'Murder In Provence' Is A Lazy Summer Charm

Roger Allam as Antoine Verlaque, Nancy Carroll as Marine Bonnet in Murder In Provence
Roger Allam as Antoine Verlaque, Nancy Carroll as Marine Bonnet in Murder In Provence (BritBox/ITV)

BritBox released the three-episode Murder In Provence back in February of 2022, but most viewers could be forgiven for missing it at the time. The year 2022 has been an overwhelming wave of television, and the all-at-once drop of the series meant it was only a blip on the radar. But with the summer slowdown arriving in August and a bit of breathing room for those looking for an easy, lightweight mystery series, it's a great moment to circle back and check in on this Roger Allam-Nancy Carroll adaptation of the M.L. Longworth novels.

Most series with a male and female detective, a professional and an amateur, usually come with an odd-couple setup and then follow the Moonlighting "will they or won't they" relationship tease. Murder In Provence is refreshing in that it has neither of those. Antoine Verlaque (Allam), the professional "investigative judge" in the French judicial system, and Marine Bonnet (Carroll), the amateur professor of criminology and psychology, are already a couple from the jump. They're not married -- as older people with baggage, they have both experienced severe trauma in former relationships and value their independence. But they are a long-term couple who are deeply comfortable around each other.

The first episode begins with Verlaque and Bonnet about to head out for a weekend away when Deputy Inspector Hélène Paulik (Keala Settle) calls Verlaque to Bonnet's university to handle a murder. The victim, a fine art professor, was supposed to retire his tenured position as head of the department, which comes with an attached luxurious apartment, but changed his mind last minute. Those who were up for his tenured position are suspects, as is the maid who found him and several of his students. Since Bonnet knows the victim and the suspects, she starts helping in the investigation.

Roger Allam as Antoine Verlaque, Keala Settle as Hélène Paulik, Nancy Carroll as Marine Bonnet in Murder In Provence

Like Allam's big PBS hit murder mystery, Endeavour, Murder In Provence is a trio of feature-length episodes. Unlike Endeavour, though, this is not a set of puzzlebox cases with dozens of red herrings that keep the full ninety minutes occupied. These mysteries are relatively straightforward, so the extra time goes to character building and long camera shots of the French countryside, Verlaque and Bonnet hanging out at home or along the riverbanks eating lovely meals. It is as much a series where the viewer enjoys hanging out with the characters as they do puzzling to solve the mystery.

The mysteries themselves are probably the weakest part of the show. This is not entirely the show's fault; Longworth's mystery stories are no Agatha Christie-level thrillers, and most of the time, they are middling at best. (It's one thing for a mystery TV series to use the mystery as an excuse to hang out with the characters, it's quite another when the novel, which is billing itself as a mystery series, is doing the same.) But that's where having Allam, a decade-long veteran of mystery series, helps hold things together. 

Allam and Carroll are the main reason to tune into this series. The two have excellent chemistry, and they are having a ball filming in Aix-en-Provence, especially since this was made in the middle of the 2021 rolling lockdowns in the U.K. That being said, Allam, Carroll, and the rest of the cast are very British. That includes Patricia Hodge (All Creatures Great and Small), Geff Francis (Killing Eve), Jonathan Aris (The Missing), and Kirsty Bushell (Silk). The result is a series that feels like it should be an Agatha Christie-type story, even when it's not.

Roger Allam as Antoine Verlaque, Nancy Carroll as Marine Bonnet in Murder In Provence

If anything, that may be the show's other significant weakness ⁠— that it is a British show trying to be French. For example, Verlaque's job, an "Investigative Judge," is fascinating, as are the glimpses viewers get of the French judicial system, which works nothing like the ones in the U.K., Canada, or the U.S. This could be an avenue of exploration for the show, to dive in with all the extra time and use it to introduce English speakers to something they're not intimately familiar with. Instead, the series obsesses over what your typical British audience would rather obsess over: the food and the view.

Not that the food is bad, nor the view. For a lazy August summer series that doesn't demand much time or brain cells, it's a perfect indulgence. Grab a bottle of wine, a few hunks of cheese from your local farmers market, a bit of fruit and berries, and some charcuterie meat, and eat along with our detectives as they figure out a mystery you solved in the first 15 minutes. Enjoy the scenery and the houses (which are wonderfully believably rustic instead of the "middle-class aspiration" showrooms usually found on TV, and idly wonder if it will be safe to travel to France next summer. You won't be disappointed.

All three episodes of Murder In Provence Season 1 are streaming on BritBox. Season 2 has not yet been greenlit.