By Sarah Bates
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2795

The Witchfinder—hunting for laughs in new BBC comedy

Tim Key’s new sitcom about a hapless witchfinder has all the ingredients of a winning magic formula—but it fails to cast a real spell
Issue 2795
Tim Key as witchfinder Gideon Bannister looks down on Daisy May Cooper as the accused Thomasine Gooch, as she sits on trial for witchcraft

Thomasine Gooch is the perfect foil for pompous witchfinder Gideon Bannister

Set in 1645, fear about witches is at feverish heights, and the English Civil War is in full pelt. This makes a rich background for new six-part series The Witchfinder.

Tim Key plays Gideon Bannister, a second rate and opportunistic witchfinder, desperate to be taken seriously among his peers. So he accuses Thomasine Gooch of killing a pig using malicious sorcery, and transports her across East Anglia to trial.

Some decent jokes about the Cavaliers aside, the first two episodes plod on without making much in the way of an impression. Key is just pathetic enough to make Gideon a sympathetic comedy figure, despite his chosen career accusing women of bizarre crimes and extracting false confessions.

At one point Gideon boasts that he’s found women guilty for being witches on the basis of being “unusually hairy” and “placing a hex on a butcher, causing him to become squeamish around certain meats”.

Gooch makes a great foil for him. Her dismissive barbs puncture his more pompous moments. In fact, Daisy May Cooper, absolutely perfect in her breakout role in This Country, could almost be Kerry Mucklowe in a petticoat.

The Witchfinder is from the same stable as Alan Partridge. At points you can see the flashes of the observational brilliance that made that such a classic. Unfortunately, it fails to cast a real spell.

Really The Witchfinder is much less than the sum of its parts. Key and Cooper can more than hold their own. And with comedy greats Ricky Tomlinson, Reece Shearsmith and Jessica Hynes joining them, it could have been fantastic.

It’s a shame, because Key in ­particular is a real comedic talent and we need more of him on TV. Hopefully next time he’ll find a more polished vehicle.

Episode one of The Witchfinder is available now on BBC iPlayer. All later episodes on Tuesdays, 10pm, BBC2 and then on BBC iPlayer


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