(Editor’s Note: We can never have enough of Agatha Raisin. The new series is the subject of Mystery Scene magazine’s cover story for our Winter issue. And here is an interview with actress Ashley Jensen, who brings to life the character of Agatha Raisin.)
Although she doesn’t resemble the Agatha Raisin character as depicted in M.C. Beaton’s popular novels, Scottish actress Ashley Jensen certainly captures the spirit of this amateur sleuth in the TVs series, now in its second season on Acorn TV.
In Beaton’s 29 novels about the former public relations who opts for early retirement then moves to a small village in the Cotswolds in England, Agatha is described as “short, dumpy with dark hair” and hardly glamorous.
That is not a description that even begins to describe the stylish, svelte, blonde, and, yes, glamorous Jensen.
“Well, I am short,” said Jensen during a telephone interview—one of many Jensen had back-to-back that day—punctuated by frequent laughter thanks to her easy sense of humor.
Physicality aside, Jensen perfectly brings to life Agatha’s character—prickly, nosy, unfiltered, confident, and a bit vulnerable. Agatha’s the kind of friend you want to hang out with every day because she would be fun to be with: drinking lots of wine together and being on top of all the gossip.
Jensen said she was drawn to Agatha because the character is so relatable.
“People can see themselves in her,” said Jensen, best known for her supporting roles in HBO’s Extras and ABC’s Ugly Betty. Jensen received two British Comedy Awards and a BAFTA nomination for her role in Extras. Her role in the 2007 Christmas Special earned her an Emmy Award nomination.
“Agatha’s just like us. We see her when she is a bit hung-over, when she’s had a bit too much wine, or getting dressed, or just not looking her best.
“At the same time, Agatha does what she wants and says what she wants. She doesn’t like to be proven wrong, especially by a man,” Jensen said.
“She’s a single lady in a small community. She’s strong and independent and successful. But still finding herself, which we all go through.”
Jensen also likes that Agatha has strong friendships. “These friendships bring out the best in each other,” Jensen said.
While Agatha first appeared in 1979’s The Quiche of Death, the Acorn series updates the character. “Ours is a more modern take on Agatha,” said Jensen. “She is very much a contemporary woman, a woman of her times.”
Jensen’s interpretation of Agatha not only appeals to fans but also to Marion Chesney, author M.C. Beaton’s real name. “Marion Chesney said she liked me and that was good enough for me,” said Jensen.
Viewers can see why the author is smitten with the actress’s performance. That wasn’t the case when Beaton’s series about Hamish Macbeth, the laconic, unambitious Highland village policeman, was filmed as a television series. Beaton was quoted in several publications as objecting that, in her opinion, Macbeth, played by actor Robert Carlyle, was turned into a brooding pot-smoker.
“Hamish Macbeth the TV show was so different from the books. I had a rotten time with the TV company,” Beaton was quoted in the Scottish Sun. “Whereas the present Agatha Raisin, I’m very pleased with. Agatha does not look like Ashley Jensen but in character she is just like her—she is a brilliant actress.”
Jensen said she has not read Beaton’s novels, preferring to bring her own interpretation to the character. “I love a good mystery but I don’t tend to read a lot of them just because of time. I can’t sit down long enough,” she said. “I do watch a lot of them on television.”
Still, there is something very appealing about a mystery fiction, she said. “That fish out of water—that’s Agatha,” she said, adding that she has real Paula Hawkins’ novels and those of British author Clare Donoghue, whom she considers a friend.
The backdrop of Britain’s Cotswolds also are appealing to viewers, she said. “It’s a beautiful area and we can show it off to American audiences,” she said.
Agatha Raisin did so well during its initial season that the second season is Acorn TV’s first sole commission. The second season features three 90-minute television movies—Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham, now streaming on Acorn TV; The Fairies of Fryfam debuting on Christmas Eve and The Curious Curate in late January 2019. To view visit Acorn TV.
(More coverage about Agatha Raisin television season is in the current issue of Mystery Scene.)
Jensen mainly is known for her high-profile supporting roles. The Agatha series is the first time she has been the lead. “I started at the bottom, one line, one scene, at a time. Now I feel a responsibility at being the captain of the ship.”
During our interview, she frequently named members of the television series’ crew, thanking them for their help. That attitude impressed Beaton, who commented in the Scottish Star, that Jensen “knows the name of everyone on that TV crew and bonds them together like a family.”
“It is a team thing,” said Jensen of the crew and various support members who work on the series. “We are all in this together.
”I can’t get ill. Too many people counting on me. I get a lot of sleep and take vitamins. Sometimes I drive around with vitamins.”
Photos: Ashley Jensen as Agatha Raisin. Photos courtesy Acorn TV