Tag Archive: Masterpiece Mystery

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch confirmed this week that he has signed on to play the villain in the next Star Trek film, hopefully dispelling rumors once and for all that the prequel’s sequel won’t be about Khan, originally seen in Star Trek II.  Then again, he does look a bit like the crew stranded with Khan all those years on Ceti Alpha V…


Nah.  But it does make you want to get out the Photoshop and check out whether he makes a better Vulcan, Romulan or Klingon, or maybe J.J. Abrams will really mix things up and feature him as a member of The Borg.  And it puts the new Star Trek prequel’s sequel (say that ten times fast) in the #1 spot for most anticipated movie coming out in 2013.  (I think he’d make a great Romulan).

New Line Cinema only recently announced that Cumberbatch was going to be the evil voice of the Necromancer (and Smaug the dragon) in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and its sequel The Hobbit: There and Back Again, the former scheduled to be released in theaters in December.  Playing the villain in two of the biggest sci-fi/fantasy franchises is almost unprecedented.  Almost, because you have to consider fellow British actor Christopher Lee playing the villain Sauron in The Lord of the Rings and equally villainous Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels.  And then you have Karl Urban who played both Dr. McCoy in Star Trek 2009 and Eomer in The Lord of the Rings franchise, and Ian McKellen who played both Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Magneto in the X-Men movies, and John Rhys-Davies who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings and Sallah in the Indiana Jones movies… on second thought scratch that “unprecedented” reference.  But that certainly is good company for Cumberbatch, who has spring-boarded into international celebrity in the past year.

His role as Sherlock Holmes in Doctor Who creator Steven Moffat’s BBC/Public Television’s Masterpiece Mystery series Sherlock first put Cumberbatch opposite The Hobbit star Martin Freeman.  Freeman has a similarly huge year coming as Bilbo Baggins in addition to reprising his Dr. Watson role.  In Sherlock, the classic detective is brought into the 21st century, but his skills and sleuthing is very familiar.  Masterpiece Mystery confirmed this week that the Sherlock series 2/season 2 is scheduled to begin this May, and that they plan to bring back Cumberbatch for a third year after season 2.

Since his first roles in 2002, including a small part in the BBC mini-series Tipping the Velvet with Ashes to Ashes/Identity star Keeley Hawes, Cumberbatch had memorable smaller parts in 2006’s Amazing Grace as William Pitt…

in 2008’s The Other Boleyn Girl as William Carey, and in 2011 he played Major Stewart in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film War Horse

and as Peter Guillam in this season’s spy thriller (opening in general release this weekend finally) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Cumberbatch joins the Enterprise crew from Star Trek 2009, Chris Pine, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana, and former Robocop Peter Weller as a yet-to-be-named character in the yet-to-be-named new Star Trek film.

C.J. Bunce



What?  Didn’t they just announce that Daniel Craig just started filming Skyfall, the next James Bond flick?  Sure, but if you haven’t been following along, we mentioned here yesterday that, unlike diamonds, no actor gets to play James Bond forever.  So who would be great as Bond if they swapped out actors today?

Back when Pierce Brosnan was rumored to have been readying to hand over the mantle, there was much speculation as to who would be the next icon of icons in British film, and… there just wasn’t a lot by way of contenders that seemed like the perfect fit.  It’s why many, including this writer, thought Daniel Craig seemed a bizarre choice.  Glad to have been wrong about that!

But this question comes up every time there has been an actor retire from playing Bond, back to the great Sean Connery.  After all, at least from the perspective on this side of the Atlantic, there isn’t anything that stands better for England than James Bond (OK, inching out the Queen, Will Shakespeare, and Doctor Who only slightly, and with perhaps an “attaboy” pat on the head to Harry Potter).

But if you can’t wait until 2013 to see the next James Bond on screen, look no further, as a role that might as well have been written by Ian Fleming for his master spy has already been written, cast, performed, and aired on TV and is now for sale on video.  It is Michael Dibdin’s Zen, re-broadcast this year in the States on public television’s Masterpiece Mystery series.

