Monday, 10 December 2012

The Poison Tree - tv review

The Poison Tree, a two-part ITV psychological suspense story, began this evening and certainly proved watchable. I haven't read the book by Erin Kelly on which Emilia di Girolamo's adaptation is based (though I recall enjoying a book with the same title by Tony Strong a few years back - whatever happened to Tony Strong,by the way?) The cast is led by the memorably named (and very good-looking) trio of MyAnna Buring, Matthew Goode and Ophelia Lovibond.

The story begins in the present with Kate Clarke (Buring) greeting her husband Rex (Goode) as he leaves prison after serving a 12 year sentence. We don't know anything about what he has done, but in a series of flashbacks we see the couple being introduced by Rex's wacky sister Biba (Lovibond). Rather like a pair of Ruth Rendell characters, the siblings live in a posh house, but don't work, and clearly have "issues".

At first Biba, Kate and Rex get on swimmingly, but things start to go wrong when Kate finds out about her friends' father, a rich man who has given up on them and wants to evict them from the house. In the present day story, Rex struggles to adjust to life outside, and someone is watching him, Kate and their daughter. Rex is keeping his identity secret, but this seemed wildly optimistic from the start, and it soon becomes clear that the neighbours are suspicious Meanwhile, in the past, events move to a homicidal climax.

The story is intriguing, and this is another of those thrillers that gains added suspense from a spooky Fenland setting. So it will be worth staying with it to find out what's going on (and what went on, years ago.) However, I did have reservations. First, I found it difficult to warm to any of the main characters, and consequently I wasn't as sympathetic to Kate and Rex as I felt I should have been (nor, for that matter, was I convinced by Kate's supposed Warrington accent).. Second, there were one or two aspects of the plot that seemed unlikely, even by the standards of this type of story - where, I think, one has to accept that suspension of disbelief is necessary. For instance, why on earth hadn't Kate and Rex planned more carefully how they would lead their new lives after such a long time apart, if they were so desperate to conceal his identity and what had happened in the past? Perhaps the novel covers these issues more plausibly. Or perhaps satisfactory explanations will be forthcoming in episode two. We'll see.


Anonymous said...

I strongly recommend reading the novel, the characters have much more depth and the story more substance. As a big fan of the novel I was praying the adaptation would do it justice but feel the storyline had been rushed and amended for tv, to the sad demise of some very engaging characters who in the book pull you in and involve you in their story which last night's tv show did not. I'll watch next week only to see how much more they change it.

AntK said...

Read the book earlier this year, my review:
The Poison Tree was an engaging and well written 'psychological thriller' from new author Erin Kelly. I was a bit dubious in approaching this novel, not least because of the three-plus pages of recommendations at the start of the book; in my experience, such hyperbole is rarely justified.

However, the story of slightly drippy Karen and her intense friendship with Biba (wannabe actress with a nice line in personality disorder) and her slavish brother Rex, grips and is a fairly tense, if somewhat predictable page-turner. Set in the summer of 1997, it's a tale told in retrospect, with the circumstances of the protagnonists' lives set out at the start. There's murder (or more accurately manslaughter), middle class London suburbs, obsession, and intense, enmeshed relationships all sparking off a well plotted story. The female leads were fairly irritating,and I struggled to really understand the non-sexual desire that drove Karen to form the dysfunctional relationship with Biba in the first place, but Kelly's writing is assured and intelligent, and this book certainly achieves the accolade of 'exciting fiction'.

The reviews compare the work to Barbara Vine and Evelyn Waugh, and while it's not in their class, it is nevertheless a good, old fashioned page-turner. Worth a gamble.

© Koplowitz 2012

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for your comments and also your review, Ant. I must read the novel, clearly!

Why I'm So Hott? said...

The book by Erin Kelly is fantastic, I was so excited to see it adapted but the ITV drama is horrible. The character's are one dimensional and the storyline is unrealistic. The best part of the book was that it was believable. Very disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I read the book by Erin Kelly and it was exciting and very engaging. The relationship between Karen and Biba for those that didn't get it, is kinda like Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Karen is so sheltered and straight lace that she becomes dependant on Biba to make her world exciting. And Karen feels rejected when Biba ignores her, and Biba is sort of a lovable bitch.

Karen tells Biba's boyfriend about the trouble with their dad, who then tries to 'fix' things ending in the dad evicting them, ending in the shootings. Because of this Karen blames herself, and feels she must help Biba to make amends.

The reference to Poison Tree is after William Blake's poem, in which the poet does not tell his foe of his anger and his anger becomes poisonous and eventually kills the friend. This is Karen and Biba's relationship.

Bad adaptation of a good book

Why I'm So Hott? said...

The book by Erin Kelly is fantastic, I was so excited to see it adapted but the ITV drama is horrible. The character's are one dimensional and the storyline is unrealistic. The best part of the book was that it was believable. Very disappointing.

Martin Edwards said...

I have just watched episode two and found it a bit of a let-down. I'm sure the book is better, as your helpful comments have indicated.