TV: The Witchfinder, BBC Two

TV: The Witchfinder, BBC Two

I've been looking forward to The Witchfinder ever since it was announced. As comedies go you can't get a better pedigree. It is written by Neil and Rob Gibbons, the brothers who write Alan Partridge, and stars Tim Key – Sidekick Simon from Partridge and a million other shows – and Daisy May Cooper from This Country. And I doff my cap to everyone, it's ruddy brilliant. 

The year is 1645 and Key plays Gideon Bannister, an ambitious but frankly ineffectual aspiring witchfinder, who arrives in an East Anglian village determined to butter up the magistrate (Vincent Franklin, pictured with Tim Key below) and get his big break. But a few things stand in his way. Apart from the fact that he is hapless (though not hatless, he quickly borrows a new one), he faces a couple of rivals – thieving swine Hepple (Daniel Rigby from(Landscapers, Flowers) and big shot John Stearne (Joplin Sibtain). 

Key's Bannister is an instantly recognisable, relatable comic creation. There's a bit of Brent in his attempts to ooze more authority than he actually has and maybe a bit of Partridge in his clumsy efforts at eloquence. But Key brings something else to the party. He's got a pudding-faced strangeness about him that makes Bannister compelling. And funny even when he doesn't say anything.

And Key needs to be good because Daisy May Cooper as Thomasine Gooch should be hung as a thief for stealing every scene she is in with her stroppy backchat and surly attitude. Instead Gooch is charged with witchcraft because a local pig died. And when Bannister discovers that the Witchfinder General himself, Matthew Hopkins (have they exhumed Vincent Price?) is due to be in Chelmsford at the end of the week he thinks he could get a nice promotion in the witchfinding business by putting Gooch on trial there.

According the the blurb the rest of the series is a road trip with Bannister and Gooch, somewhere between Midnight Run and Planes, Trains and Automobiles but set in the 17th Century. The first episode tees this up nicely and also features a fabulous supporting cast. Blink and you'll miss familiar comedy faces Mike Wozniak, Celeste Dring, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Michelle Greenidge, Matt Green and Phoebe Walsh. It's good to see Jessica Hynes (Spaced) back with a decent-sized role as Bannister's sidekick Old Myers, though it might take you a moment to recognise her. 

More guests pop up in later episodes - click here for extra info. 

I've seen this has had mixed reviews so far. Well, The Guardian was a bit sniffy about it. As I said, a pox on anyone who doesn't laugh.

The Witchfinder, Tuesdays, 10pm, BBC Two

Pictures: Baby Cow



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