This review contains spoilers.
Marian and Count Fosco’s game of chess was the model for part three. One side attacked, the other defended, and so on and so on until the conspirators had their victims practically at checkmate. Glyde, the Count and the Countess moved steadily across the board, surrounding Laura and Marian and leaving them with very few moves to make.
This was the Rosemary’s Baby episode, the one in which the conspiracy was revealed and the mysterious background players were outed as villains. Not only is Sir Percival—broke and mortgaged up to the hilt—trying to secure Laura’s inheritance for himself, but his houseguests the Count and Countess also have a vested interest. After a falling out over her unsuitable marriage, the Countess was struck from her brother’s will and will only receive her inheritance should his daughter Laura, her niece, die first.
The Count and Countess waged a different kind of war to Glyde. The oleaginous Fosco puffed up his feathers and did a mating dance around Marian, attempting to bring her under his power using his sex appeal and Italian song. It got her hot under the collar, but ultimately she resisted his charms. Isobel took the more direct course of spiking Marian’s tea. Husband and wife colluded in their deceptions, working together to distract Miss Halcombe, separate the sisters and intercept their correspondence.
“Men hold the strings to the purse,” the Countess told Laura. “They control us, but only some of them earn our obedience.” Fosco certainly appears to have earned that from his wicked amore.
As for Glyde, his Tennyson-quoting days are firmly over. He may have told Laura through her locked bedroom door that he only wanted everything good for her, but there’s barely any pretence any longer. His brutishness kept escaping though the holes in his genteel disguise. His impatience for his anticipated payday has made his mask slip. He sees Laura as a porcelain piggy bank – something to break apart, then collect his prize.
Laura though isn’t as fragile as Sir Percival expected. Years of living in the freedom of Limmeridge and the continuing support of her sister have given her strength. She may have promised to obey her husband in her marriage vows, but she’s proving hard to break, despite the sadistic abuse to which he subjects her… and to which he clearly subjected vulnerable Anne Catherick. Olivia Vinney did a good job playing against herself in the scene in which Anne met Laura, avoiding the pantomimic pitfalls of such a task.
Episode three of this first-rate adaptation also built tension skilfully. Director Carl Tibbetts and co. transformed Blackwater into a spider’s web. Interior scenes were made menacing by a scuttling presence in the back of shot – a lurking Count Fosco or his sinister wife, dressed in red to match the house’s sombre décor.
Out of doors, the boathouse was imbued with similar menace. “Good place for a murder maybe, not much else,” was Sir Percival’s verdict on Blackwater’s lake. (His lack of affinity with the beauty of nature marks him out as a classic Romantic villain as well as a modern domestic abuser).
And once again, the flashforwards to Mr Nash’s interviews were a structural boon and well used. Each time a character wrung their hands and bemoaned not having acted sooner to save poor Lady Glyde, yet another shadow was cast over Laura’s fate.
Plot-wise, we were also set a few new mysteries: why was Count Fosco exiled from Sicily? (It can’t have been the singing can it?), what is Sir Percival’s secret, and why did Laura’s father promise his beloved daughter to a monster?
The only real question at this stage is what next? Marian’s right, there certainly is something ill at play in this house. Tragedy approaches, and no matter how inevitable it feels—like watching a new version of Romeo and Juliet and hoping against hope that this time, the letter will reach its destination—you wish it wasn’t so. That’s the mark of a good adaptation.
Episode four airs on Sunday the 6th of May at 9pm on BBC One. Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.