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"Midsomer Murders" The Straw Woman (2004)

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13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

"See if you can find a pig that's lost it's head." Decent Midsomer Murders.

6/10
Author: Paul Andrews (poolandrews@hotmail.com) from UK
25 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Midsomer Murders: The Straw Woman starts late one night in the Midsomer village of Midsomer Parva where a local teacher named Liz Francis (Susannah Wise) has revived the Straw Woman festival where a large effigy of a straw woman is set on fire. The first time festival has been held in over 200 years & the village turns out in force, however a local Vicar named Deakin is trapped inside the straw effigy & burned alive in front of the horrified villagers... DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) & Sgt Dan Scott (John Hopkins) are on the case, suspicion immediately falls on porn king Alan Clifford (Keith Barron) who has tried to 'destroy village life' since he moved there & gets a lot of hassle from the locals including the Chruch. Then things take another sinister turn when Reverend Jim Hale (Jonathan Hackett) who was Deakin's gay lover is found dead in his Church having seemingly been a victim of spontaneous human combustion...

Episode 6 from season 7 this Midsomer Murders was directed by Sarah Hellings & like a lot of show's from later seasons The Straw Woman is a good watch & an entertaining murder mystery but the magic of the earlier stories are somewhat lacking. The script by Jeff Dodds obviously features the usual Midsomer Murders ingredients like sexual deviance, murder & blackmail but definitely isn't one of the best Midsomer Murders mysteries. For a start the killers motives make next to no sense, as I understand it they killed four people so they could kill someone else. Right? Well, why not just kill the person they want to kill to start with first? Why kill other people, I don't know, maybe I missed something but the motive here seemed weak & made little sense. As I understand it the killer didn't stand to gain anything anyway so I ask again why kill those people? Barnaby & Scott's relationship is interesting here, you can sense that Barnaby is losing patience with Scott as he continues his womanising & he also berates Scott for not leaving his mobile phone turned on. As usual for a Midsomer Murders episode you need to watch all of it & concentrate for the eventual ending to make any sense, this isn't something you can join 30 minutes in or miss any of it & expect to get it.

Midsomer Murders doesn't usually go for homages but here I can't help but feel the whole burning of a straw effigy shaped like a person with someone trapped inside was inspired by The Wicker Man (1973), then there's the whole spontaneous human combustion & witch angle along with severed pigs heads which gives The Straw Woman a certain horror film feel to it. There are four murders in The Straw Woman although none particularly graphic apart from a few shots of people on fire, there are also some shots of a decapitated pigs head too. The acting is very good as always.

The Straw Woman is a nice enough Midsomer Murders mystery, it has some nice horror overtones & I liked the Wicker Man homage but the actual murder plot here isn't perhaps as good as it could have been with a weak killer & a weak set of motives. Even though the IMDb lists The Straw Woman as the penultimate story from season 7 the next episode Ghosts of Christmas Past (2005) was a Christmas special & aired 10 months after The Straw Woman.

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Henry and Kristl did not waste any time on The Straw Woman(2004)

Author: meritcoba from Alkmaar
25 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am not a regular watcher of the Midsomer Murder mysteries, so I can't judge the overall series from this one episode, to be honest. But if this one episode is representative for the whole then I, for one, would not want waste any time with it, for I haven't seen such bunch of nonsense put together in a long time. Well, okay I lie, I saw a CSI episode the other day.

Now I feel obliged to elaborate on this statement by telling the plot, which is considered a spoiler, thus forcing me to mark this review as a spoiler. Which will not do, really. Who wants to read a spoiler? So I remain somewhat obscure about the plot. Let me just say that someone plans to kill someone else and to get into the swing of things kills a few other people before turning to the final and designated victim.

There is no reason nor rhyme to the whole. For one there is no motive but for the desire to kill. And now, without a viable motive, the cops, two bumbling fools, can be led around the village on a wild goose chase involving witches, straw men, pig heads and the burning of the first two and of the victims.

To make the whole more silly there is a village idiot in the form of a half wit tree photographer who is encouraged by a young girl to make nude pictures of her so she can supply those pictures to an old geezer so as to have them somehow discovered in due course by his very religious girlfriend so as to prove to her what kind of pervert he really is. Yes, read it again very slowly.

