TV Review: ‘Ordeal by Innocence is deliciously dark’
- Credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen/ACL/James Fisher/Joss Barratt
This premium period whodunit with a star-studded cast and gorgeous set offered a delicious slice of pitch-black drama in the middle of the most saccharine of seasons. The perfect antidote to all that chocolate.
Delayed gratification is so often unworthy of the wait that by the time this dark adaptation of Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence made it to the screen after allegations regarding one of the original cast led to some hasty reshooting, I'd lost most of my enthusiasm for watching.
But it would have been a Christie-esque crime to have missed this delicious retelling with its flawless cast, gorgeous cinematography and palpable sense of malice threading through every scene. A perfect antidote to all that chocolate stuffing.
This is screenwriter Sarah Phelps' third adaptation of a Christie story (there was 2015's And Then There Were None and 2016's The Witness for the Prosecution) and her trademarks are all over the treatment of the book like fingerprints or DNA.
When her first of the Christie trio was transmitted, there were dire warnings that Phelps had packed her version with hideous violence, drug debauchery and even the f-word and critics (not me) claimed that Agatha Christie would be spinning in her grave over this new incarnation of her most popular novel.
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Agatha Christie plus hideous violence, drug debauchery, the f-word and Aidan 'Contractually-obliged to strip to the waist' Turner, all in one lavish post-festivities blockbuster set in the most beautiful house imaginable on an island so stunningly gorgeous that it makes you weep? It sounded like a recipe for a good night in, and it was.
If the idea of Christie brings forward images of chocolate box cottages in well-manicured villages where crimes are solved by sweet-but-deadly-clever Miss Marple, you'd be in for a shock tuning in to Ordeal by Innocence: Miss Marple may exude cosiness but this Easter Sunday treat was comfortable as lying in a coffin packed full of razor-blades perched on top of a glacier.
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The first scenes showed Rachel Argyll (Anna Chancellor) woozily stumbling after being clocked on the head by a piece of glassware and then the hysterical screaming of the housekeeper Kirsten (Morven Christie) who was first – well, after the murderer, well, unless she WAS the murderer - to find Rachel's bloodied body.
Whether she was screaming at the sight of her mistress prone on the floor or at the thought of getting that much blood out of the fawn carpet is yet to be established but either way, Rachel's husband Leo (Bill Nighy playing himself again) comforted her as her five adopted children came out of their rooms, alerted by the shrieking.
We quickly found out that Rachel had been a philanthropist who had 'rescued' children, adopted them and then brought them up. What a lovely woman. Except, of course, she wasn't lovely at all – with the natural warmth of a supermarket's walk-in freezer, Rachel's brood were uniformly filled with angst, loathing and secret sorrows.
It comes as no big surprise, then, when one of the boys – Jack (Anthony Boyle) – is convicted of his mother's murder after his fingerprints were found on the decanter used to send her to her maker – he dies in gaol after an attack and while the family is sad, it feels like a horrible chapter in their lives has closed, just in time for another horrible chapter to open: enter Leo's horrid secretary Gwenda (Alice Eve) who he plans to marry ASAP while the funeral baked meats can coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Just as the wedding preparations gather force, a stranger arrives: a mysterious, scruffy scientist, Arthur Calgary (Luke Treadaway) who claims he is the alibi that Jack always claimed to have had – summarily dismissed by Leo, he stalks off to a boarding house while we get to know the quirks of the Argylls slightly better.
Everyone has their thing, whether it be morphine addiction, self-harming, brooding, insulting people or being ungrateful (kids, eh?) and absolutely everyone has a reason to kill Rachel who was, according to numerous flashbacks, a real old misery-guts. If Calgary is telling the truth, who actually dunit?
Might it be estuary-accented, tattooed Mickey Argyll (re-cast and now Christian Cooke)? The wheelchair-bound former pilot and present bully with TERRIBLE table manners, Philip Durrant (Matthew Goode)? His miserable wife Mary (Poldark's Mrs, Eleanor Tomlinson)? Quiet and seemingly compliant Tina (Crystal Clarke)? Wide-eyed innocent Hester (Ella Purnell)? Or was it Kirsten in the drawing room with the lead (glass)?
I'm delighted to say that I haven't got a clue. Maybe it's all of them. Maybe it was Miss Marple or Poirot. Whatever, the eventual answer, I'm enjoying the journey to the conclusion, not least thanks to Inverclyde's gorgeous Ardgowan House where the action happens. It's stunning. I could move in tomorrow – I wouldn't even quibble over the stained carpet.