Agatha is back ... and village life is lethal again

Acorn is a dandy screening service that's stuffed with shows from England, Australia and beyond. And now it has rescued Agatha Raisin, a fun character who is sort of like Lucy Ricardo turned blonde crimesolver. Her next movie arrives Monday (Nov. 19); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Two versions of
Great Britain seem to co-exist.

There's the real
world for most people, in crowded cities. And there's the other world
– villages, vicars, knitting clubs, tea parties -- where TV's
murder mysteries take place.

“Agatha Raisin,”
now returning with monthly movies, acknowledges both. Agatha, an
overwrought public relations person in London, inherited a house in a
folksy village; murder mysteries ensued.

The result gives
Ashley Jensen – the “Ugly Betty” and “Extras” co-star –
room to play. “There's this daft and eccentric quality” to
Agatha, she said. “I kind of push the envelope.”

And yes, cozy
villages do still exist. There are the places where “Agatha Raisin”
is filmed, including Biddestone, population 498. “It's beautiful
countryside,” Jensen said. “The sun shines a lot more.”

And there's her home
town. Annon is a Scottish coastal town of 8,900, complete with a
castle and a 19h-century town hall. Robert Burns worked there, Thomas
Carlyle studied there, Jensen played there.

“I grew up in
lovely country,” she said. “I loved school; I did everything.”
That included sports, Girl Guides, winning a Duke of Edinburgh Award
and, especially, the National Youth Theatre.

After college, she
did TV supporting roles, then got a big break in “Extras,” as
Ricky Gervais' socially inept friend. “It was a platonic
friendship,” she said, “which there haven't been many of on TV.”

Jensen got a British
Comedy Award, an Emmy nomination and a fresh following. Then came the
four seasons of “Ugly Betty” and more British shows.

Producers suggested
she play Agatha Raisin, who's been in 29 novels by M.C. Heaton. “I
thought, 'This is just a delight of a character.'”

There was a movie
and eight one-hour episodes. Then “Agatha” was cancelled ... and

Acorn, an American
streaming service specializing in shows from England and beyond, took
over. “No one was more surprised than I was,” Jensen said, “when
Acorn stepped in and said this was going to be on America first and
was going to be 90-minute movies.”

The new movie offers
lots of room for big, visual moments. That's Jensen in a garbage can
... and stuck in a window ... and having a VERY bad hair day ... and
then in a fundraising burlesque show.

“When I saw the
film of the burlesque scene, I thought, 'That's not bad for a lady
who's not 25 any more,'” said Jensen, 49. “It was actually very
liberating and fun to do.”

-- “Agatha Raisin
and the Wizard of Evesham,” available starting Monday on

-- Acorn is a
streaming service, $4.99 a month (after a trial period) and $49.99 a
year. It focused on British shows, with a library that includes “Doc
Martin,” “Foyle's War,” etc. With the competition from Britbox,
it has put more emphasis on Australia and beyond, and on directly
funding British shows.

-- “Agatha” is
Acorn's first turn as the lead producer. The monthly movies will
reach the U.S. first.