Now they tossed in two additional things just to make the whole extra silly. Which is the presence of an embryonic lynch mob bent on burning the witch(Burn the witch! Burn the witch!) and the use of a ghostly sound sequence repeatedly played throughout the episode to make the scenes scary. Now the lynch mob idea never really takes off.. People shout a bit and mutter a bit, but when things seem to heat up to boiling point, one of the cops comes in, gives the mob a stern look and the crowd disperses. The sound sequence made me smile as it was exact the same sound - I swear - as I heard in a video game. It was when a vampire in the game Vampire, the Masquerade turned invisible.

In the meantime the police undertakes diligent action by talking to this person and talking to that person, one taking his time to get to know the local teacher very well indeed(did you, by the way, notice how many series seem to be full of single nubile women lacking a love interest and neatly spaced out over the various episodes?) and coming always too late to prevent people from being killed until that one time at the end when the perpetrator is caught red handed(no pun intended).

So now we come probably to the silliest way of killing a person. You sprinkle them with some easily combustible fluid from a small bottle, then have the fluid self ignite by mere contact with the air and voilà the body burns to a cinder. Sometimes the killer needs to whack the victim over the head with something so the victim can be sprinkled, or drug him or her to do the same, but not always. And for anyone interested in killing people: it just takes some basic knowledge any school can teach you to make this fluid, so we are repeatedly told. And you do this killing preferably inside a church as nobody goes to church anyway these days, unless it is to get killed(or kill someone). Guaranteed no witnesses. Never mind that you have to get to the church by crossing the open ground of the surrounding graveyard. But no, nobody ever sees the killer. A side note: the church becomes a murder scene with a do not cross tape across the doors, but there is no guard and the doors are left wide open. Good lord!

And of course, the police conveniently forgets all means of investigation, such as taking fingerprints for one. They just stick to asking questions like: where were you between 4 -6 pm Wednesday? And then follow up that question with: have you anyone who can corroborate this? There is nothing much to it. No evidence wall, not teams canvassing the area and no crime scene investigation team. It is not such a series I guess.

In all this series is a silly waste of time and silly is OK, if it was meant to be silly.. but it is meant to be deadly serious.

I am afraid I have to mark this review as a spoiler.

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6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

awful

6/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
28 September 2014

Normally I think people are too hard on some of the "Midsomer Murders" episodes, which over many years vary in quality. Now it's my turn -- I hated this one.

I'm not a fan of horror films, but I could even have lived with the horror aspects of this one because of the presence of Barnaby. In The Straw Woman, the curate of the church in Midsomer Parva is burned alive in the effigy of the straw woman, which brings Barnaby and Scott into the village to investigate. Later, the vicar, the curate's lover, is also killed by burning to death, possibly the result of spontaneous combustion.

The village is all atwitter because of the presence of Alan Clifford, sort of a Hugh Hefner type, a wealthy man due to the sex business. He has moved to Midsomer Parva. He has plans for a mansion there, and people are nervous about it.

Due to the death by burnings, which continue, people are beginning to see witchcraft everywhere, as witches once inhabited the village, and they somehow connect this with the local homeopath. Hopefully Barnaby and Scott can solve the murders before local citizens take the law into their own hands.

I thought the denouement of this episode was so stupid. Scott is his usual flirtatious self, and this time has a more serious involvement.

I forgot to mention that all kinds of things go on with pig heads. I guess I blocked it out.

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Could have been a classic, just falls short of good.

6/10
Author: Paul Evans from Swansea, United Kingdom
31 May 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've always had mixed feelings about The Straw Woman, there are some incredibly powerful and memorable moments from it, but it's as if they're all put together in the wrong order.

The start is hugely powerful, if ever a concept was taken from The Wicker Man and used to good effect it was this one, worthy of a scene from a horror movie, that stayed with me. The seemingly spontaneous human combustion of the Vicar was incredibly well done, you don't get more daring or realistic then that. As a big admirer of Jemima Rooper I'm always glad to see an appearance by her, even if she is underused. Richenda Grey as always was brilliant. Good use of straw dollies and themes of witch craft, but....

The main story was uninteresting, didn't flow, and largely made no sense, poor Keith Barron was given a dreadful character, he had nowhere to go, as did the glamorous Maggie O'Neill. The ending was atrocious, as was the discovery of the killer. I didn't believe in Scott's liaison with Liz, nor his reaction.

