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Amazon Prime Presents 'Ordeal by Innocence'
August 10, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Getting on television, much as it has become the American dream, hasn’t done much for the happiness of several characters in a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence.

Ordeal By Innocence, a three-part British series that makes its U.S. debut Friday on the streaming service Amazon Prime, darkens the plot and several of the characters from the Christie mystery on which it is based.

Thanks in large part to fine performances by those darker characters, this latest television version acquits itself as a fast-paced, compelling tale whose twists remain Christie-esque even if they aren’t exactly as she wrote them.

Making Christie’s characters grouchier and therefore less likable seems to have been an irresistible temptation for a number of recent Christie adaptees. Exactly why it was necessary in Ordeal remains an open question, though it does sharpen their personalities and perhaps widen the range of potential perps.

The wealthy Rachel Argyll (Anna Chancellor, above), widely regarded as a benevolent patroness because she and her husband Leo (Bill Nighy, top) adopted five children, is found dead one day in a room of her massive estate home, a pool of blood under her head staining the expensive carpet.  

Suspicion immediately falls on Jack (Anthony Boyle, below), one of her adopted sons and a serial screw-up. As his blood and fingerprints were found at the death scene, he is arrested and imprisoned even after he insists he had gone to town that night and the chap who gave him a lift could verify his alibi.

Except Jack doesn’t know this stranger’s name or any details about him. Then Jack is killed in prison, and everyone in the family seems to have moved on.

Like Leo, for instance. A year and a half later, Leo is moving on to marry Gwenda Vaughan (Alice Eve), his former secretary.

Since this story is set in 1956, Gwenda might be called a prototype for Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada. She likes money and power, and she’s marrying both, liberating her inner bully.

The other children wouldn’t be friending Gwenda on Facebook if Facebook existed in 1956. But it’s not because they miss their sainted mother, which they don’t. Seems Mom’s parenting playbook was built on control and abuse, and even though the kids are now grown, they have few warm memories to overtake the cold ones. 

Daughter Mary (Eleanor Tomlinson, below) tries desperately to sabotage the wedding. Mickey (Christian Cooke) tells Mary he won’t help, because it can’t be done. Hester (Ella Purnell) mostly seems to drink. The other daughter, Kirsten (Morven Christie), has become the housekeeper, perhaps suggesting Rachel’s adoption motives had a practical component.

None of the children, as far as we can tell, had much use for Rachel. And then there’s Philip Durrant (Matthew Goode), who was happily married to Mary before he broke his back in a car accident. He’s now paralyzed from the waist down and perpetually smiles as he takes his anger out on everyone. Especially Mary.

Then, on the cusp of the wedding, Dr. Arthur Calgary (Luke Treadaway) shows up claiming to be Jack’s alibi witness. Except in the TV version, unlike the book, Dr. Calgary seems a little off.

Nighy’s Leo, a calm, rational, calculating, and articulate man who knows exactly how to maintain a status quo that has been very good to him, seems to have the warmth of a bank account access code. Compared to most of the others, we may like him anyway. We certainly want to know what he’s up to, besides scoring a trophy wife.  

Like other Christie tales, Ordeal By Innocence suggests money can’t buy happiness. Or even a ticket into the room where happiness is happening.

Our lack of empathy for most of these folks doesn’t lessen the intrigue of figuring out which one of them offed Mommy Dearest.

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George Ashur
"Thanks in large part to fine performances by those darker characters" -- or, the actors playing those characters.
Aug 12, 2018   |  Reply
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