Do you like period dramas? Love strong female characters? Adore slow-burn ships? Does the idea of crime-solving alongside a bit of romance intrigue you? If so, you might already know the TV series I’m talking about. And if you don’t, an excellent show you may have missed, Miss Scarlet and the Duke, is about to start its second season.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke is a PBS Masterpiece Mystery series set in Victorian-era London. Rachael New created the series, which follows Eliza Scarlet (played by Kate Phillips) as she strives to become the city’s first female private investigator. She’s trying to continue her father’s business after his recent death. William Wellington (played by Stuart Martin) is the Scotland Yard detective and family friend who aids and vexes her in equal measure. His nickname on the force is “Duke” because of his last name. (As in, the Duke of Wellington.)
These two people work and bicker together, and they also support each other. As each case comes and goes, Eliza and William always entertain.
If viewers could have one complaint about this show, it just might be that there is not enough of it. Season 1 consists of only six episodes. However, that means six cases to be solved, providing the audience with thrills. One strength of the writing for Miss Scarlet and the Duke is the way New and the other writers understand the pacing of a mystery.
Whether it’s saving a young heiress from her con man husband or revealing the truth behind the messages a young photographer is receiving, the crime is always set up engagingly. The characters for each case are well-established, too. There is also usually an unexpected pivot in the plot before the effective resolution. This series delivers the satisfying structure of this type of story in every episode.
Another thing I enjoy about the writing of the mysteries on this show is the believable effect they have on Eliza and William. The things these two see and go through influence their emotional growth. For example, a suffragette confronts Eliza with her class complacency in one episode, and we see her take steps to address that. To me, that’s a mark of good scripts.
Similarly, Eliza and William are also affected by their relationship with each other. They have clearly known each other for a long time. Eliza’s father mentored William while they were on the police force together before Henry Scarlet retired and began his private investigation business. They have the ease of long history between them from the start of the first episode.
But they also have conflicts that come with similar personalities. Both Eliza and William are strong-willed and stubborn. They each have impressive detective skills, and they recognize and respect that in each other. However, they also butt heads over differences in approach. Plus, they have to deal with the social roles of the time. Eliza is frustrated by the things closed off to her because she’s a woman. Meanwhile, William evolves to see more than just the stereotypical place for women in the world they live in.
The unspoken sexual tension between Eliza and William underlies all of this. The writers are careful to mention one kiss between them that occurred years before, and they mention it more than once. If you add to that the many significant looks between them and the way they constantly try to be there for each other, then it’s clear the audience can probably look forward to a romance between them at some point.
We’ll find out if that time comes during season two of Miss Scarlet and the Duke. I, for one, will be watching. For the intrigue AND the ship.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke airs Sunday nights at 8 PM on PBS.