I'm not normally one to comment on bad taste, but some elements of this story I thought were in rather dubious taste, draw your own conclusions there.

This could and should have been a classic, the elements were certainly there, just poorly executed. 6/10

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Problematic

6/10
Author: vdegriff from South Australia
28 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Wicker Man, The Crucible and Lord of the Flies are referenced in this episode.

In 21st Century England a mob of deplorable villagers cry witch on a well meaning, patient and lovable young teacher while a curate is burned alive inside a giant straw woman while others, including the Reverend Hale, seem to be victims of "spontaneous" combustion. Is a murderous witch at work? As is often the case with Midsomer Murders, a village riven by rancorous conflict between competing tribes needs to rely on Barnaby to remain above it all and restore civilised values.

Unfortunately the distinction between Barnaby and the retrograde elements of Midsomer Parva becomes blurred as, for example, he seems to advocate for folk medicine as at least equivalent to modern medical science (tree bark is equivalent to the aspirin that is derived from it according to Kate Malpas). Elsewhere the voices opposing organised Christianity are powerful and sympathetic while its proponents in the story are narrow minded and hypocritical. The script seems to indulge in special pleading at the expense of the narrative perspective established over seven series and risks diminishing Barnaby's stature for the show's fans.

Balancing this is the story of Alan Clifford, known to some as "the pornographer" but who it is revealed is a benefactor. Dying of cancer he has chosen palliative care over traditional treatment and treating him are representatives of folk/homeopathic and scientific medicines.

But with Midsomer Murders it is better to journey than to arrive, so there is some disquiet to be endured among the surreal joys before we reach the final scenes that attempt to put everything to rights.

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People Certainly Are Testy

7/10
Author: Hitchcoc from United States
11 March 2016

There are some problems with this series. For one thing, it seems that we never have one murder. We can bank on there being two, three, or four. Of course, they are related to the principle crime at the beginning. For some reason, there is a festival called the straw woman which has its foundations in the 400 year old witch burnings. A woman who collects and sells herbs is suspected of being a witch. This 21st Century town believes there a really are witches and begins to persecute her. There are all kinds of hypocrites among the "religious" of the town and some are reacting, particularly to a couple of gay priests. In the middle of the town we also have a man who is patterned after Hugh Hefner. He is a successful pornographer and has turned an Abbey into a Playboy type mansion. He is being treated for cancer and has a nurse who attends to his every need. Anyway, things continue to get out of hand. Someone is burning people and making it look like spontaneous combustion. The resolution is a bit unsatisfactory, but in this series, the bizarre works pretty well.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Burning with disappointment

4/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
22 January 2017

Quite easily the worst episode of Season 7 ("Sins of Commission" is also a seemingly controversial episode, personally thought it was very good until the contrived last 15 minutes with the killer's ridiculously lazy motive). Not only that, would even go far to say that it is to me the worst 'Midsomer Murders' episode since "The Electric Vendetta".

Starting with the good things, 'Midsomer Murders' has always been a great-looking show even in the worst episodes. "The Straw Woman" is no exception, as ever the production values are top notch, with to die for scenery, the idyllic look of it contrasting very well with the story's creepiness, and while there is a quaintness thematically "The Straw Woman" is one of the show's darkest and this is matched by a dark visual look when needed.

The music fits perfectly, whether quirky, lush or ominous, and the theme tune one of the most memorable and instantly recognisable of the genre. The acting is strong all round, with the actors really doing the best they can with material beneath them. John Nettles is magnetic to watch as always, and a relaxed John Hopkins works perfectly with him. Their spirited chemistry is also a plus. "The Straw Woman" gets some credit for giving a creepy horror-like vibe (with some neat homages to the likes of 'The Wicker Man', 'Lord of the Flies' and 'The Crucible') that did give some creepiness and suspense.

For those good things, however, it was clear that the writers for "The Straw Woman" tried very hard with the atmosphere and the homages but forget to make the story itself engaging or even worse make sense. Some of the episode is a slog while a lot of it is convoluted, the second most convoluted of the Tom Barnaby-era after "The Electric Vendetta", and at times illogical. The killer's motives made no sense whatsoever, and even for the concept the murders were far too grisly ('Midsomer Murders' have had some brutal deaths, but these deaths belong in an 18-certificate horror film).

