The Madame Blanc Mysteries’ Sally Lindsay

Known from hits such as Cold Call and Mount Pleasant, Sally Lindsay not only stars in the escapist crime drama The Madame Blanc Mysteries, she also created the series and serves as co-writer. In it, she plays Jean White, a renowned antique dealer whose expertise in antiquities proves to be the key to solving a series of murders and mysteries in a picturesque French village. Hot on the heels of the launch of season three, Lindsay tells TV Drama about the inspiration for the show and the unique way she and co-writer Sue Vincent craft stories together.

TV DRAMA: What was the drive in creating this series?
LINDSAY: My company and I are always looking for female-led projects. Years ago, I met this amazing woman on holiday in Spain who was really funny and lovely, and she was an unbelievable antique dealer. She was almost Sherlockian in her knowledge. She is a fourth-generation owner of an antique shop in London. She said they go all over these little towns in the south of France and swap [antiques] around. I remember thinking this was amazing. [The idea] was hanging around for years, and I thought, How do we set this off? How do we get this character alive? We came up with the town and the characters first, and then I built the world around this little town in the south of France, which doesn’t actually exist—but it does in my mind. That’s when it came to life. Then, I had to find a way of getting her there. The story was that her husband was driving to one of these towns to get some antiques and do some swapping, and unfortunately, he was in a car crash. He was carrying a very expensive ring, and the ring went missing. She finds out that he actually had another life. Everything she’s got is mortgaged away; she owns nothing, and she has to start again. That’s how we met Jean and the gang. And now we’re in the third season.

TV DRAMA: Did you know from the start that you wanted to have a hand in writing it as well as star?
LINDSAY: I created it, but it all happened so quickly. We probably would have gotten a team of writers together, but it was just before the pandemic, and we didn’t know that was coming. Everything was ready before the pandemic hit, and everybody was in such a rush. It was the first time that ever happened in my life. I created this treatment of the world and the characters, and Acorn TV wanted a script, quite rightly. For love or money, I couldn’t get anyone to do it, so I thought, I’ll write it myself then.

My friend Sue Vincent, who plays Gloria, and I had only written comedy before. I didn’t know if I could do mystery. You never know what you can do until you try, do you? I was so entrenched in Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie; I have been a major fan since I was little. It all came out that way.

It was always going to be a vehicle for me [to star in], but I also wanted it to be a big ensemble piece. One person in every scene is sometimes quite dull. I really like an ensemble piece. So, I rang up friends and said, I’ve got this thing, do you fancy being in it?

TV DRAMA: How does the writing collaboration with you and Sue work? How do you break stories together?
LINDSAY: It’s quite an unusual system. I’m the one who is more attuned to the mystery side. We bandy around ideas about antiques. We have collected antiques through the years—anything interesting that pops up on Facebook, television, a poster even or at an art gallery, I’m always noting it down. I’ve got this world of antiques in my head all the time. Then, I write a seven- to ten-page very specific scene breakdown, which usually includes two storylines: our local storyline and the mystery storyline. I read it to Sue, and she says what works and what doesn’t. Then she goes away and writes a Bible’s worth of dialogue. It’s so much dialogue, far too much; ten pages more than we need, really, but that’s her brilliant skill. Then we spend a week doing what we call “bonsai-ing it,” and we bonsai it to fit the time we need. It’s a very unusual method of writing. I don’t know anyone else who does it. I think [it works] because we are women and we’re not full of ego; I don’t know whether two blokes could do it. We have quite specific roles, but we do cross now and again where I will write dialogue and Sue will have ideas for a mystery. Once we’ve got an idea, we’re really quick with it.

TV DRAMA: Is there anyone advising on the antique angle?
LINDSAY: It’s all Sue and me, just two old birds in London. The brilliant thing about Sue is her research is so unbelievable; I always say she could find a pair of nylons in the war. We get a lot of questions from our bosses at Acorn and Channel 5 asking, Does that really exist? Did that really happen? We always have more evidence in preparation. It’s probably a female thing again, but we have more preparation than anyone. We can prove anything: If it’s happened, then we’ll prove it; if it’s an antique that does this, then we’ll prove it a million times over.
Everything that you see is pretty damn genuine; we’ve researched it intensely. There was talk of some help at the start, but it never came [laughs], so we just did it ourselves. And I quite like that! We rediscover things, and the audience does too.

TV DRAMA: Why is this genre of cozy-style mysteries popular with audiences right now?
LINDSAY: The world is quite a dark place at the moment. It’ll get better; it always does. But every 50 years or so, we go across the pendulum, don’t we? We filmed this during the pandemic. This show gives you an hour a week, or whenever you want to boxset it, when you can literally just escape. You can get a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of wine, sit there and escape with your friends who live in this beautiful town in France. They’re funny and engaging, and it feels safe. You get a lovely mystery as well to go with it. You get sunshine, a bit of romance and humor. That’s what people want at that moment. It’s too hard right now; life is too gritty and dark. This show has hit at the right time when people needed it.

TV DRAMA: Why is this character so fun to play?
LINDSAY: Jean is a fantasy. Apart from lines, which are somewhere in this frontal lobe, I can’t remember where I parked my car when I come out of the supermarket. She’s got this Sherlockian mind palace in her head about antiques. It’s such a fantasy for me that she has all this knowledge. She’s so normal, people tell her things they probably wouldn’t tell someone of authority or a male. Her ordinariness is her superpower. People don’t expect it. It’s a bit like Miss Marple with Agatha Christie; people never expected this sharp genius mind to come out of this little old lady—and that was their mistake. Jean is just so fun.

Also, I’ve surrounded myself with really brilliant actors and dear friends. I’ve known Sue Holderness, who plays Judith, for over 15 years. I’ve known Steve Edge [who plays Dom] for 25 years; we did Phoenix Nights together. Robin [Askwith, who plays Jeremy] is a new friend. Sue [Vincent] I’ve known for ten years. I’ve surrounded myself with really close people, and that’s why it’s so fun to do. It’s a really fun set.