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Try It, You Might Like ItOct 05, 2006
By Stephanie DePue
"Hamish MacBeth," a British Broadcasting television series based on characters created by
the Scottish woman author M.C. Beaton, and set in Scotland, had its American tv premier
in 1999. It's set in a small village, Lochdubh, in the Scottish highlands, big sky country of
mountain and loch, populated by eccentric, country-music loving characters, men who
drink hearty, wear kilts-- surprisingly often, considering the climate, and gorgeous hand-
knit sweaters. It's nominally a mystery series, though some of the mysteries are mild,
indeed, and it's just full of surprises. You'd have to call it a village cosy mystery, I think,
not the slightest tartan noir flavor to this one: minimal blood and violence, although lots of
welcome slightly bent humor.
Biggest surprise to me, the starring actor, Robert Carlyle, raised in Maryhill, Glasgow,
Scotland, rather a young man when this series was made; his trademark intensity greatly
subdued. He plays the title character, Hamish MacBeth, the local law, who finds himself
bending the law as often as he enforces it. It's not a town to run by the book. Carlyle, who
first caught the wider public's eye in an episode of CRACKER, then as "Gaz" in THE
FULL MONTY; generally plays things deadpan in "Hamish Macbeth", leaving the
breathtaking scenery unchewed: he's ably supported by an excellent cast, a cute Westie
terrier, and the flavorful great outdoors.
Plots vary from the complex to the simple, and are frequently shot through with that sly
subversive Scottish humor: they also occasionally feature the supernatural. One episode is
about an older woman, walking on the beach by the loch, who accidentally steps on a live
World War II land mine, and cannot step off it until it's disarmed. MacBeth, who's come
down to the loch to drown his sorrows, must instead try to rescue her.
Several episodes in this series are credited to Danny Boyle, who has gone on to greater
things on the bigger screen. One, in particular, deals with the (fictional) rough Scottish
equivalent of the Irish Blarney Stone, supposedly used for centuries in the coronations of
Scottish kings. It's been taken some centuries ago by the English, and is currently on
display in Westminster Abbey, London. A number of the local lads, wearing their kilts, of
course, so they'll blend right in, liberate it from London and hide it by a local waterfall.
Pleasurable chaos ensues. Chief among the pleasures of this episode is the supposed long-
lost brother of one of the more important supporting cast characters. This long-lost brother
has had the most remarkable bad luck in his attempts to live a life of crime, and has lived
most of his adult life in jail: most recently an Argentinian one, a life not likely to be
pleasurable to a Scot. He has also had remarkably bad luck in regard to accidents and
injuries, and is as close as he can come to a bionic man without entering the realm of
science fiction. Yet he steadfastly, furiously, refuses to admit he's had bad luck. So his
nonexistent bad luck finally, in this particular episode, bites not only him, but also his
brother, Mac Beth's right-hand man.
Now I love mysteries, generally the bloodier the better. But the Scottish, positively non-
twee charm of the Hamish Mac Beth series wins me over. So try it, you might like it.