Ordeal By Innocence, by Agatha Christie, begins with rich matriarch Rachel Argyll (Anna Chancellor) having her mortal coil shuffled off by someone, and since it’s Agatha Christie, so the victim must be discovered by the maid, Kirsten Lindstrom (Morven Christie – any relation?), who’ll then scream and weep uncontrollably.
Jack Argyll (Anthony Boyle), her adopted son, is arrested but claims he didn’t do it, and suspects he knows who did but doesn’t know that man’s name… despite the fact that Jack’s fingerprints were on the knife with his mother’s blood. So who did do it? Well, don’t expect me to tell you, because (a) the whole point of creating a three-hour drama is that you watch it, and (b) at the start of watching this, I had absolutely no idea.
However, this matters not to Jack, really, since he ends up brown bread before it ever comes to trial and the family don’t want to raise old ghosts when Jack’s alibi, Dr. Arthur Calgary (Luke Treadaway), turns up 18 months later and claims to have the answer.
Thankfully, Ms Christie did, and she set things in motion so they could all work out whodunit and take out the trash!
What follows is a very slick production, and no doubt cost a fair bit less than the $55m lashed out on Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, but is a lot more engaging and doesn’t have that movie’s lead with his overacting performance or moustache (try editing that one out with CGI!)
Along the way, we have Bill Nighy playing Bill Nighy – as always, and flashbacks including Rachel teaching her homeschooled children, adopted or otherwise, with one of them telling the cleaner, early on, not to show her legs, and she should use hosiery as “No-one wants to see your chunky calves”(!)
Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, a number of months back, when White Gold‘s Ed Westwick, originally due to take the role of Philip Durrant, was replaced by Matthew Goode because Westwick was accused of rape; accusations for which he denied. He has also stated he is “disappointed with the actions of the BBC” due to the ongoing investigations, legal processes, and the unverified nature of the claims.
This then leads on to the #MeToo movement, and that Time Magazine made their Person of the Year not just one person, but ALL the women of that movement, because they had the most impact in 2017. Okay, so they had a big impact, but while there will have been a a number of women who were groped, attacked or more, you have to concede that there will also be a statistical probability that there are a number of women in the campaign who were not.
Hence, whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”. You could also extend this to anyone accused of any crime who have since passed away. Some will be guilty, but some will not. But do you rely on the police and criminal justice system to lead the way 100% of the time, given that they are all about as much use as a chocolate teapot?
Had you not known about all this, you wouldn’t have twigged from the programme, since it’s all been done very well, but I’d be interested to have also seen the original version. Had all this not happened, this drama would’ve aired over Christmas, over three nights, which would’ve made more sense as it would be best to watch this over consecutive nights, or all in one go after the first episode, on iPlayer, a la Hard Sun amongst others.
Whatever your feelings on that situation, we have an engaging first hour and I’m very much looking forward to the rest.
Update after episode 2 broadcast: In episode 2, we saw how the police fitted Jack up (well, we knew Jack would turn out to be innocent as the whole point is that there’s a baddie out there waiting for be unmasked, a la Scooby Doo), and you can always trust the police to be bent, especially these days!
Whoever did it, you knew they’d be a deeply nasty and objectionable person, and the episode just had to have a typical plot device of showing wheelchair-bound Philip looking at someone off-camera, sneering “Of course it’s you!” But who? Ooh, there’s the rub.
However, while episode 2 meandered a hell of a lot, as we came to the end of it, has the killer been revealed? With Agatha Christie, nothing is ever that straight-forward. Or is it? I’m not saying. After all, when I reviewed the recent movie version of Murder On The Orient Express, did I reveal who the baddie was in that? No, I did not, so you’ll just have to watch it yourself.
Update after episode 3 broadcast: Episode 3 maintained more of the momentum of the first, and with a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Overall, it was a decent series, but I maintain that this should’ve been shown over three consecutive nights as originally intended. If they couldn’t do it over Christmas, then why not over Easter? It would’ve been easy to show it Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Weekly just didn’t work for this twisty-turny story.
Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence continues next Sunday at 9pm, but isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD. After broadcast, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission.
Episode 1 Score: 7/10
Episode 2 Score: 5/10
Episode 3 Score: 7/10
Director: Sandra Goldbacher
Producer: Roopesh Parekh
Writer: Sarah Phelps (based on the novel by Agatha Christie)
Music: Stuart Earl
Jack Argyll: Anthony Boyle
Rachel Argyll: Anna Chancellor
Kirsten Lindstrom: Morven Christie
Tina Argyll: Crystal Clarke
Mickey Argyll: Christian Cooke
Gwenda Vaughan: Alice Eve
Philip Durrant: Matthew Goode
Leo Argyll: Bill Nighy
Hester Argyll: Ella Purnell
Mary Durrant: Eleanor Tomlinson
Dr. Arthur Calgary: Luke Treadaway
Simon: Sandy Batchelor
Young Tina: Abigail Coneth
Lydia Gould: Frances Grey
Young Mickey: Rhys Lambert
Bellamy Gould: Brian McCardie
Young Mary: Catriona McNicoll
Clive: Sammy Moore
Young Jack: Luke Murray
Young Hester: Hayden Robertson
Blake: James E Thompson
Dr. Edwin Morsuch: Sandy Welch
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.