Hamish Macbeth (1998)




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Before his breakout performances in Trainspotting and The Full Monty, the intense Robert Carlyle starred in the quirky mystery series Hamish Macbeth. As the constable of a small village in the Scottish highlands known as Lochdubh, Macbeth struggles to maintain the social balance of his tight-knit town, solving crimes along the way. In fact, the show as a whole leans more towards character drama than whodunnit; when a newcomer to Lochdubh (Phyllida Law, The Winter Guest) receives threatening notes, finding their source is little more than the hook for a web of characters' portraits and social observation. This may disappoint hard-core mystery fans (and fans of the books the series is based on), but the quality of the writing and the performances gives the show an emotional richness few mysteries can muster. Two episodes in particular--one in which Macbeth seeks revenge for his dead dog and one where he tries to keep a corporate team-building exercise from turning deadly--are unexpectedly wrenching. Other episodes are more comic; in one, lobsters are the key to a local bully's disappearance, and another hinges on tubs of raspberry ripple ice cream. But even when the show turns whimsical, Carlyle's live-wire presence keeps you glued to the screen, ably supported by a solid cast--especially impish Shirley Henderson (Yes, Topsy-Turvy), whose quiet yearning for Macbeth strikes a plaintive note and leads to a nerve-wracking series-ending cliffhanger. (Two caveats: The Scottish accents are occasionally impenetrable--though the stories are always clear enough--and the fourth episode of this six-episode first series could not be included on this dvd set.) --Bret Fetzer


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