What is Zen?

Zen is a stylish police drama made by the Brits but filmed in and around Rome, written by Dibdin in a series of novels.  Our James Bond character is Aurelius Zen, played expertly by actor Rufus Sewell, who although British plays a Mediterranean without pause because of his dark features (the tall, dark, etc. variety that the ladies will fall for).  Over the course of the three 90-minute episodes, a slow burning relationship forms with none other than ex-Bond actress Caterina Murino (from Casino Royale), who plays Tania Moretti, the Chief of Police’s assistant, recently separated.  Zen is repeatedly referred to as having an impeccable reputation, yet indications throughout the series question that notion.  He is excused or brushed off and taken for granted because of his Venician heritage, something of an inside joke we don’t need to understand to be able to empathize with him.  But we find, as Bond sidesteps master criminals in his path, Zen sidesteps mafia-esque city politics to save his job and do the right thing, if not for king and country, for the good of the citizenry of Rome.

Further adding to the series in its Masterpiece Mystery presentation are quirky but well done introductions by Alan Cumming, who formerly played Russian IT guy Boris Grishenko in another Bond film, GoldenEye.  Cumming’s intros are fun to watch themselves, as he–a bit overdramatically–describes the incredible stylishness of the forthcoming program.  What he describes of Aurelio Zen might as well be of James Bond.

But back to the production itself.  From the 1960s style, elaborate opening credits it is hard not to compare Zen with Bond.  Where else do you still see so much effort put toward the framing of a film, at least not since the 1960s, in films like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt.   Zen actually shares more a handful of parallels to Bullitt.  Sewell’s Zen radiates an aura of cool, just as McQueen did.  The soundtrack from Zen is so rich, complex, steamy, again: stylish, it skips along and carries us with it, much as the flute and keyboard did accompanying the quick and metered score of Bullitt.  And the obvious, they are both cops, wrapped up in their own survival on the squad, dodging the higher ranks in their division as much as bullets.

But you’re describing an Italian show, you say.  Bond is British.  In fact being British seems to be the only prerequisite to be selected as Bond.  Like many actors in shows through the ages, TV shows, movies, you name it, Sewell plays Aurelio Zen with no attempt at a local, Italian accent.  After all, you don’t need to speak in a British accent to perform Shakespeare, right?  To be sure, Sewell’s British is not cockney or Scot or Welsh, it’s almost American, possibly residue from his short-lived but solid performance in the American series, The Eleventh Hour.   Sewell would voice Bond much as was done by Daniel Craig.  He sells it British because we know he’s British.  That’s good enough for us.

Accent discussions aside, Sewell walks the walk.  That is, he’s got the polished Bond look.  Like perfectly tailored suits that he wears like he doesn’t care what he’s wearing (why should he care? he’s Bond).  And while all the rest of the police department are laying odds and who will bed the new Chief’s assistant (Zen isn’t even in the running in the office pool), Zen pays no mind as the Chief’s assistant has eyes only for Zen.

And the Broccoli family could also not do better than bring on the entire production team from Zen to costume their next film, edit it, film it.  As production values go on television, I challenge anyone to find a TV series with better cinematography and direction.  And the location and setting of the sequences of Zen are exotic in feel as any location from Dr. No forward.  What more could anyone want for James Bond?

So maybe not only should Rufus Sewell play the Bond to follow Daniel Craig, we also have the crew to film that follow-on picture.

By the way, if you think you haven’t seen Sewell before, he’s been around.  He was Fortinbras in Kenneth Branaghs’s Hamlet, the star of 1998’s dystopian Dark City, the evil Count Adhemar in A Knight’s Tale opposite Heath Ledger, Ali Baba in Arabian Knights, Thomas Clarkson in Amazing Grace with Ioan Gruffudd, Alexander Hamilton in the John Adams TV series, the star of Eleventh Hour, Tom Builder in Pillars of the Earth, and is soon to have a leading role in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

So Sewell is my current #1 recommendation to see one day as Bond.  Other contenders?  We’ll have to get to those on another day.

C.J. Bunce



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