Anybody expecting fun and colourful supporting characters, often a large part of the show's appeal, will be deeply disappointed. All the supporting characters are either dull or made to look like idiots, and religious nuts will take big issue with how the religious characters are written here. The script is missing the quirky humour and is just too silly and confused to provoke thought or maintain consistent interest. Scott's unprofessionalism here was also a turn-off, don't think there's any other episode with him that has him doing things that would realistically put his job on the line.

Overall, a burning disappointment, the worst of the seventh season and one of the worst of the Tom Barnaby-era. 4/10 Bethany Cox

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Just, no. Horrible horror.

1/10
Author: ummajon2003
20 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Set in Midsomer Parva, S7E6 was filmed in Turville, Buckinghamshire. Apparently this was meant to be the spooky Halloween-ish episode with its "mysterious whispering," talk of witches, and bodies burnt alive. I did not enjoy it and hoped it'd put itself out of its misery quickly. Other topics included a couple of gay priests, an ex-pornographer defiling an old church as he lay dying with a troubled daughter who lounges in the nude and seduces an unsuspecting man before jokingly placing a severed, bloody pig head on his belly while he slept (drugged by her no less). Yes, utterly pathetic and disgusting episode. Most scenes were filmed in the dark of night, and even in the light of day there were only a few worthy exteriors to enjoy. For more of my commentary, check out my Midsomer blog: http://midsomermurders1997.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-straw-woman- s7e6.html

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6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Worst Midsomer Murders I've seen

2/10
Author: Sandy Petersen from Rockwall, Texas
30 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

So ... my wife and I have been watching Midsomer Murders from the start, and have immensely enjoyed them. Yeah not every show is brilliant, but by and large they are solid.

Until this one. Man alive STRAW WOMAN sucked big time. I can only assume the screenwriter had some kind of axe to grind. Here are just a few of the massive flaws.

1) every single religious person in the show is displayed as a near- psychotic ignorant hypocrite. Even a judge & a doctor are idiots, apparently solely because they are religious. The church-goers are so ludicrously extreme their prejudice, frankly, lost all its force. I just rolled my eyes when the crowd actually started calling for the burning of witches. Seriously? Even Barnaby, whom we KNOW attends church from other episodes, bad-mouths the citizens in town.

2) more anti-religious tripe. They outright say that Christians have a "sadomachistic" approach to death, AND that the Bible calls for witches to be burned. While the former statement might be just an opinion, the second is simply not true. The only slightly sympathetic church person is also massively neurotic.

3) Scott immediately falls into bed with a "person of interest". One second he's questioning her, the next he's spending the night. This is NOT what I've come to expect from Detective Scott, seems hugely unprofessional, and isn't in character. At all - he is usually portrayed as rather endearingly awkward around women.

4) other characters are goofy. They pull motivations out of nowhere. The girl supposedly likes this kid out of nowhere, after trying to seduce his rotten old dad, playing horrendous pranks on him, and generally tormenting him. Yeah sure all is forgiven because she sat at his bedside after he is nearly killed. Another character who seems a likely choice for the murderer is let off when she says, she would never murder someone for their beliefs because her ancestor 400 years ago was executed for witchcraft. And Barnaby & Scott apparently agree that this would mean she wouldn't kill someone and leave. ??

5) every atheist in the show is portrayed as wise, and kind, and correct all the time. Usually there is at least a lampshade showing that both sides have points to make. Not here. It is utterly black and white. Church = bad. Atheism = good. Even the idiotic "alternative doctor" is better than the real doctor, because she is an atheist I guess.

If you're religious, this insults you. If you're not a believer, then this insults your intelligence. So far in 7 seasons this is the only episode that I wish I hadn't seen.

Ecch.

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Way too convoluted to make a point against Christians?

4/10
Author: Parker Lewis from United States
22 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I appreciate no-one's immune from the barbs of the Midsomer writers, and that's freedom of speech for you. But I found in this episode an over-the-top criticism and disbelief about Christian beliefs. For instance, one of the characters exclaims in disbelief, "A Christian doctor???!!!" As if no such person exists on planet Earth.

Unfortunately the culprit's motives were way to roundabout and convoluted, and appeared to be a way for the vicarage leadership to meet grisly ends.

I'm not expecting a pro-forma sympathetic view of Christians on Midsomer. In fact I'm not even expecting "balance". But I do expect a coherent plot line!!

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