Whitstable Pearl: Series 1 and 2
R0 - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (2nd June 2024).
The Show

Pearl Nolan (After Life's Kerry Godliman) once had dreams of being a police detective. Then she got pregnant by "a bloke that turned out to be a bit of a prick," and returned to her coastal home of Whitstable, known for Peter Cushing and the "Crabzilla" hoax, where she has been running the "Whistable Pearl" seafood restaurant for the past twenty years while raising her son Charlie (Harry Wild's Rohan Nedd) while her mother Dolly (Mr. Holmes' Frances Barber) runs circles around her. With Charlie bound for college with Manchester in mind, Pearl is trying to stave off empty nest syndrome with a second act as a private detective. The cases have all been of the mundane variety, but when she discovers her crab supplier Vinnie wrapped up in his own fishing nets in the series opener "The Free Waters" (48:47), she becomes a suspect and DFL ("down from London") DCI Mike McGuire (Scorpion King 5: Book of Souls's Howard Charles) does not seem receptive to her hunches and insider knowledge. Worse yet, sometimes he seems to have more information from official channels than she does about Vinnie's ex-wife Tina (Mona Lisa's Cathy Tyson) and current wife Connie (The Rainbow's Nicola Stephenson). Pearl makes things worse for herself when she is the one to stumble across the body of the loan shark who had been the next likely suspect; however, Pearl keeps her eyes and ears open and discovers clues that point closer to home.

Having recently lost his wife, Mike decides to stick around in Whitstable and is partnered with DS Nikki Martel (Sophia Del Pizzo) who proves just as irascible as Pearl about getting Mike to do something more than loaf around in his hotel room between cases. Mike's hopes of only running into Pearl when he stops into the restaurant for some crab stout are not to be, however, as he often finds himself officially investigating cases on which Pearl has been hired by family of the victim or the prime suspect (sometimes the same person). In "Random Acts" (47:12), Pearl's investigations into a seeming Robin Hood bestowing cash gifts to those in need among the town's elderly and reports from wealthy weekenders of intimidation tactics from unknown locals intersect with a police investigation into a realtor in a diabetic coma from being force-fed marmalade. In "Civil War" (46:16), Pearl finds herself defending her best friend Heidi (Ackley Bridge's Samantha Power) when her retired policeman husband is really shot during a reenactment of an English civil war battle even as she becomes suspicious of the widow's behavior despite a number of other likely suspects from the dead man's past including a couple simultaneous lovers on the side and his own brother (Kevin Fuller).

Things take a darker turn in the second half of the first series starting with "Disappearance at Oare" (49:02) in which Pearl investigates a cold case suicide with no body when widow Christina (Tuyen Do) receives notes claiming her husband did not commit suicide. Pearl looks into his past involvement with a mising girlfriend that may have been the actual love of her life, a shutdown children's home, and a church run by the creepy Minister Cameron (Casulty's Gerald Kyd) attended by the dead man's parents that Dolly claims is actually a cult. In "A Cup O' Kindness" (48:26), Pearl is hired by a grandmother (Angels and Insects' Annette Badland) worried that her former son-in-law (Philip Cumbus) may be behind a series of near-fatal accidents involving his ex-wife (Kathryn Bond) and daughter (Freya Hannan-Mills). Other suspects and motives present themselves, but Pearl may be too late when she realizes the truth. Pearl has prided herself on "knowing" people and trusting her instincts, however, this conviction is truly shaken when the skeleton of her long-missing father washes up in the estuary with what loos like a bullet hole in the skull in "The Man on the Blue Plaque" (47:32) and Mike and Nikki start investigating her own mother who she discovers had strong motives to kill a father who seems unrecognizable to her behind the familiar tall tales.

