. So that is the engine of the show – this woman surviving in a man’s world.”
Does Miss Scarlet and the Duke sound like something you'd watch? Let's discuss in the comments.