Running is great for a lot of things — health, creating an excuse for laundry, evading flesh-eating zombies — but never for escaping your past.
Case Histories is based on Kate Atkinson’s novels featuring the town of Edinburgh and the character of Jackson Brodie. After watching this I want to read the books, too. And that’s always a good sign.
Former soldier and former Police Detective Jackson Brodie (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) is now a private investigator trying to make ends meet while balancing the demands of an ex-wife and taking time to see his young daughter, all the while being haunted by the murder of his sister decades before.
Most will recognize Isaac’s name from his turn as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise. But he sheds that skin and effortlessly inhabits the role of Brodie, a soft-hearted man who takes on cases he’ll never get paid for (like finding lost cats) because he feels a kinship with the victim, the client, or both.
The first episode of the series provides one of the best examples of “show, don’t tell” that I’ve come across in recent memory. Long before someone says it, we know Isaac’s character is a private investigator and we also know what a soft mark he is when it comes to helping people. Screenwriter Ashley Pharaoh gives the audience enough credit to be able to follow along without resorting to narration or gossip mongering in order to establish this world and the characters that inhabit it. It’s refreshing to watch.
The direction of the character of Jackson Brodie is what I find most compelling in this series. There’s always an ulterior motive to everything Brodie says and does, although sometimes we the audience are the only ones with the awareness of that fact. It’s a thinking man’s series in a different but no less satisfying way than a typical American crime procedural. There are no forensic trails we follow, instead we must inspect the humanity we are presented with and explore their machinations.
It’s a different kind of crime drama that’s well written, well-acted, well directed, and well shot. All in all…well done.
The palette is a flat somewhat de-saturated landscape typical of British television series. The Edinburgh countryside is beautiful, and I can only imagine how much more lovely I would find it in a completely saturated palette complete with jewel-toned hillsides and leaves. But for what it is the video holds up; although the black levels occasionally creep into complete black out, it can generally be considered atmospheric. Occasionally the softness of the video devolves into grain but never enough to be truly annoying.
The stereo audio track is serviceable and any complaints I had were due to lack of enunciation, not something the levels could adjust. The use of songs in the episodes went unnoticed unless a character commented on it, but the soundtrack was a lovely piece of mood music which helped the montage scenes seem less staged.
The behind-the-scenes featurette was your typical press kit release with interviews from the cast and creators, no real behind-the-scenes magic was revealed.
There are some moments of coincidence which crop up in order to provide a solution to some of the cases, and it is a detraction from the quality. The rest of the series is good enough that coincidence cheapens it needlessly. Also the British slang takes some getting used to, and sometimes the characters speak so quickly it’s difficult to understand them (most notably Brodie’s young daughter.)
I would recommend seeing Case Histories in whatever form you come across, be it rental, streaming, or purchase.