Psychiatrists go mad over Midsomer Murders

Ed Cottingham

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Not satisfied with on-going crusades against alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, and just about anything else that people derive enjoyment from, public-health officials have now turned their attention to the damaging effects of crime dramas.

A bizarre report by NHS psychiatrists, to be published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, claims that ITV detective drama Midsomer Murders presents an unrealistic portrayal of homicide which ‘may undermine public-health measures aimed at reducing the rate and impact of violence’. The report follows remarks made by Dame Helen Mirren, the latest recipient of the UK film industry’s Bafta fellowship, who criticised British television dramas for their portrayal of violence against women, echoing comments made by playwright David Hare, who ‘can’t stand the body count in contemporary dramas’.

One commentator has been quick to praise Dame Helen for reigniting the discussion over the depiction of women in crime dramas, singling out Scandinavian crime dramas The Killing and The Bridge for ‘ubiquitous’ violence and complaining that the BBC’s The Fall made for ‘very discomfiting viewing’. (Maybe turn it off, then?)

These latest comments from high-profile luvvies and public-health officials seem to mark a slight shift in the never-ending debate over violence in film and television. Where once concerns focused on a belief that realistic depictions of violence would influence real acts of violence by apparently impressionable audiences, the latest remarks focus on a crisis of creativity in television dramas and films, which are now not realistic enough, apparently.

Either way, the general viewing public is treated with contempt. If violence is depicted realistically on screen, then malleable-minded audiences – it has been suggested – might go on their own killing sprees after a Saturday night BBC4 binge. But if murder is not depicted realistically enough, then the public, seemingly unable to separate reality from fiction, will be left with a ‘misleading impression of homicide’.

In truth, fans of The Bridge and The Killing are more likely to go out and buy patterned Faroese jumpers, in honour of The Killing’s lead cop Sarah Lund, or maybe Ikea furniture than go on bloody rampages. Viewers of Midsomer Murders are probably more concerned with the numbers round on Countdown than deliberating over whether the latest episode accurately reflected UK crime statistics. It’s the critics of such shows that need to get a grip on reality.

Ed Cottingham is a writer based in London.

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