Murder on the Home Front (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD), a lively and witty murder mystery set in 1940 London, is ostensibly a stand-alone telefilm made for British TV but it plays just like a pilot for a new mystery series designed to combine the popularity of historical detective shows with the banter of a cute crime-solving solving with a flirtatious chemistry. Think Foyle’s War with a younger Foyle, a spunkier Sam, and a screwball sensibility stirred through with gallows humor.
Based on the memoirs of British writer Molly Lefebure, it stars Patrick Kennedy as Dr. Lennox Collins, a brainy civilian serving as police coroner during the war, and Tamzin Merchant as quick-witted newspaper reporter Molly Cooper, drafted by Lennox to be his secretary when she proves to be smart, gifted, and unfazed by dead bodies. They are a classic TV crime duo, the brilliant but socially maladroit coroner who clashes with the conservative detectives who don’t trust his science and the spirited, bubbly female partner who isn’t shy about sharing her ideas or going undercover, dropped into the social and physical upheaval of London during the Blitz. Kennedy underplays the part a little, which could use some development (assuming there are more mysteries to come) but Merchant fills in the personality vacuum with overflowing enthusiasm. (Trivia note: Merchant was the original Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones in the pilot but recast when the show went to series.) David Sturzaker and Iain McKee have rather thankless roles as the stubborn, plodding police detectives but they are finally given a little personality by the third act as take a little initiative of their own.
The mystery involves a serial killer who leaves swastikas carved in the tongues of his female victims, a Nazi Jack the Ripper so to speak, and is complicated by interference and obstruction from high command trying to shut down the investigation. But where other wartime mysteries take a serious, dour approach, this has the lightness of a romantic thriller in the darkness of the Blitz. When sudden death is a daily possibility, the population lives life even harder through a wild nightlife in a thriving club scene roaring between the air raids. The finale makes great use of the maze of tunnels off the London Underground.
Blu-ray and DVD with a six-minute “Interviews with Cast and Crew,” which is basically a colorful promo piece.