Sunday 1 April 2018

Ordeal By Innocence - BBC TV review

Luke Treadaway, Anna Chancellor, Bill Nighy and Morven Christie in Ordeal By Innocence.

Ordeal By Innocence, episode one, finally appeared on BBC TV this evening, the intended screening at Christmas having been postponed. This was because one of the actors, Ed Westwick, has been accused of sexual offences, allegations which he denies. His scenes have now been re-shot, with another actor, Christian Cooke, taking his place. It's all been done very skilfully, so that the effect is as if his contribution had never existed. 

The Agatha Christie novel on which Sarah Phelps has based her screenplay was published in 1958, and it's one of the most interesting books written by the Queen of Crime in the later part of her career. In particular, it explores a theme which fascinated her, as it continues to fascinate me: the idea that suspicion can have a cruel and corrosive effect on people who have not actually committed a crime; perhaps they may not even have done anything wrong at all. Suffice to say that more than one of my own novels have addressed this concept, and in writing them I've borrowed the phrase "ordeal by innocence", in homage to Christie. A thought-provoking issue, isn't it?

It's a sort of cold case mystery. Jacko Argyle was convicted of murdering his mother (played, excellently as always, by Anna Chancellor) and is now dead. He always claimed to have an alibi, but the witness who might have got him off the hook was never found. Now Arthur Calgary turns up, explaining that he's been away on an expedition to the Arctic, and has only just found out what has happened. Which gives rise to a question: if he's telling the truth, who did kill Mrs Argyle?

Bill Nighy leads a stellar cast, and the production values are high. The stunning setting is, apparently, Ardgowan House in Scotland, which looks utterly wonderful: I'd love to visit it. Phelps' screenplay brims with Gothic touches, although so far it's not as compelling as her version of And Then There Were None. Whether it was a good idea to stretch the story out to fit three episodes of one hour is, however, debatable. My instinct is that less is more, but we'll see...   

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