Based on a series of novel by former TV writer Julie Wassmer (EastEnders) but adapted by Nordic writer/director Ψystein Karlsen, Whitstable Pearl seems tugged back and forth between a light cozy and more of a Scandi-noir tone despite the comedic (dark and otherwise) aspects of Karlsen's other shows like Dag and Lilyhammer. The views of Whistable can be bright and sunny or foggy and moody, but the contrasts between the two leads feel more forced, with Pearl's attempts to push down past bitterness and more recent traumas more compelling than perpetually glowering Mike whose bereavement seems as contrived as moving up the death of the protagonist's wife from a decade before and adding a lost child to the "gritty" Acorn reboot of Dalgliesh; indeed, Mike's character is only interesting when Charles is allowed to get across a touch of facetiousness. The "will they/won't they" element of detective series has become so obligatory that it feels like the showrunners are either not doing it well enough or think they do not need to bother doing the work for the audience who expects it to happen. While Wassmer does stress the attraction between the characters in the behind the scenes segment, in the show itself there really is not that much chemistry between the two and, more so, neither of them seem even remotely emotionally ready for a serious relationship or even a "bunk up" to combat empty nest syndrome or a tragic loss. It is just as well that the series one finale puts some distance between them; however, given the primacy of Pearl's backstory in the first and final episodes of the first series, one wonders whether the second series will uncover more uncomfortable secrets or settle in to a case of the week format because the first series has given viewers little to care about Mike's backstory and nothing to suggest his wife's death had anything to do with his work.

The cases themselves are relatively diverting, and do a better job at keeping the culprit and sometimes the true motive less than obvious. Characterization and backstory for the lead characters, on the other hand, suffers a bit and one begins to look instead for what distinguishes some of the actors from other characters they have played. While the roster of British TV talent seems smaller than the American if only in the sense of how many actors keep popping up in various productions, there is a quasi-incestuous aspect to the casting of actors from other current detective series in sometimes very similar roles. While Barber is perhaps at that stage in her career where she is receiving a lot of offers to play spunky matrons, one could flip back and forth between Whistable Pearl and The Chelsea Detective where she plays the protagonist's meddlesome aunt and not notice much of a difference. At least Nedd here is different enough here from his Harry Wild sidekick – and, more often than not, Pearl is successful at keeping her son from getting involved when things get dangerous thanks to his interest in waitress Ruby (Isobelle Molloy) prominently featured in the series opener and in the background since – while Midsomer Murders' Badland in her guest appearance also surprises in what seems like a throwaway guest spot.

Series two opens with Mike finally doing the work of confronting his loss and starting to date Kat (The Inbetweeners' Emily Head) who he met in grief couseling while Pearl has had it with "moody and tormented" and is dating goofy substitute teacher Tom (Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie's Robert Webb). While both seem happy with their respective partners, Dolly has decided to meddle, joining Mike's swim club to give him updates on Pearl's life and periodically winding Tom up with doubts that Pearl and Mike are just friends and colleagues. The series two opener "Babylon" (44:54), in which a custody battle between a former soldier (Red Tails' Okezie Morro) suffering from violent PTSD, his ex-wife (Hollyoaks' Rachel Adedeji) and her new husband (Oliver Walker) becomes a race against time when their asthmatic son (Yaw Nimako-Asamoah) runs from the scene of a road accident, does not easily bring the pair together as Mike and Pearl find themselves on opposite sides while both trying to find the child. "Night Terrors" (45:05), however, finds Mike laid up going stir crazy and taking an obsessive, Rear Window-esque interest in his neighbors across the street, particularly an airline pilot (Daniel De Bourg) who looks like he is plotting to kill his wife (Roanna Appleby) who insists that he is acting out in his sleep. Pearl investigates and finds that things are not as straightforward as they seem. Kat and Tom, however, are hoping that Pearl and Mike are not just looking for excuses to spend time together.

In "The Offer" (43:47), Pearl herself is disinclined to help Molly Stratton ('s ) who wants to sell her late mother's pub to outside developers when she starts receiving threatening letters she believes are the work of her neighbors who have formed a preservation society and are harassing her; that is, until the body of her highest bidder washes up in the surf. Her own progress into the investigation is hampered as Mike attempts to put some ostensibly-professional distance between them. The most out-there episode of the second series is "The Gumshoe and the Femme Fatale" (44:11) in which Pearl's client (Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton) is the likeliest suspect in a vicious attack on reclusive former "scream queen" actress Zelda St. Clair (And Now the Screaming Starts's Stephanie Beacham) who has left her everything in the will; at least, that is what her much younger husband (Dread's Leon Ockenden), failed actress daughter (Lisa Diveney), and her gardener husband (James Oliver Wheatley) would like everyone to believe.

