Ordeal By Innocence episode 1 review

The BBC’s latest Agatha Christie three-parter is shaping up to be another perfect Sunday night murder mystery. Spoilers ahead…

Ordeal by Innocence Bill Nighy
Photo: BBC Pictures

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

A corpse, a remote country pile, an impossibly glamorous young cast, and a murder mystery as thick, bloody and rich as the pan of red berry jam seen bubbling menacingly away in an early scene. The BBC’s now-annual Agatha Christie drama is back. Goodbye, Endeavour-less Sunday nights. Crime fans have a new place to call home.

Sarah Phelps’ third Christie adaptation, after 2015’s And Then There Were None and 2016’s The Witness For The Prosecution, is airing later than its usual Christmas spot due to a legal investigation into a since-recast actor. Forty or so minutes of film were reshot, and seamlessly so judging by this episode. Even if the joins had been noticeable, you’ll already have spent a good third of this first hour trying to tell a clutch of almost identical-looking men apart, so what’s a little more confusion between friends?

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By the end of the hour, the blur of handsome young faces has separated into discrete parts. There’s Anthony Boyle as troubled Jack (the accused, dead), Luke Treadaway as the mysterious Dr Arthur Calgary (physicist, iffy), and Christian Cooke as ex-soldier Mickey (self-harmer, tattooed), who at least has the good grace to speak with a distinctive Estuary accent. They’re joined by Matthew Goode, who’s gleefully good as caddish Flight Lieutenant Philip Durrant (junkie, trouble), a wheelchair user whose injury wasn’t sustained in the war but drunk-driving after a day spending his wife’s cash at the races.

Durrant’s mistreated wife is Mary (uptight, snob), played by Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson. Mary’s one of five grown-up adopted children of Rachel (murdered, rich) and Leo Argyll (Bill, Nighy). Mary’s no fan of Leo’s former secretary and soon-to-be new wife, Gwenda (glamorous, young).

Jack, Mickey and two other girls, Hester (secret drinker) and Tina (librarian), played respectively by Ella Purnell and Crystal Clarke, make up the Argyll adoptee quintet.

Rachel Argyll, excellently cast as Anna Chancellor, was feted after death for her charitable soul, having opened up her vast home to unwanted children. The multiple flashbacks with which this story is told however, show that Rachel failed to also open up her heart, if she ever had one. (Jack promised to one day “crack open” her shell to see if there was anything inside.) Within their mother’s mansion, the only affection the Argyll children received seems to be from each other.

They also received jealousy, suspicion and damage. From Mickey’s self-harming to Mary hitting her head against a wall and Tina’s habit of perching perilously on a top bannister, inches from a fall, it’s clear that these are not well-adjusted kittens.

Least well-adjusted of all is Jack, who died in prison after being convicted of Rachel’s murder when his fingerprints were discovered on the decanter used to bludgeon her. Jack’s conviction has been open and shut until now, eighteen months later, when Dr Calgary shows up claiming to be his alibi. If Jack didn’t kill cold fish Rachel, then who did?

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At present, it could be any of them, from Leo to Gwenda to the kids to Morven Christie’s maid Kirsten, another of Rachel’s foundlings. Sunny Point, the ironically named Argyll home, is knotted with hostility, secrets and blood, and chiefly through flashback, we’re going to tease out the lot.

It’s a smooth adaptation and very well engineered. The casting makes perfect sense and the performances are just heightened enough to remind us that we’re watching lavish melodrama, not dull realism. The location of Sunny Point (director Sandra Goldbacher’s previous gig on Victoria must have been good preparation for working inside the symmetry and scale of a stately home), and its bevvy of beautiful twenty-somethings makes the whole thing sing with glamour.

There are expressive touches too. Blood drips from freshly butchered meat and soaks into plush carpet. The mustard yellow in which Rachel was dressed when she died, and in the portrait hanging symbolically above the characters at all times, is also seen in flashes of fabric around the house, a reminder of her presence even in her absence. That overbearing portrait, and the sternness of maid Kirsten—disobedient to her new mistress—are reminiscent less of previous Christie adaptations, and more of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, another instance of a woman celebrated in public revealed to have a very different side in private.

So far, everything about this adaptation utterly sells you on it – all the joy of a late Christmas present you can’t wait to fully unwrap.

Ordeal By Innocence airs on BBC One in the UK and will be available on Amazon later in the year.