Arthur & George began on ITV this evening. It's a three-part series, with a lot going for it. The screenplay, by Ed Whitmore, is based on a novel by the estimable Julian Barnes which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize a decade ago. And the book is about a true (and very well known) story, the investigation by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, no less, into a shocking miscarriage of justice.
I was surprised, I must admit, when I found that Martin Clunes was cast as Conan Doyle. Now I've enjoyed Clunes' work over the years, but he didn't seem quite right. Not because he isn't Scottish, but because I've always felt that there was a darkness in Conan Doyle's character (think of some of his macabre stories like "The Case of Lady Sannox") that isn't too evident in Clunes. Over the hour, though, I did warm to his portrayal, which focused on Conan Doyle's vulnerability and instinctive decency (qualities Clunes is very good at conveying) as well as his determination.
I wonder how many viewers realised that "Willie", Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, who appears briefly, was E.W. Hornung, who created a famous crime fiction protagonist of his own , A.J. Raffles? The story proper begins after George Edalji has served a jail sentence for mutilating horses, with Conan Doyle losing his wife, and finding that his grief is complicated by an ongoing affair with Jean Leckie. In his unhappiness, he seizes on the Edalji case, and becomes convinced that the convicted man is innocent, and a victim of racial prejudice.
It's a good story, and I thought the screenplay competent, though not outstanding. I haven't read the book, even though I'm a Barnes fan but I suspect the book is multi-layered in a way the TV show is not. Whitmore is a talented screenwriter whom I have praised on this blog in the past, but at times the action moved rather slowly. It may be that two hours, rather than three, would have been a more suitable time slot. But I shall certainly stick with it.