In "Hidden Treasures" (45:27) as Mike and Pearl attempt to stay out of each other's lives and work. Mike and Nikki suspect the victim of a corner shop robbery is keeping something from them about the culprit while Pearl attempts to discover whether her mother is having memory issues or if someone else is responsible for a series of incidents and accidents in her home. Pearl has serious misgivings about her mother's choices in light of their discovery but will soon be dealing with her own loneliness when Charlie decides he wants to spend a few months before college with his father in Canada, while Mike tries to confront Kat about the losses they have both been trying to avoid dealing with using each other. The series two finale "To Those We Love" (44:33) puts Pearl in danger when she investigates the murder of a bride whose husband (Rishi Nair) is a serial cheater sleeping with the officiate (Leah Brotherhead), and was receiving threatening calls in the months leading up to the ceremony that both she and her fiance suspected of being made by his control freak mother (Citizen Khan's Shobu Kapoor).

Series two opens up the landscape and the series with a few new additions but it is still caught between cozy levity and half-hearted but overbearing dramatics. The show withholding what may be dark revelations about Mike's past and his loss leaves Charles little to do and he comes across as one-note while holding back from ever getting too serious about how much Pearl will miss Charlie and how lonely Dolly is actually supposed to be. While Kat always felt like an obstacle added by the writers, the show at least makes the effort of trying to make Tom a believable partner to Pearl despite him being the butt of jokes by Dolly, Ruby, Charlie, as well as Mike and Kat; and Webb gets to convey both his insecurity and attempts to overcome his own jealousy and guilt when he makes uncharitable remarks about Mike. Of course, the episode that does most of the heavy lifting in terms of character development features the most trivial cases, while Nikki and Ruby continue to be given the least to do despite actually being interesting characters when given more than a few lines per episode. Series three is on the way, and it will be curious to see if it carries over the developments of the series two closer or does a time jump and tries to surprise the viewer with new additions while sweeping things under the rug.


Shot in high definition and framed at 2.00:1, Whistable Pearl: Series 1 & 2 offers some nice landscape views and drone shots but the wider frame is not used with any particular artfulness anywhere else in the show. Previously issued separately, series one and series two each feature six episodes that each run three-quarters of an hour and are each spread over two dual-layer DVDs. The standard definition encoding is more than adequate for the program compared to the HD streaming version.


The only audio option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix and the professional mix manages to convey all of the dialogue clearly enough including the contrast in tone and volume between Pearl and Mike – who almost mumbles sometimes but is always understandable – and optional English HoH subtitles had not glaring transcription errors. Atmospherics are kept to a minimum and the scoring – apart from the title theme – is supportive without calling attention to itself.


Disc two of series one features the extras including a picture gallery (1:06) and "From Script to Screen" (36:40) in which producer Guy Hescott (Agatha Raisin) recalls meeting with Wassmer's agent for a project with another client and walking away with several of her books, and the decision to use Karlsen to apply his perspective to the adaptation. Wassmer recalls her decision to transition from TV writer to novelist and discusses the series characters and her approval of the casting choices even though they are opposites (Pearl dark and Mike fair in the books). She seems to make more of the romantic relationship than the series itself, but the second series may have developed the relationship further. Godliman, Charles, Barber, and some of the supporting cast also discuss their characters – including single episode characters who make it sound like they are regulars – and some crew discuss the delights and challenges of shooting on location in Whistable with the locals and the old, narrow streets.

Disc two of series two features a "Behind the Scenes" (31:03) in which the actors offer recaps about where their characters were in the first series to where they are in the second as well as discussing the differences shooting in Whitstable during COVID for the first series and now post-COVID, as well as behind the scenes video of the shoot and contributions from the director. A picture gallery (1:24) is also included.


While the separate series sets place the two discs one separate hubs on either side of the inner case, the four discs here are stacked onto one hub in typical Acorn practice.


The first two series of Whitstable Pearl seem tugged back and forth between a light cozy and more of a Scandi-noir tone that can be offputtingly one-note.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it and amazon.es . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.