Producer: Joe Davis
Within seconds of the opening of the first episode of the “Queens of Mystery,” the warm, comfortable tones of a skillful narrator paint a picture of the ride she’s about to take you on. The deft voiceover hints at intrigue, plus a definite flavoring of quirkiness, layered in with a light touch. In this cozy mystery series, the narrator gently guides us into the tale, unfolding the story of the central character’s (Mathilda) background and setting up her major wound. This also happens to be the overarching mystery of the series: the disappearance of her mother when Mathilda was three years, three days, three hours, and three minutes old. Within that magical first bit of voiceover narration, you also meet the three crime-solving, murder mystery-loving aunts who raised her.
The clues of her mother’s disappearance, the lush English countryside as a backdrop, the classic car (the heroine’s vehicle) are further enhanced and set apart from the ordinary with specialized lighting and over-saturated colors. All these lovely features are woven together with the medium-rich tones of our capable narrator who entices you down the lane of a good old classic British murder mystery. This opening is longer than most opening narratives at three full minutes, but we don’t mind.
The Brilliance of Her Craft
Juliet Stevenson is the tea-and-scones-with-clotted-cream voice of Queens of Mystery (just renewed for a second season after a pandemic hiatus). Both a brilliant actor as well as a beloved voice-over actor, Stevenson is well known for her role opposite Alan Rickman in Truly, Madly Deeply.
With a list of credits a yard long, training at the Royal Academy and Royal Shakespeare Company, and a prolific career in audiobook and documentary narration, she even nabbed an Emmy nomination for her Queens of Mystery voiceover work.
‘Queens of Mystery’ Gets Meta
The show isn’t shy about its meta direction, from the beginning it wants you to know that this is a story. The episodes are titled as Chapters, the title sequence unfolds like a pop-up book and all three aunts are writers… a hint perhaps? A clue as to the identity of the narrator?
Although it’s still early days in the series, there is some speculation in fan groups with the main question centered around whether our narrator is a character intrinsic to the show or an external storyteller? Mathilda herself doesn’t know. In an interview Olivia Vinall expresses her curiosity, asking “Who is the narrator? What is their perspective? Why are they letting us in? Are they the storyteller? Are they a character?’ I don’t know yet, but hopefully, we’ll find out!”
Critics suggest both the narration and aesthetic are reminiscent of shows like Pushing Daisies. A whimsical and colorful story about piemaker Ned, and Chuck, the girl he loves but can never touch, narrated to an inch by Jim Dale. In both stories, the narrator does more than provide exposition but rather injects humor, detail, and certain quirky character into the proceedings. This isn’t a story read by mum or dad before bedtime, rather it’s a story with true character. Omniscient, this voiceover narrator leans in at various moments to whisper in your ear and spill the tea about what one character wanted to say, but didn’t, or how another felt, but was reluctant to reveal.
Juliet Stevenson Defines Her Storytelling Style
Stevenson embodies the mystery storyteller archetype, her narration in Queens of Mystery is smooth and modern, cozy yet classy. With her classic, fairy godmother delivery, these tidbits are respectful to the listener.
You feel as though you’re linked arm in arm with an indomitable host waltzing you through a party as if you are the guest of honor. Invisible to the characters in this series, she gives you the insider’s view of everything that is going on. The delivery is understated yet powerful. Always smart, the narrator is tongue in cheek, thoughtful and appropriate or revealing by turns. It serves as the base hand of music against the quirkier side notes of the aunts (Cat, Beth, and Jane) and the darling of their hearts, the main melody of the slightly awkward yet self-driven Mathilda.
Colorful, creative, and refreshingly original, the show also has a decidedly female weight to it, with four protagonists of the xx chromosomal persuasion, plus the narrator, so let’s make that five. A theme of love or thwarted love is also embroidered into the fabric of Queens of Mystery, but it is happily of less import than the weekly murder mystery the protagonists must unravel. Stevenson’s low-toned pitch-perfect delivery hints at the density of the character of the narrator herself in this series, hence so much speculation as to what her identity/place may be. Whether it takes on the fan frenzy of Jane the Virgin is less probable, but kudos to this series which is a narrator-role boundary-pusher.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, whose TV and film narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, the major networks, in IMAX, the Smithsonian and the White House.