DCI Reg Wexford and DI Burden has to deal with a group of eco-activists who have set up an elaborate camp in a wooded area in the hopes of stopping the construction of a major road, the Kingsmarkham bypass. Some of the activists will go to any length to have it stopped including setting traps for the construction crews such as spiking trees. Their leader is a somewhat imposing figure who will only identify himself as King of the Wood. Tensions are growing between the workers and the protesters who are forcibly evicted and forced out of their camp. Meanwhile, Burden is investigating the case of a missing German girl, Ulrike Ranke who seems to have vanished into thin air. The girl's father has taken to living in Kingsmarkham and contacts Burden regularly on the status of the case. When they find her body in the woods Burden's instinct tells him he's dealing with a murder. They trace her to a pub where she'd called a taxi but the driver who picked her up, Trotter, is clearly hiding ... Written by
First, a qualifier: I'm an Anglophile and a fan of mysteries. This episode is clearly based upon the Newbury Bypass controversy, and on that matter, I was sympathetic towards the eco-activists. Having said that, "Road Rage" is by far the most maddening, idiotic, outright laughable British mystery I have ever seen, and ever hope to see.
Take every British caricature -- the teddy bear of a cop with a heart of gold, who only wants a nice cuppa tea, the smoldering sidekick who curses the restrictions the law places upon him when dealing with perps, the stony superintendent who refuses to see reason, the matronly wife who dispenses wise advice, et al. Add to that the distraught German father, the working-class taxi driver, the smarmy innkeeper, the peace-loving hippies with their digeridoos and dreadlocks -- every character sourced from Central Casting, and told to "turn it up to eleven", while in the background the orchestra sobs to cue the audience to *deeply feel that emotion*!
The plot is convoluted instead of complex, and broken up by maddeningly slow and pointless stretches. Eco-activists are battling with road-clearing crews, eco-terrorists are resorting to violence, and a serial killer is preying on vulnerable people. And the police are baffled! (Why are the police in British mysteries *always* baffled?) When Inspector Wexford's wife mysteriously disappears, does he track down every lead? Does he search every back alley and interview every suspicious person? No -- he wrings his hands, telephones his children, and sits, waiting for some news of what might have happened to her to reach him. A cop! Un-be-freakin'-lievable.
The most laughable character is surely "King of the Woods" ("That's my legal name," he sneers) -- a tin-pot eco-dictator who spends most of his screen time casting brooding looks around, trying on masks and delivering cryptic yet pompous pronouncements -- some in rhyme. But the most annoying character is one of his followers, a fat hippie chick who alternately sings hippie hymns to the earth, and shrieks inconsolably. I kept hoping for something terrible to happen to her. Instead, everyone just keeps offering each other "a nice cuppa tea". Strewth!
There was a story worth telling in the Newbury Bypass. "Road Rage" uses that pretext in the most superficial way imaginable, and does everything possible to thwart itself through ridiculous plot turns and stultifyingly stupid dialogue ("You toffee-nosed bitch! You've got nothing on me!") and emotional handwringing. Seriously: at least half of this show is taken up with people being emotionally overwrought, telling each other how emotionally overwrought they are, or repeating the emotionally overwrought things that we've watched them go through.
I've never read Ms. Rendell's books, but I can say that "Road Rage" is even worse than I've described it. If it had been made in the US, it would've been laughed out of Hollywood. Actually, it never would've been made in the US; for all of the crap we turn out for big and small screens, we still have slightly higher standards that *this* crap.
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