Ian McShane is simply splendiferous as roguish, slightly shady antiques dealer Lovejoy in this fun series that teaches viewers a lot about old stuff.
[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]
Ian McShane won scads of awards for and was mesmerizing as a kinky saloon/brothel owner in David Milch’s brilliant American TV series Deadwood, but he was sweeter, more charming and way less dark in 73 episodes of the great 1986-1994 British antiques crime-mystery series Lovejoy. Six seasons and 68 episodes are on Netflix, and many appear for free on You Tube. Here’s one.
Lovejoy is based on the picaresque novels of John Grant, writing as Jonathan Gash. Grant was a doctor and pathologist who developed his knowledge of antiques for his 24 humorous Lovejoy mystery novels (1977-2008) when he was a runner between London street markets during his med school years.
The series was adapted for television by Ian La Frenais, who won eight awards and 13 more nominations, including 12 for writing Tracey Takes On and three for The Commitments. He also wrote Across the Universe and 59 other films and TV shows. Lovejoy was nominated for a 1994 CableACE award. The series had 28 writers.
Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed
Lovejoy is a loveable rogue and East Anglia antiques dealer with an amazing talent for recognizing exceptional items as well as distinguishing genuine antique from clever fakes or forgeries. When not looking for the odd collectible, Lovejoy spends much of his time using his con-artist skills to help out the less fortunate.
His partners in crime are wealthy Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), his dim assistant Eric Catchpole (Chris Jury), and the genially intoxicated Tinker Dill (Dudley Sutton). His nemesis is often wealthy, arrogant, scheming antiques “expert” Charlie Gimbert (Malcolm Tierney). Later cast replacements include auctioneer/love interest Charlotte Cavendish (Caroline Langriche) and apprentice Beth Taylor (Diane Parish).
This fun, highly enjoyable series was notable for its style and pacing. Lovejoy would frequently break the fourth wall, revealing his thoughts and motives addressing the audience directly.
McShane won a Golden Globe, a Television Critics Award, and six other nominations for his magnificent work in Deadwood, as well as an award and six noms for other work.
Phyllis Logan won a SAG award and was nominated for another for playing beloved Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey. Thirty years before she won three awards (including “Best Newcomer”).
Between 1960 and 2014 Dudley Sutton appeared in 140 films and TV series, including The Leather Boys, Fellini’s Casanova, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Up at the Villa, Cockneys vs. Zombies and Fun at the Funeral Parlor.
Lovejoy’s guest actors have included John Gielgud, Joanna Lumley, Tom Wilkinson, Frank Finlay, Celia Imrie, Pete Postelthwaite, Peter O’Toole, Martin Clunes, Minnie Driver, Michael Kitchen, Donald Pleasance, Lysette Anthony, Nicholas Farrell, Don Warrington, Maurice Denham, Ian McNeice and James Nesbitt.
[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman’s articles on The Rag Blog.]