Starring: Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Amy-Ffion Edwards
Director: Mackenzie Crook
This new six-part comedy written, directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook (the thin one from The Office) concerns a pair of deeply sad metal detector enthusiasts – a soft target, you would think, except it turns out that they’re not quite so sad after all. True, they live in a constant atmosphere of bathos as they dig up ring-pulls and, if they’re lucky, the occasional toy car or modern pound coin. Lance (Tony Jones) is divorced but hasn’t gotten over his wife. Andy – Crook’s character – works menial temp jobs while harbouring ambitions to be a fully qualified archaeologist. Becky (Rachael Stirling), his long-term girlfriend, is tolerant of his hobby but faintly contemptuous of it and gently – or sometimes not so gently – discouraging.
But the two men cling to the legend that there’s a Saxon ship burial somewhere in the vicinity, and in fact it looks like they might actually have stumbled onto something when they’re granted detecting rights on some fields belonging to a mad landowner. In the meantime, though, they’re bothered by some unscrupulous, toffee-nosed rival detectorists, and things are stirred up by the arrival on the scene of Sophie (Amy-Ffion Edwards), a buxom student of ancient history who turns their heads by taking an interest in their pastime.
There are times – as when we get to meet the motley eccentrics who make up the local metal dectecting club – that Detectorists isn’t a mile away from Vicar of Dibley territory, but it’s also shot through with a lyricism and melancholia that’s all its own. Much of it was filmed outdoors in leafy corners of Sussex, and its celebration of English pubs and the English countryside gives it an underlying serenity and a whiff of nostalgia which accords with its awareness of the past. Then on top of that you get the wonderful Tony Jones in a performance that ranks with Captain Mainwaring as a combination of bluster and charming vulnerability. Time and again, his scenes with Crook have a flow to them, an intricate back and forth, that’s almost like music. As complications build up over the series and we get to know the central duo better, Detectorists turns into a moving meditation on men and their hobbies, on coping with sadness and disappointment, on getting the balance right between appreciating what you’ve got and wanting something better. A few of the plot points are a little obvious and Stirling’s performance is a tad strident, but otherwise this show is a veritable hoard of comedy gold.
The DVD transfer is very nice, and the disc also comes with a decent 24-minute behind-the-scenes which sees the cast and crew shooting in the pretty market town of Orford. “The locals have been very welcoming and not too intrusive,” says Stirling – sure they’ll be touched by that glowing report – and Crook talks about the origins of the show in a brief taster he wrote and filmed.