Murder he wrote

Neill Rea as DI Mike Shepherd in The Brokenwood Mysteries

Neill Rea as DI Mike Shepherd in The Brokenwood Mysteries

If you have been watching local drama The Brokenwood Mysteries, you will know that bad things can happen in a small New Zealand town. People die in horrible ways, dirty little secrets are aired and friends can become enemies. 

The four-part murder-mystery series which is set in the fictional picturesque town of Brokenwood is based around the work of two detectives, the seasoned Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea) and his ambitious and younger sidekick Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland). 

Three episodes were penned by Tim Balme, who is also an actor whose CV includes stints on Outrageous Fortune, Nothing Trivial and The Almighty Johnsons.

The other episode (which screens this Sunday on Prime) centres on the town's golf club and was the brainchild of James Griffin who has been bashing out TV scripts since the mid-1980s. 

"It's been my kind of sneaking task in many of the series I've worked on to try to sneak golf in there somewhere," says James, who is a fan of the sport. "I got it into Mercy Peak, I got mini-golf in Almighty Johnsons, I even got golf into Outrageous Fortune. 

"When Tim came to me and said 'Do you want to write an episode?' I got to pick my own setting. I toyed around with a couple. I thought country music and they went 'no'. There was a series that never got off the ground many years ago that I'd been pitching around which is set in a small-town golf club committee. I thought 'Ooh, those are always good kind of hotbeds... sex, drugs and rock n roll'. I wrote the story with a whole bunch of actors – who I play golf with regularly – in mind and they cast none of them. They're all angry with me now. But in fairness one was cast in an early episode."

During the golf episode, Alison Stone (Roz Turnbull), Brokenwood's Golf Club owner, stumbles across the course with a blistering red face and gasping for air before falling into a greenside bunker. By the time a group of committee members get to her, she is dead. Was she poisoned and, if so, who was responsible?

Personal interests aside, there are several reasons why James thought that setting the story around a golf club would work. "Starting from the basic termsin television, it's very scenic," he says. "They are beautiful places to shoot. People have a certain passion for the game that a lot of people just don't understand and can't see the point of it. All sport when you look at it is kind of pointless but golf especially. Why do you try to hit a white ball 400 metres down a lawn into a small hole? It just makes no sense whatsoever but for many people it's an essential part of their life. In small communities the golf club is often a hub of social activity," says James.

"It throws up interesting people. It's a sport that you can portray easily because people spend a lot of time walking around and talking and sharing ideas. I played with this Asian guy once who was really good and he said 'When I was young and every time I hit it to the rough, my dad would say, 'Why are you hitting it over there? You can't do business when you're in the bush'.'One of things with Brokenwood was that Prime really wanted it to be of everyday New Zealand and I think New Zealand is one of the only places on Earth where golf isn't an elitist sport. We have more golf courses per head of population than anywhere else in the world and you can play cheaply. It's a social experience so I think it has that kind of everyman factor."

James, who works from his home and in a "horribly dingy office", says he reads reviews of his shows but has learnt to put them in perspective. "Some things hurt. Some things don't," he says. "It's really whether you think it's justified. I hate that kind of lazy journalism criticism where someone says 'They're trying too hard' or 'It was a lazy attempt'. And you go, 'Well no it wasn't. Don't try to assume you know what I was thinking at the time. I find I get more angry and reactive to some of the comments that you get online these days." 

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 - TV Guide


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