Streaming on Amazon Prime
Metadata: 2018 | TV-MA | 3-part miniseries
Why I watched: I was thirsting for Agatha Christie redemption after watching the awful Murder on the Orient Express (2017) directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Ugh. So bad.
You might also like: There are tons of great murder mysteries out there, and with the weather finally starting to turn toward Fall, 'tis the season, right? Try Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries or circle back around to Sherlock on Netflix. (Seriously, though, there are sooo many to choose from.)
Ordeal By Innocence starts a little slowly, but once the show hits its stride in the middle of the first installment, it's spellbinding. The miniseries, based on a 1958 novel by Agatha Christie, revolves around the Argyll family and estate. Unable to conceive, Rachel Argyll (Anna Chancellor), the wealthy matriarch of the family, chooses to adopt five children. Cold and severe, Rachel's motives are unclear. Why did she acquire these children if she wasn't going to love them? Her "first" daughter, Mary (Eleanor Tomlinson), dares to ask her mother this shortly before Rachel is found murdered. "I was so sad, Mary. It's not your fault that you couldn't fix that."
The extreme tension between mother and children rivals only the tension between siblings in this series. Deep resentments, both petty and well-founded, divide the Argyll children, now adults, who often lash out at each other. Yet they also seem strangely united, which is one reason it becomes difficult to suspect any single one of them for killing Rachel. Given that they all hated their mother for various (sometimes justified) reasons, though, it's also very easy to suspect them. And indeed, everyone at the Argyll estate is a suspect. Their brother Jack (Anthony Boyle) went to prison for the murder, despite insisting on his innocence, and he was killed shortly thereafter. When his alibi, Arthur Calgary, shows up nearly two years later on the eve of Leo Argyll's (Rachel's husband) re-marriage, proving Jack's innocence, everyone else in the house is thrown into suspicion. If Jack didn't kill Rachel, then the murderer must be one of them.
When I first caught a glimpse of the series on Amazon, it was the cast that piqued my interested. Eleanor Tomlinson, of Poldark fame, and Alice Eve, most recently doing riveting work in season two of Netflix's Iron Fist, and Bill Nighy, who has been in everything, are just a few of the superb cast members who offer up excellent performances. Matthew Goode, who co-helms The Wine Show, among other things, gets better and better in each project he takes on, and Ordeal By Innocence is no exception. Goode plays Phillip Durrant, Mary Argyll's husband and a crippled former military officer, who is bitter and cruel to everyone in the house, especially his wife. Addicted to whiskey and morphine and confined to a wheel chair, the once strong and strapping Durrant is totally miserable, and he takes it upon himself to find the real murderer—less because he desires justice than because he wants to stir up the household. Reader, the household is stirred up.
Coming in at around three hours total, this murder mystery is just the right length for a nice weeknight binge. All the contorted faces, pointed barbs, and meaningful glances build up tension you could cut with a knife—the kind that, incidentally, pairs nicely with popcorn.
Enjoy (especially that twist at the end)!